Last weekend, a neighbor helped change one of the brake lights in my car. He’s handy and has the proper tools to remove a light assembly held in place by too much engineering. John is a Navy veteran of Vietnam who took part in the evacuation of Saigon, and several years ago he performed some clandestine work in Iraq. He rides a Harley and carries more scars than any man I’ve ever known. Just last year he had his gallbladder and a cancerous patch on his belly removed. He has broken most of the major bones in his body. If anyone has a right to be angry, it’s John. Needless to say, and contrary to pop psychology, he’s a smart, funny, sweet-natured guy, though I would never want to seriously cross him.
While John fussed with bolts and wires, I observed that he seemed a patient, methodical guy, someone who doesn’t assume the world is designed for his convenience and pleasure. He laughed at that and said he was hot-tempered when young, touchy and easily offended, but life had cooled him down. “I’m not that important anymore,” said John, who is married and has two sons, 12 and 13.
I was raised among angry people, and early on concluded that anger is the most addictive of emotions. People get hooked on the illusory rush of power that accompanies it. It’s the cocaine of inadequate people. Dr. Johnson puts it like this:
“He that finds his knowledge narrow, and his arguments weak, and by consequence his suffrage not much regarded, is sometimes in hope of gaining that attention by his clamours which he cannot otherwise obtain, and is pleased with remembering that at last he made himself heard, that he had the power to interrupt those whom he could not confute, and suspend the decision which he could not guide.”
This is from Johnson’s great essay on anger, The Rambler #11, published on this date, April 24, in 1750, and one senses he writes from first-hand experience. In brief, Johnson helps explain phenomena as diverse as Twitter, talk radio and murderous Muslims:
“From anger, in its full import, protracted into malevolence, and exerted in revenge, arise, indeed, many of the evils to which the life of man is exposed. By anger operating upon power are produced the subversion of cities, the desolation of countries, the massacre of nations, and all those dreadful and astonishing calamities which fill the histories of the world…”