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11.9.02 Where Anger Goes

I woke up thinking about anger among unequals. If someone has done something unforgivable, irrationally and disproportionately mean to you, what are the choices?

I'm thinking of young black men rousted by the police, poor people slowly and systematically stripped of opportunities and rights by greedy overlords, employees who lost their pensions through the action of, well, greedy overlords, churches who support priests who rape boys.

What are the choices?

The formal protest. "Ahem, Mister Secretary General, I believe my, uh, rights are being violated." The trickiest comeback is to have a formal procedure: "After thorough investigation, we've determined your overlord is without fault." You slink away.

The emotional outburst
. Crying and whining is at the weak end of the spectrum, makes the massah uncomfortable but only sharpens the status difference ("What a goddamn weenie she is"). Yelling and foot-stomping gets intimidation points but also loses your audience with the pope ("If she calls, tell her I'm out.")

Another form: in-your-face retaliation. The car bomb. The handgun. Watch the movie "Changing Lanes." If you have the upper hand, if you're Tony Soprano or a Charles-Bronson movie hero, this can work. If you are a Chechen or a Palestinian, adios, muchacho.

Unless the underdog is prepared to die -- either literally or the thousand deaths of public embarrassment when their protests are laughed at -- gaining a grain of justice becomes very tricky. I think this is where groups begin to adopt the long view. Religion, in case you didn't notice, may be about cathedrals and red-robed pomp to the powerful, but to the dispossessed it is, yes, the opiate that dulls the pain while they plot the revolution. Islam flourishes among underdogs, like Christianity once did.

And the angriest, the smartest find form and resources for their plots. Al Qaeda.

Sure, have your peace talks, your public dialogues, your town meetings, your mock reconciliations. You are only being sized up. People in calculating vengeance mode for decades or centuries of injustice don't have their anger dissipated like so much dust in a smiley-face windstorm. The dust has long since coalesced into chunks of bitter coal, now diamond-hard. Revenge and justice will come when time has no meaning. For now, their satisfaction is being one hell of big kidney stone in the body politic.

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