Don’t Look Back In Anger

Yesterday, I watched an older man shaking with rage as he screamed at a younger man on a crowded railway station platform. I didn’t witness their initial exchange, but I’m guessing the younger man had asked the older man to move back from the pedestrian area so that he and his three young daughters could pass, whereby minimising the risk of falling off the platform or being hit by the oncoming train.

Now, when I say the younger man “asked”, the ensuing back-and-forth slanging match suggests it may have been more an aggressively issued command than a polite request. The two men continued to exchange menacing stares and harsh words until a set of train doors conveniently came to a halt right in front of said man-with-daughters.

Ironically, after having been so grossly offended by the older man’s unacceptable lack of social awareness, the younger man shot one final menacing stare back along the platform and called out “asshole”, before proceeding to force his way into the carriage like a salmon swimming upstream, as if oblivious to the tide of exiting passengers. Perhaps he’d never heard that old saying about the goose and the gander. Or perhaps he was, at that moment, literally blinded by his own anger?

I’m not sure when we became a society of such angry people. Is it a recent phenomenon, or have we always been like this?

Today, everyone has strong opinions about everything all the time, and we feel a need to air those strong opinions, in one way or another—often via blogs like this one. We’re frequently incensed by the opinions of others, and we dismiss their words on the basis that we simply disagree, rather than accepting—and being grateful for the fact—that everyone has different perspectives. Typically, anger about the views of others is most evident in the online world. In fact, online anger is so commonplace these days that it’s apparently become de rigueur to issue death threats to anyone who holds even the most unremarkable point of view, simply because it differs, however moderately, from our own.

There are public demonstrations, almost at the drop of a hat, against virtually anything we’re angry about, however relatively large or small the issue—and I almost guarantee that statement alone will generate multiple strong opinions; many demonstrations invariably become violent, despite organisers’ alleged intentions for peaceful protest.

We’re angry about other angry people, in particular terrorists and religious extremists. We’re angry that the concept of ‘terrorism’ has had the entire world almost permanently on edge for more than 15 years; it’s unnerving, even frightening, it’s psychologically exhausting and emotionally draining—and that makes us angry.

We’re angry about the incidence of oppression and dictatorship, war, death and destruction all over the world. We’re angry about the part our own nations play in warfare. We’re angry that the so-called “leader of the free world”, the United States, repeatedly inserts itself into the hostilities of other nations, then involves, almost involuntarily, any nation that wants to remain on their list of so-called “allies”. We’re angry with the leaders of our own nations for not rejecting this or, at least, for not objecting more strenuously or conscientiously.

We’re angry about things that shouldn’t really concern us; chief among these is sexuality. We’re angry about the sexuality of others and about our own sexuality. We’re angry about sexuality that isn’t the same as our own and about sexuality that is the same as own. We’re angry about those who are angry—or, at least, who take issue with—sexuality and we’re angry with those who aren’t angry—or, at least, who don’t take issue with—sexuality, or with those who are angry about sexuality.

Our indigenous people, the so-called ‘first Australians’ (a description which almost certainly angers them), have an ongoing seething rage about the European invasion of their land in 1788, as well as everything that’s happened in the ensuing 229 years; many post-1788 Australians share that seething rage with, and on behalf of, our indigenous people.

We’re angry that it took until 1967 for a referendum “to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the People of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the Population“—or, in other words, Australians were asked to vote on whether or not indigenous people should be recognised as actual human beings, rather than capturing them within the “Flora and Fauna Act” as animals. We’re still angry that indigenous folk were, for so long, not recognised as human beings. We’re also angry that so many people are still so bogged down with anger about it taking until 1967 for said referendum.

And on the topic of anger-by-proxy, we live in an age of ‘outrage culture’ where many of us are, for whatever reason, angry about something on behalf of someone else. Never before have such levels of referred anger been so prevalent. We’re outraged about something that’s happened (or not happened) to others. We’re often outraged on behalf of a less-privileged class of people—typically, “less-privileged” by comparison with ourselves and despite us having no first-hand experience of the conditions about which we’re presently outraged. We’re outraged about the assistance that isn’t forthcoming to ease or resolve these situations. We’re even outraged by the lack of outrage of others. Outrage is, of course, another word for anger.

