Individuals part 2

It is good to remember that individuals, while generally better than members of an enraged mob stomping off to do something atrocious, are still individuals, subject to immense variation.  I was reminded of this two or three times after I wrote yesterday’s feel good piece.  

The sympathetic woman who took my initial call about a brusque postal supervisor who gave me a polite “tough, fucking shit, sir” when I complained my rent check had been inexplicably returned to me, and the equally nice woman, a Ms. Linton, I was later informed, who fielded my follow-up five business days later, were two very decent individuals.   The first, whose name I did not get, was not, as it turned out D. McNeil, the woman who was out to lunch when I spoke to the second kind individual at the Postal Inspector’s.

Ms. McNeil knew nothing of my complaint, her name had simply been on the automatically generated email that had been sent to me confirming that my complaint was being seriously investigated.  She confirmed that it was being investigated at the local level, by the person best suited to evaluate it, the brusque postal supervisor in question, who now had my confidential complaint in his hands, with my name and address.  

Ms. McNeil knew nothing of the case, put me on hold to read the case notes.  Five minutes later she was back, still not sure why I had wanted a return call from her.  The case had been ‘escalated’ to the individual post office level.  I asked her what the sense was to have my complaint in the hands of the man who had created the problem when, instead of being helpful, gave his tour de force of super-cool tough guy customer service.  She sort of agreed there was only a limited point to him investigating himself.

Unlike the others, Ms. McNeil didn’t bother to apologize on behalf of the Post Office for this Clint Eastwood-like customer relations specialist, though she did agree that it would have been better customer service to have told the customer holding the mistakenly, inexplicably returned rent check, “this should not have happened.  I will put it on the truck now and your landlord will have it in two or three days.”   She said it would have been better if he’d said something like that, instead of handing me a fake complaint number to call, instead of crossing out the barcode so the idiotic mistake would not be repeated.  She agreed that had he said that an apology of any kind would have been unnecessary.   She asked me wearily what I expected her to do at this point.

“For starters, I still want the Post Office to deliver the rent check they’ve returned to me twice,” I told her.  She explained again about the bar code, how it had to be crossed out and covered with a label.  Sadly, there was no guarantee it would be delivered this time either.   She then mentioned the original idea I’d had– have the post office put the thing in another envelope, readdress it and send it again.   Ms. McNeil liked this idea.  Eventually she told me she would ‘escalate’ the complaint, sending it to the area supervisor, the person to whom all branch supervisors answer. I asked for the email address to send my photos of the twice returned envelope.  She placed me on hold.   While holding I was treated to an endless stream of upbeat ads about the many unbeatable services offered by the Postal Service.   I listened, for as long as my patience lasted, which was about three minutes.  I hung up and dialed the number I had for D. McNeil.  

A pleasant recorded voice told me the person at this number had not set up their voicemail and then announced I would be transferred to a representative to assist me.  There was a beep, then another recording.  It said “your session cannot be continued at this time.  Goodbye.”

Twenty minutes later Ms. McNeil called me back with a fax number where I could fax all the photos I wanted.  I told Ms. McNeil I’d gotten rid of my fax machine years ago.  I asked again for an email address.  She sighed, having no idea why I was being so difficult about these simple things.  She was sure they probably had an email address, would I like to hold while she searched for it again?

I thanked her and walked over to the local post office.  The two Chinese American clerks there had always been very nice.  But all the one I spoke to told me is that she could cover the bar code, send it out for sorting again and hope for the best.  “But,” she told me in strongly accented English, “some Postal employees do not do what they’re supposed to.  You can never tell.”   As for putting it in another envelope, they had no such envelope, I had to go to the main post office for that service.   She agreed it wasn’t fair to make me pay more postage for another envelope, the only option available.  Then she looked at me with intensity and said “But if I give you envelope I have to pay, nobody pay me for the postage.  You think that’s fair?”    I didn’t.  They had no supervisor available at their little Utopia Branch (heavenly though the place otherwise is.)   The two Asian-American clerks regarded me seriously until I agreed it wasn’t fair that one of them should be forced to pay.

