Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 4: Anger
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 4: Anger

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

As discussed previously, our desires are mimetic. The problem is that whatever we desire invariably becomes a scarce resource. As people mimetic desire the same item(s), demand invariably outstrips supply and competition arises in pursuit of the scarce item. This scarce item could be tasty foods, material goods, attractive mates, esteem by peers (because not everyone can be esteemed), or something else. The failure to satisfy our desires injures our self-esteem, generating resentfulness towards those who have gained the desired item(s).

In our culture, having material possessions is a sign of “success.” In a materialist culture like our own, where self-esteem is associated with wealth, there will always be people regarded as “poor.” What it means to be “poor” varies between cultures, because wealth and poverty are relative terms. In our culture, a family with one beat-up but running car, a small home in need of repairs, and inexpensive but sufficient food might be regarded as “poor,” while such a family would be “wealthy” in other parts of the world or at other times in human history. In materialistic cultures, it is essential that there are disparities in wealth, and it’s necessary to the self-esteem of the wealthy that they be envied by “the poor.”

Envy leads to resentment. As mentioned previously, we don’t want to attribute our resentments to frustrated desire. To do so would acknowledge our failings, and this would augment our injured self-esteem. Instead, we tend to conclude that the people we resent are contemptible people who we dislike for very good reasons. We become angry at perceived offenses. Consequently, we treat badly those who we resent. In angry, mimetic response, they treat us badly. This makes us feel more angry, encouraging a cycle of escalating, mimetic anger that could lead to outright hatred and possibly to violence.

The problem is that we rarely have insight into our anger. Anger reflects feelings of helplessness and powerlessness, which damage our self-esteem. We like to think of ourselves as rational and objective, but we frequently fool ourselves. Because anger is such a powerful emotion, it often overrides reason and easily recruits “reason” to justify itself. For example, I might convince myself that the reason I dislike a classmate is not because I’m angry about his humiliating me at sports, but because he’s arrogant. In truth, he’s no more arrogant than anyone else, but now I’ve convinced myself of a good “reason” to dislike him.

Anger’s ability to override reason has important implications. One of those implications, crucial for Girardian thought, is that anger is easily displaced from the original object (e.g., the classmate I resent) to a substituting object (e.g., somebody weaker than I am, such as a small classmate or a defenseless animal). We’ll explore this further next week.

Go on to: Part 5: Displacing Anger
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