One ethnic minority doesn’t much care for another and so there is anger and hostility between the two (or sometimes more) of them, whether here in Australia or at home.

Some Australians are so angry that they use guns to maim or kill others, such that it seems that someone in, for example, western Sydney is shot on an almost hourly basis. And many angry Australians evidently decided, at some point in the quite recent past, that carrying knives around with them as they go about their day-to-day business, and stabbing anyone they have even the slightest disagreement with, is normal behaviour; some claim their knives are necessary for self-defence against other extremely angry Australians. Many of us are angry that this should be the case and we’re angry that more isn’t being done to stop it.

We’re angry about domestic violence and violence, generally, perpetrated by men against women—in fact, we’re so angry about it today that you’d almost think it never existed before about ten years ago; some of us are angry about that unbalanced view, too. We’re angry about the (seemingly) increasing levels of violence in today’s society, generally; we’re angry at inaction to curb societal violence, but we’re also angry about action that is taken to curb societal violence and we’re very angry about the perceived knock-on effects of some of those actions.

We’re angry with our Governments; we’re as angry with the prevailing political parties as with the opposition parties. In fact, we’re angry about politicians generally. We’re angry about their behaviour. We’re angry about their perceived elitism and dishonesty and piss-taking and out-of-touchness. We’re angry about pre-election promises that aren’t honoured once they’re swept to power. We’re angry about virtually everything they do and, more likely, don’t do.

We’re angry about gender equality, religious equality, income equality, marriage equality, social and class equality, ethnic equality, indigenous equality, equal opportunity, so-called ‘postcode discrimination’, freedom of speech, civil rights—essentially, we’re angry about anything and everything that we can or can’t do, and all the levers and mechanisms we perceive to play a part in such matters.

We’re angry about the destruction of trees and parklands for the construction of housing, roads and other infrastruture, yet, conversely, we’re also angry about a lack of housing, roads and infrastructure. We’re angry about historical elements of our built environment being destroyed to make way for new elements of our built environment. We’re angry about our built environment becoming increasingly high-density. We’re angry about the appalling cost of housing. We’re angry about a perceived onslaught of foreign investment in said high-density accommodations and we’re angry about the ever-decreasing ability of first home owners to afford to buy their own home.

We’re constantly angry with our fellow road users. We’re angry with drivers who hog the right lane on motorways. We’re angry with drivers, particularly truckdrivers, who ‘tailgate’ on highways. We’re angry with drivers who we perceive to have cut in or otherwise cut us off on suburban roads. We’re angry with virtually everyone on our clogged inner-city streets. We’re so angry that, at some point, the phenomenon of “road rage” became an actual thing.

We’re angry with the drivers of over-sized vehicles, because said vehicles are too big, take up too much space on narrow roads, block our forward vision, and are too slow. We’re angry with taxi drivers because they’re usually crap drivers who pilot their vehicles erratically and who stop anywhere irrespective of legality or impact. We’re angry with cyclists just because car drivers always are; we’re angry with cyclists because they’re too slow and they hold us up and there are now stupid laws in place that mean we must drive at least one metre away from them; we’re especially angry with cyclists who use the road when there’s an available bike lane.

Basically, our roads are almost exclusively populated by angry people.

We’re not engaged with our neighbours; we’re no longer talking to people in the street; in fact, more often than not we’re going out of our way to avoid eye contact altogether. We’re more likely to call the police about a neighbour’s noise than to ask the neighbour if they could take the decibels down a notch or two. We’re more likely to ignore a bewildered tourist with a map than to ask if they’re lost. We’re hesitant to help anyone who appears to be in any kind of trouble and we’re almost certainly not going to intervene in any kind of street conflict.

In all of this, do we ever ask ourselves why? Is it because you never know what someone will do? You never know how people will react? Someone might get violent? When did our world become this way? Is our collective hesitancy and mistrust and fear a product of our anger? Or is it the cause?

Or has it always been this way?


*Disclaimer: references to “we” and “we’re” are used, intentionally, to reference the broader society, and are not intended to suggest that the anger in question is that of the author, nor anyone known to the author, nor necessarily to anyone reading this statement right now.