Anger has played an out-sized role in our politics and in our social fabric for decades now. Political anger is largely the province of conservatives. They play their constituents like a fiddle using anger as their bow. They play the fire brigade called to a burning building and throw gasoline into the flaming inferno of their constituents’ souls. They play anger in all its forms: righteous indignation, faux outrage, concern trolling, hysterical frothing fear mongering, rabid demagoguery… help me out here: what other forms of anger do they exploit?
The Ol’ Pussy Grabber is the leading purveyor of the most toxic angry bullshit. In fact, it is his expert wielding of anger that buoyed him to the top of the Repube political cesspool. It is his expert bludgeoning of the conservative psyche that keeps him there. Anger is his mighty truncheon to subdue dissent and impel his might flying monkey brigade to greater heights of depravity.
Why is it that conservatives do anger so well and liberals don’t? Why is it that conservatives respond so angrily to big and small affronts, and liberals don’t? Why is it that conservatives are so easily manipulated by anger? What is it about anger that once stirred in the soul allows for such manipulations and errors in judgment and hypocrisy to occur?
Anger in General
Anger has gotten a bad rap — Or is that wrap? It seems to me that a wrap of anger seems much more amusingly suitable than a rap of anger. What do you think? — throughout much of human history. Probably, because it is so closely associated with conflict, violence, mayhem, chaos, and other assorted and sundry unpleasantries. If you ask, people tend to dislike anger. But, if you watch their behavior in response to anger, it moves them like no other emotion.
Anger is common to all higher order mammals. It evolved, so anger, unlike WAR, must be good for something. Lucky for us, psychology has some ideas about what anger is, how it benefits us, and how it affects us.
Anger is used when we feel slighted or insulted or wronged some how. It drives us to engage in conflict and to do things we otherwise wouldn’t normally do. We all know this from personal experience either with our own anger or someone else’s. Anger diminishes our sense of empathy which makes the violence and harmful behavior it causes, not only possible, but gratifying for a little while at least.
Emotions are complex. They have a physiological, cultural, personal, and social component. While anger is one of the six universal emotions (happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, and disgust), the ways it is expressed are based on a complex interaction of physiological, personal, and cultural imperatives.
The Physiology of Anger
When I say physiological, I mean a combination of both neurological and non-neurological. They amount to the biological responses that come with emotion. Of course, the biological responses are controlled by the neurology, i.e. the goings on in the brain, so modern psychology is concerned about the neurological underpinnings of emotion including anger.
Mammals survive by predicting the events in the environment around them. The more accurate the prediction, the more likely survival becomes. These predictions include physical events and changes as well as social. When a prediction is accurate, we get a little spurt of dopamine in our mesolimbic dopamine reward circuit; but when it isn’t, that anticipated little spurt of dopamine is absent. This absence is noticed and just like the little billy goat on the bridge confronted by the troll who runs to get her big sister who butts the troll off of the bridge, the mesolimbic dopamine reward circuit, fetches its ass-kicking big sister, the amygdala: the famously almond-shaped neurological structure at the end of the hippocampus.
The amygdala is the root of emotions in our brain, especially the “negative” emotions like fear and anger. Once stimulated, it begins a series of neurological events that causes the release of a nasty hormone-neurotransmitter, catecholamine, into our bodies resulting in a momentary burst of energy and triggering other common physiological responses like muscle tension and increased heart rate.
If the prefrontal cortex can rein in the amygdala and calm it down, we can avoid the cascade into violent rage. Part of the function of the prefrontal cortex is to manage our emotions. It is the seat of rational thinking and decision-making. There is a war between emotions and rational thinking, which emotions usually win. Additionally, anger and other stressors result in the release of cortisol which inhibits the prefrontal cortex. Luckily, intense emotions are exhausting and will quickly run the supplies of neurotransmitters, hormones, and glucose needed to sustain them allowing rational thinking to reassert itself.
That’s the physiological side. The take away here is the catecholamine, cortisol, and the mesolimbic dopamine reward pathway. These combine to motivate us to do shit. And, the shit we do is determined, in part, by our personality, culture, and decision making apparatus.
Studies of anger indicate that angry people underestimate risk and become more impulsive… bad combination. Think of the last flame war you were involved in on some forum. Those people were angry, feeling unconstrained by any possibility of social sanctions given the relative anonymity and dehumanizing effects of the Internet, underestimating the risk of being banned from the forum, and very impulsive. If we combine that finding with the predictions of prospect theory, we come to a very troubling picture.
Prospect theory teaches us that people dislike taking risks, but that people will take risks when confronted with a sure loss. So, if anger causes us to become more risk seeking, something less than a sure loss will push us into accepting more risk. We’re less careful. Much of our anger is triggered by a sense of loss: loss of face, loss of pride, loss of money, loss of property, loss of relationships. So a threat of a loss will make us angry and the increase in risk seeking behavior that anger causes drives us to reckless behavior.
