The War Against Anger
am weary of people evading the responsibility for wars, by dismissing
organized butchery as expressions of "human nature." Man’s
inhumanity to man, this argument runs, is simply the way we are,
and therefore, we ought not rail against it. Such thinking saves
one the discomfort of self-examination and self-criticism. If violence
and slaughter are manifestations of inborn character – as intrinsic
to us as the pursuit of self-interest – then our participation in
such acts should not be condemned. It is just "who we are";
and it is unrealistic of us to think we can change our genetic makeup.
But if this is true, are not acts of murder, rape, arson, mayhem,
and assault also the fulfillment of our violent nature? If we are
not critical of nation-states for mobilizing destructive
tendencies, why should we punish individuals who engage in
similarly motivated actions? Indeed, why do we heap the severest
of punishments on those who do, individually, what we so blithely
accept when done in greater numbers by political systems?
The answer to this question is found in the psychological practice
of projection, a phenomenon about which I have written on
numerous occasions. We are uncomfortable with the awareness – albeit
subconscious – that "who we are" includes various dark
side attributes inconsistent with the virtuous qualities
around which we have built our self-image. Were we courageous enough
to look deeply within, we would discover that we do have
capacities for violence, dishonesty, anger, sloth, cowardice, and
other characteristics that conflict with the image of goodness
we have created for ourselves.
We unconsciously believe that the way to purge ourselves of these
undesired qualities is to project them onto scapegoats,
against whom we proceed to take punitive action. Those who desire
to understand 9/11 and its aftermath must begin with an awareness
of the psychological dynamics of projection. Contrary to the self-righteous
posturing that comprises political rhetoric, there are no objectively
"good" and "bad" nations or other groups of
people in our world. We have, however, divided ourselves into mutually
exclusive "us-versus-them" categories – whether based
on race, religion, nationality, economic interests, or other factors
– ascribing "goodness" to our group, and "badness"
to others. Such dichotomous thinking becomes a perfect setup
for the projection of our unwanted "dark side" traits
onto one another. Divisiveness is not simply an unintended consequence
of political behavior, but its essential nature.
It should be evident that this contributes to the means by which
we bring about wars. "They" mean us harm, so "we"
must take forceful action to protect our interests. Once we do so,
"they" become mobilized against "us";
a response that confirms, in our mind, their malevolent intentions
and is used as a justification for our renewed efforts.
Let me illustrate the point this way: the United States not only
created nuclear weapons, but is the only nation to have employed
them against civilian populations. As a result, other nations began
their own collections, ostensibly as a deterrent against such weapons
being used upon them. The United States government has the biggest
collection of nuclear weapons in existence, and recently announced
that it would not foreclose the possibility of their use in any
future war. If Americans and Israelis believe that deadly weapons
are necessary for their defenses, why should we be surprised
that other nations might regard similar weapons as essential
to theirs? Given the historic record and the Bush administration’s
war against "axis of evil" nations as well as those who
"are not with us," what other response would you expect?
Don’t mistake the point I am making. I am not defending the use
of such weapons: to the contrary, I am desirous of ending such
insane behavior. But to do so, we must begin by giving up our childish
schoolyard thinking that poses "us" as the unvarnished
expression of "good," and "them" as the
unmitigated agents of "evil." The divisiveness of our
thinking has produced the political madness that threatens to overwhelm
the world in a kind of warfare that could destroy all of human life.
But we must understand the nature of what our thinking has
created. Instead of joining George Bush’s frenzied mob of war-lovers
who, drunk with power, want to behave like an unruly gang of soccer
fans, we need to withdraw our energies from their madness.
What is the source of the anger that has generated this world-engulfing
conflict? Contrary to the twaddle put forth by neocon jingoists,
the "terrorists" who planned and attacked the World Trade
Center, knowing they would die in the process, did not do
so in order to show their contempt for MTV, Calvin Klein jeans,
burqualess women, and other attributes of our "freedom."
They did so out of anger over years of arrogant American
and Israeli policies that have dominated their lives and homelands.
One brief study indicated that some 95% of suicide bombings have
taken place in an effort to force these nations to withdraw from
occupied territories. Unable to attack the source of their anger,
these "terrorists" settled on the WTC as their targets,
turning some three thousand innocent victims into "scapegoats"
for their unresolved wrath.
