#12 – The Animal That Kills

We are animals, members of the species called homo-sapiens, from the Latin for wise man, i.e., “the animal that reasons.” Most of us are also aware that we are capable of violence, especially when threatened or angry. By the time this is posted the day’s headlines will probably be focused on yet another mass shooting, ethnic cleansing or refugees fleeing chaos and death. Homo sapiens are the only member of our genus (homo) that is not extinct. Despite our brain capacity (1400 cc) we should begin to question our future and to also question if in fact we are very “wise.” Many of us would like to feel that we are capable of profound change, that we can transcend our animal nature. Is this possible?

Anger is an emotion that when expressed can act like a poison within the body that threatens our physical and mental health. Written around 750 B.C. and containing the very first word in Western literature, Homer’s poem, the Iliad, begins with the word menin, “wrath” or “rage” in Greek. In short, we homo sapiens have been expressing anger for a very long time and it’s high time we begin to understand what this means. Is this expression an aspect of our nature that is inevitable or is it a choice that we can forego?

If we read the Iliad with a heightened awareness we might have the insight that it is less a mythical war between Greeks and Trojans than the tragic and fatal consequences of unrestrained anger. Emily Katz Anhalt, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, has a few such insights. “The ‘Iliad’ is no jingoistic Greek anthem, proudly celebrating the achievements of its warrior heroes and their struggles for military, political and personal glory (their struggles, as she sums it up, to be ‘best’).” (1)

A fundamental danger with anger is combining it with a belief in the other. Homer addresses this illusion by including both the Greeks and the Trojans going about their everyday lives. “We are invited to see the Trojan enemy not as barbarians at all but as people very much like us (that is, like Greeks): laughing and joking, loving their children, kindly, fearful and in awe of their gods.”    (1)

Fast forward 2,750 years and social media reveals that fear and anger sit like a Trojan horse within the global village. Meant to be a joke, many users begin their day looking at the question: What are we angry about today? “A 2013 study, from Beihang University in Beijing, of Weibo, a Twitter-like site, found that anger is the emotion that spreads the most easily over social media.”   (2)

Why do we so often express our anger on our screens? University of Wisconsin professor of psychology Ryan Martin offers his observation “‘They want to hear that others share it,’ he said, ‘because they feel they’re vindicated and a little less lonely and isolated in their belief.’”  (2)   Martin goes on to conclude: “The Internet exacerbates impulse-control problems. You get mad, and you can tell the world about it in moments before you’ve had a chance to calm down and think things through.”    (2)

How does the belief in the existence of the other and its expression on social media translate into violence? It turns out that people who regularly express rage on social media are angrier than the general population. Professor Martin’s explanation points out the need for a change in the beliefs, attitudes and values in the human community. “‘They expressed their anger less healthily, in maladaptive ways,’ he said. ‘They would either yell and scream or suppress it, but very few had any adaptive coping strategies.’”   (2)

Given the ubiquity of violence on our planet we must not have very effective coping strategies to mitigate the effects of our anger. Follow the link below for suggestions on what to do when we begin to feel the anger welling up inside. Do this before you lose control and kill someone.

Insight # 12: There is no other given that all human beings are fundamentally alike and this illusion is the cause of much of the violence and suffering in the human community.

Links:

References:

  1. Beard, Mary. “Wrath in the Time of Cholera.” The New York Times Book Review. September 10, 2017, page 18.
  2. Wayne, Teddy. “Clicking Their Way to Outrage.” The New York Times. July 6, 2014, page 2.

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