Does that sound like anyone you know? How about the Ol’ Pussy Grabber! The threat of the narcissistic wound makes narcissists hyper sensitive to loss: loss of the thin veneer of bullshit that they coat their over inflated ego with. That’s why the Ol’ Pussy Grabber lashes out at anyone who suggests that Russia helped him win: it would mean that he was less than perfect. And, that anger is why he’s driven to taking such reckless risks like telling obvious bald-faced lies.
Conservatives have been peddling loss to their constituents for generations. The whole mantra of take our country back and make America great again is nothing but an appeal to that sense of loss that white conservatives have as they imagine the sea of black, brown, Asian, Muslim, LGBTQ+ swallowing them whole. It drives them to reckless behavior, which has condemned many of them to living in Cancer Alley, for example.
Human beings are social beasts even the ones who are introverts. Our social skills are what make us so dangerous. When a group of people get angry together — either online or IRL — group decisions and behavior tend to become extreme. Thinking turns negative and dark. Out-groups are targeted with even more trash talk, scapegoating, and prejudice. About now is when a little alarm started going off in my head as I read about anger. Right now, though, it is only as loud your neighbors annoying car alarm. After this next piece, it becomes as loud as an air raid siren!
Anger, Loss, Risk, and Perception
Being angry also changes the way other people perceive the angry person. It changes those perceptions in surprising ways. Before reading researching more about anger, I thought seeing someone angry would put people off. Usually, when someone is mad at you, you are mad back. Usually, when someone is angry near you, you have some fear and apprehension since anger makes us impulsive. But, when we see someone angry outside of those close and personal situations, we respond by conferring social status to them. WHAT? How is that even fair?
In a study centered on the impeachment of Bill Clinton, researchers showed participants one of two film clips of Bill Clinton reacting to the charges against him. One showed him angry, the other, sad. The participants were then asked to rate their reactions to whether he should be impeached (they also tracked their political affiliation and gender). Participants thought that the angry Bill Clinton should NOT be impeached, but the sad Bill Clinton should be impeached regardless of gender or party affiliation. The aggregate of the participants didn’t think angry Bill should be impeached and thought sad Bill should be. It wasn’t even close! Now, the annoying neighbor’s car alarm is ratcheting up to to a klaxon, amirite? You see where I’m going with this, right?
Now, consider that the same researchers found that when a person negotiating for a salary and benefits was angry and stubborn, they got better compensation packages! Wait a minute that can’t be right, right? But, it is. Participants conferred greater social status and, therefore, greater benefits to the angry and stubborn. It turns out, though, that the stereotypes are right because that greater status and better benefits were only conferred on men. Women? Not so much. People were more likely to cede social status to angry stubborn men! But, not angry stubborn women! No surprise there, right? No mention of what happened if the angry stubborn person were black, brown, or Asian. It’s easy to assume that no higher social status would be conferred then, though, amirite? Has that alarm cranked up to a screaming Messerschmitt coming in for a strafing run of your soul? It has mine. This is the shit that my nightmares are made of. It’s like you just can’t win with these people.
The ALARMING Conclusion
So, what am I getting at here? What are all those alarms going off in my head trying to tell us other than I may be suffering from auditory hallucinations? They’re telling us that the angrier the Ol’ Pussy Grabber is about Congress impeaching him and the Russia probe, the more likely people are to support him! And, that thought truly makes my blood run cold. Because it will take overwhelming undeniable evidence
Back in the bad old days of March 2019 shortly after the Ol’ Pussy Grabber AG Barred the Russia probe door but before the infamous lying four-page memo not-summarizing Mueller’s findings was released, CNN had released a poll finding that support for impeachment had dropped seven points to 36%. On 6 May, The Hill reported on an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll finding that 48% were against impeachment! This was after a one and a half months of the Ol’ Pussy Grabber angrily denouncing the Mueller Report as no collusion-no obstruction just a couple of short weeks after the release of the redacted report. But, by the end of the month, Politico was reporting on a POLITICO-Morning Consult poll that found an increase of five points for impeachment (up to 43% from 38% a week ago) and a decrease of one point against impeachment (down to 45% from 46% a week ago).
Without an averaging of polls from Real Clear Politics or FiveThirtyEight it is difficult to say how polling about impeachment is going whether the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s raging over the Mueller Report, impeachment, the Mueller resignation press conference is holding steady or not. But, if the Clinton impeachment study has any merit, it suggests that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber’s best strategy is outrage at the prospect of being impeached. While it may not affect the members of his base or those who oppose him, it will affect those uncertain low-information tuned-out “independent” voters who don’t believe politics and government affects their lives.
If the thought that the Ol’ Pussy Grabber could actually have social status conferred onto him because he’s angry about impeachment and the Russia probe doesn’t scare the living bejelzebub out of you, what will?
Categories: Mesolimbic Dopamine System