All nineteen men who participated in this attack were killed in
the process, a result that has generated an unfocused anger on the
part of most Americans. This was a terrible atrocity, committed
against men and women who had no more to do with the conduct of
American foreign policy than do you or I. Against whom can this
reactive rage be vented? Who is to "pay" for a crime for
which all known perpetrators are dead? Dividing ourselves up into
mutually exclusive camps of "us" and "them"
tends to generate an avenging sense of self-righteousness that requires
an object upon whom punishment can be visited. Since the actual
transgressors of these crimes are unavailable, however, a surrogate
– a "scapegoat" – must be found.
Scapegoating has long been used as a means of directing anger at
someone when there is no discernible agent to attribute the
cause of such anger. There was a sharp increase in lynchings
during the depression of the 1930s, not because blacks
were responsible for the economic crisis, but because they were
convenient targets for unfocused rage. The Los Angeles riots of
1992 served the same purpose. The dynamics and dangers inherent
in such behavior were well explored in the now classic film The
Ox-Bow Incident, a western in which a group of innocent
strangers were lynched by a self-righteous posse convinced of their
having killed one of their friends.
events of 9/11 did far more than bring the daily lives of Americans
onto the battlefields of wars that have dominated this planet for
over a century. Trying to put the WTC attack into perspective, one
Englishman stated that he had lived through the "blitz"
of World War II, when London was subject to such attacks on a nightly
basis. But World War II was fought against traditionally defined
enemies: other nation-states. Governments declared
wars against one another; there were identifiable political
and military officials to whom one could look for decisions and
responsibility for actions taken.
All of that has changed. As 9/11 demonstrated wherein nineteen
men armed with nothing more than plastic box-cutter knives were
able to place the world on the brink of World War III – war, itself,
has become thoroughly decentralized. In this new age of suicide
bombers, suitcase nuclear weapons, and other forms of guerilla tactics,
any angry individual or group has the technological capacity to
inflict death upon tens of thousands – or even millions – of men
and women who have been selected as scapegoats for unfocused anger.
As political systems expand the scope of their divisive practices,
we should expect increased frustration and anger. With a world population
of some five billion people, it would take only one one-thousandth
of one percent of humanity, if sufficiently provoked, to produce
fifty thousand dispersed agents of mass destruction. We should have
learned, from Newton’s third law of motion, that state terrorism
– in the form of threats, punishments, and death itself to compel
obedience – generates reaction from its victims. Labeling such responses
"terrorism," and intensifying state violence to address
it, ignores this symbiotic relationship that continues its destructive
The world is rapidly becoming decentralized, not only in
terms of economic, political, and other social systems, but in the
dissemination of information. The very power of the state
is rapidly rendering it powerless, as its tools of control
and violence radiate outward into private hands.
continue to be significant players in these games of death and destruction,
but their monopolies on the use of force – which have traditionally
defined their natures – are evaporating. The United Nations, NATO,
and other statist trade associations are, like cartels generally,
collapsing into ineffectiveness in the face of competition from
The very divisive thinking upon which all political systems depend
for their existence has come full circle to foster a generalized,
unfocused anger in the world that erupts into violent acts of sheer
desperation. It is this anger – the child of politics – that
now turns upon the parent. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein monster has
come alive, and the efforts of comic opera martinets – whether in
the White House or Number 10 Downing Street – will be unable to
subdue it. The rigid stance of George Bush reminds me of nothing
so much as General Burgoyne marching his British redcoats – four-abreast,
and in close-order drill – down a country road to be met by a dispersed
and hidden colonial "rabble."
The war into which so many politicians and militarists seem intent
on plunging the world is, of course, yet another expression of the
raison d’ętre of the state. But this will not be your eighteenth,
nineteenth, or twentieth century style of war that pits one state
against another, for the "enemy" has become anger
itself. "Anger" has no jugular vein that can be made the
target of warfare; no leaders to whom terms of surrender can be
offered. Dropping bombs on Afghans and Iraqis because we have no
visible perpetrators of the 9/11 wrongs we wish to avenge, is as
irrational as the WTC attacks themselves! To believe otherwise is
like trying to end urban street gang violence by bombing Los Angeles
only way to end this war against anger is to end the thinking
– and resulting systems and behavior – that generates the
anger. Patriotic flag-waving and appeals to "support our troops"
are as irrelevant to the crisis confronting all of humanity as an
insistence upon rules of dining room etiquette and passenger class
priorities on a rapidly sinking Lusitania!
© 2003 LewRockwell.com