||CHAPTER 4: ANGER VS. FEAR AND PESSIMISM||Page 12|
It is on the battleground of the mind, with the weapons of fear and anger that many of the most important struggles take place between the forces of peace and the forces of militarism. On the political level, fear of the "enemy" is constantly evoked by government statements and is echoed by the mass media in order to justify the arms race. On the psychological level, fear is used to intimidate leaders and discourage people from affiliating with movements for social change. We have seen how the tactics of fear were used in the bombing of King's home in Montgomery. But that was only part of a coordinated campaign that was almost successful:
Almost immediately after the protest started we had begun to receive threatening telephone calls and letters. Sporadic in the beginning, they increased as time went on. By the middle of January, they had risen to thirty and forty a day....as the weeks passed, I began to see that many of the threats were in earnest. Soon, I felt myself faltering and growing in fear. One day, a white friend told me that he had heard from reliable sources that plans were being made to take my life.
Of course, in 1968, such a threat was carried out and King was assassinated. But during the intervening 13 years, King had overcome the fear, turned resentment into courage, and led a nation toward justice and peace.
Anger and fear are often mixed together. Jane Addams traced her early involvement in the movement for social justice to a vision of the poor in London that filled her with "despair and resentment." Emily Balch had a similar response to "a man fumbling with his bare fingers in an ash barrel to try to find something to eat." For years she had seen misery and starvation and "sickening" experiences "so bad that she hated to appear to acquiesce" in the system of capitalism, but this vision was "somehow final, and led her to call herself a Socialist." And Dorothy Day responded to her imprisonment after the demonstration for women's suffrage with such a mixture of fear and anger that she was totally exhausted by the experience.
There has been so much social pressure against the expression of anger in our culture that it is often unrecognized or repressed (footnote 8). And if anger is repressed, then fear may be left as the dominant emotion. Psychologists often find that their patients are unable to say that they are angry at injustice, but will label their emotion as "anxiety" instead. Such repression of anger can lead to helplessness. Dorothy Day became inactive for many years after her jail experience, and although she does not describe the process in herself, she describes it vividly in her husband Forster:
He personally had not been in jail, but his rage at the system which confined political agitators to jail ate into him. And yet he did nothing but enclose himself into a shell, escape out on the bay with his fishing, find comfort in digging for clams or bait, or seek refuge in tending a garden.
If fear wins out, the anger may be turned inward and lead to self-destructive behavior. When A.J. Muste was angered by the hypocrisy of patriotic support for World War I, he found himself "at the point where I must feel myself doing something that costs and hurts, something for humanity, and God, or go stark mad." Fortunately for us, Muste did not turn the anger inward, but became involved in union organizing where he expressed his anger by joining with workers who were on strike.
If fear wins out against anger, a person's thinking can come to be dominated by pessimism. Of course, some pessimism comes from practical experience. As Helen Caldicott puts it, "the international balance of terror, economic pressures, and the frustration of dealing with a biased government and unresponsive bureaucracy leave many Americans feeling helpless." But pessimism also takes the form of irrational ideas and myths, such as the myth that human nature is intrinsically evil and war-like (footnote 9).
Alienated from working people because of their support for World War I, Bertrand Russell fell victim to the myth of the instinct of war and adopted a pessimistic view of humanity reduced "to primitive barbarism, letting loose, in a moment, the instincts of hatred and blood lust against which the whole fabric of society has been raised." Crippled by what he called "utter cynicism," Russell was unable to move forward to the next step of consciousness because "I was having the greatest difficulty in believing that anything at all was worth doing."
At higher levels of consciousness development, anger, unlike fear, can be harnessed by affiliation and put to work as a powerful force for social change. Rather than the emotion of a single individual setting forth into action, it becomes the battle cry of the movement. Martin Luther King saw this as a critical truth and a secret of the success of W.E.B. DuBois as a leader of the civil rights and peace movements: "History had taught him it is not enough for people to be angry - the supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force."
(end of Chapter 4)