I had a sudden thought that none of this was fair.  Our fucking world is off the fucking rails, every business we encounter here in America, with rare, beautiful exceptions, is managed from the style book for psychopaths.  I bought the envelope, it cost me 63 cents.  I paid in cash.  I  addressed the blank envelope and re-mailed the twice returned rent check to my landlord.  I apologized to the wide eyed clerk, who had begun staring at me, seeming truly hurt by how I seemed to be making such unfair demands of her.  When I handed her back the envelope I said “thank you, ma’am.”   She smiled.  I walked back into the sunshine trying to get over the feeling that I had been successfully pissed on, for more than a week.


“Greeked” for posting on this website.  The envelope was addressed as neatly as circumstances yesterday allowed. 

Peace be with you.


How we force you to lose hope

Government, increasingly the mechanism by which wealthy corporations, and individuals, make sure their profits are robust and their schemes unhindered by things like regulation,  accountability or prosecution, has learned tremendous customer relations lessons from their canny corporate cousins.   We have come to expect as little protection from our government as from the makers of very expensive toxically produced shit.  Right wing extremists have exploited, and whenever in power exacerbated, this disaffection with our own democratic government, now seen by so many as the enemy instead of the protector of our liberties.  Such forces find it easy to crush problem consumers/citizens.

Check out this example of the fiendishly simple means by which hope for correction of even the simplest error by an institution is snuffed out, routinely, for people without power who appeal to the institutions available for relief from mistreatment.

I got snotty treatment from a Post Office supervisor.  All he had to say is “whoa, that’s a mistake, that letter should have gone to the office it’s addressed to, not to the return address it was sent from.  We’ll fix it, it will be where you sent it in two or three days.”   Not even a ‘sorry’ needed.  “Sorry” is a word that our winner society has made the exclusive domain of weak losers who have no choice but to apologize.

Instead of a reasonable response to a postal error you get, giving him the benefit of the doubt, dismissal from a tired, testy civil servant who doesn’t like the tone of the disgruntled customer.  It’s not his fault that the customer waited on line to be jerked around for an excruciating five minutes by an extremely dull, monosyllabic postal clerk before being passed on to him.   It’s not his fault the letter was returned to the customer without explanation, instead of going to the clearly printed address on the properly stamped business mailer.   None of this is his fault, yet he is taking the full heat for a postal system that sometimes simply just fucks up.   Doesn’t like the way this dick of a customer is making demands, relentless, unsatisfied with the explanation of machine error and his noncommittal shrugs.    Fine.  “No guarantee it will get there this time either, SIR, (the s-word) we’ll just have to hope for the best.”

The customer goes home angry, and finds a federal agency to complain to.   The person he speaks to there seems to be very concerned with the story of the poor treatment the customer has received.    He should not have been handed a complaint number that does not allow a complaint to be made, particularly after the brusque treatment of a customer who had every right to complain.   Especially since there was no explanation given for the illogical return of the letter, except machine error, “shit happens,” and no guarantee given that it won’t be returned to him again.  Not to mention the sly “fuck you” of the fake complaint number.

She promises the customer an investigation, gives him the case number and tells him a report will be emailed to him in 2-4 business days at which time he’ll be able to follow up, if necessary, including emailing photos of the canceled, improperly returned envelope.

Sure enough, two business days later, this email arrives:

Updated information regarding your recent inquiry (Case ID:137194142) (KMM50585860V79654L0KM)

Dear Elliott Widaen,  [got the tricky last name right, but misspelled the first name, one L, one T]

This message is to let you know that we have received your inquiry at the Post Office. 

After we review and investigate the information you have provided, we will contact you and work with you until the case is resolved. 

Thank you for letting us know about this issue.  We look forward to serving you. 


Your United States Postal Service

D. McNeil
Consumer Affairs
(212) 330-3667

PS: Please do not reply to this message as this email address is not monitored for responses.  Your privacy is important to us.  If you would like additional information on our privacy policy, please visit

Ten minutes later, a US Postal Service bot sends this update:

In order to better serve you, your recently submitted inquiry was forwarded to an office that is better suited to address your needs. It is being investigated and you can expect a reply within 2 to 4 business days.

Which office?   Where is this office?   Who?  What?  Why?   Mysteries to be answered within 2 to 4 business days, if all goes well.  

