Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 5:Displacing 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 5:Displacing Anger

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Last week, we talked about how anger is a very powerful emotion that can easily override reason. One implication is that we frequently displace our anger. This may seem foolish to an outside observer using purely rational modes of thought, but it seems reasonable to the angry person.

For example, if I stub my toe on the door, I may angrily hit the door with my fist, though from a rational point-of-view such behavior is absurd. The door did not decide to stub my toe.

If I strike someone in anger, I am very unlikely to attribute my violent behavior to anger. I will not say to myself, “I’m hitting you because I’m angry.” I will consider my violence an appropriate response to that person’s offense. I may later regret that my anger overpowered my self-control, but I am unlikely to ever conclude that my anger was responsible for the action—my self-image will encourage me to conclude that it was the other person’s behavior, not my angry feelings, that precipitated the violence.

Now, let’s start to put all of this together. To review:

1) Humans are inherently mimetic—mimesis is like an involuntary reflex that is critical to our learning language and culture;

2) Desire is mimetic;

3) Mimetic desire invariably leads to conflicts;

4) Conflicts generate resentment;

5) As resentment turns into anger, rationality takes a back seat and a thirst for revenge can emerge.

So, mimesis—so central to our becoming social beings—also threatens to drive people apart. Since the objects of desire always become scarce, rivalries invariably emerge that lead to resentment, anger, and ultimately hostility that can disrupt or even destroy human communities.

In primal (“primitive”) cultures, survival often depends on hunting and protection from predators. Hunting and defense require communal efforts, because physically we are very slow and weak compared to animals of similar body size. But, how can primal cultures maintain cohesiveness, given the human tendency to develop mimetic rivalries that threaten to destroy bonds of loyalty or even lead to violence? The “solution” is to find a scapegoat. If everyone can agree that one person is responsible for the growing hard feelings that threaten to destroy a community, then killing or expelling that person can restore peace. We’ll explore the scapegoat mechanism further next week.

Go on to: Part 6: The Scapegoat Mechanism
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