This one’s called “Isn’t It Outrageous?” and it’s about the dark little secret– that we actually like, sometimes, the sense of being enraged.
“Isn’t It Outrageous?” by Timothy Kreider
Originally published New York Times, July 14, 2009
I was a political cartoonist and essayist for the duration of the Bush presidency, so I was professionally furious every week for eight years. The pejorative “Bush-hater” always rankled me – presuming that my rightful outrage at that administration’s abuses was as arbitrary and irrational as misogyny or arachnophobia. And yet, looking back at my work from those years, even I am struck by its tone of shrill, unrelieved rancor. No wonder readers who met me in real life seemed surprised to learn that I was personable and polite; they must’ve been expecting someone more like Ted Kaczynski or the guy from “Notes from Underground.” Reading over my own impassioned rants now, my main reaction is: Jeez Louise, what a sorehead.
A couple of years ago, while meditating, I learned something kind of embarrassing: anger feels good. Although we may consciously experience it as upsetting, somatically it feels a lot like the first rush of an opiate — a tingling warmth on the insides of your elbows and wrists, in the back of your knees. Realizing that anger was a physical pleasure explained some of the perverse obstinancy with which my mind kept returning to it despite the fact that, intellectually, I knew it was pointless self-torture.
Once I realized I enjoyed anger, I noticed how much time I spent experiencing it. If you’re anything like me, you spend about 87 percent of your mental life winning imaginary arguments that are never actually going to take place. It seems like most of the fragments of conversation you overhear in public consist of rehearsals for, or reenactments of, just such speeches: shrill litanies of injury and injustice, affronts to common sense and basic human decency too grotesque to be borne. You don’t even have to bother eavesdropping; just listen for that high, whining tone of incredulous aggrievement. It sounds like we’re all telling ourselves the same story over and over: How They Tried to Crush My Spirit (sometimes with the happy denouement: But I Showed Them!)
Outrage is like a lot of other things that feel good but over time devour us from the inside out. And it’s even more insidious than most vices because…