The following day the original envelope with the rent check to the landlord, being sent a twenty minute truck ride from the post office it was returned to, arrives back in the customer’s mail box.  The issue very much not resolved.

You figure, for fifty cents I can put this small business envelope into a standard sized envelope, address it by hand, put a stamp on it and mail it from another part of town. Maybe the postal workers there will not have all been lobotomized, or addled on opioids, or drunk, or willfully assholic, or whatever the problem is when such a simple, routine task is not done properly.  A fifty cent stamp and done.

But for somebody like me, raised by an angry asshole, sensitized to that asshole reflex to testily shift blame to the person mistreated — hard to bite the bullet and do the easy thing.   On to another post office, in another borough (have to go there for something else tomorrow anyway), where everyone has been very nice so far, and humbly make what should be a relatively easy to make case that I have not received the service I paid for.    I’d like them to put it in another envelope, with explicit instructions to deliver it to the address it is addressed to and not, mischievously or imbecilically, to the return address.

This reflex to get some kind of just result is also part of how they break you like a fucking twig.    I don’t know exactly what to do about this reflex, but some part of me believes that once it is neutralized, in enough of us, the Klan will be marching down the main street of every town again, making America great again, like they did when my father was born, in 1924, at the height of their national power, 4.5 million proud members strong.

Short version

Wrote this as part of a futile letter I am working on, an exercise in trying to digest something that is indigestible, addressed to the chef and server of the unpalatable dish.  I don’t know if it has any interest, but it’s a much quicker telling of the encounter laid out in the previous post, and I will most likely delete it from the letter I wrote it in:


I wrote this letter right after an encounter at my local post office. The encounter illustrates a personality type, all too common, that gives no quarter in defending why they are right and you, whatever the facts, are actually the asshole.

My rent check, in the landlord’s mailer, was returned to me, the stamp cancelled and no other explanation. Went to the post office to have it delivered.  The monkeylike clerk wordlessly studied it for a long time before telling me I needed to talk to the supervisor. The supervisor also studied the envelope for a moment.

“Must not have read the address,” he said, pointing to the address printed on the business envelope. “Machines, we use machines, sometimes they make mistakes.” I asked him to expedite delivery of the check, since it was now a week late. He told me he couldn’t expedite anything, only “overstamp” it and put it back into regular mail, unless I wanted to pay for overnight delivery.  He apparently thought I was being a dick, because he’d already admitted a machine had made a mistake, that it was nobody’s fault, and yet I was still demanding something from him. “Haven’t you ever made a mistake?” he asked me.

At this point, the guy who should have simply said “this shouldn’t have happened, I’m sorry for the hassle. I’ll hand cancel this, put it on the truck and make sure it gets delivered tomorrow, the address is only five miles from here” was staring at me like I’d just taken a piss at his window.  He slid a paper with a number he said was for complaints through the window, told me his name. He refused to give me a receipt or any proof I’d re-mailed my returned envelope to my landlord. Told me he could only give me a receipt if I paid for it.

The number on the form turned out not to have an option for “complaints” and the waiting time was 40 to 50 minutes to speak to a human. I have no idea if this dickhead gave me his actual name, whether he put my letter in the bin to be sorted and delivered or into the garbage bin. How would I know how much of a vicious psycho this guy potentially is, particularly after I finally told him to fuck himself after he told me he could only give me a receipt if I paid him? He’d certainly showed me a nice snappy catalogue of politely sociopathic traits.

With a stranger who is an asshole, this is standard behavior: never sympathize, or admit any wrongdoing, give a reason that sounds reasonable enough, deny any obligation to fix the mistake, put the complaining consumer on the spot by blaming him for being a hypocrite, and a complainer, tell him to fuck off, politely, give him a fake number to file his fake complaint and make up a name for yourself.

A loved one who does this is in a different category, no?  Do you want the lesson your kids get to take with them in life to be that trust is a delicate, transactional illusion, that to live you have to learn to tell yourself, and others, any lie that makes it possible to conceal shame and manipulation?


Anger Update

Be reluctant to declare victory in the war on difficult emotions, my friends.   It is important to remember that battling our powerful lowest impulses is a constant wrestling match.   I had a nice reminder of the hubris of claiming victory yesterday, and the letdown in vigilance such hubris often causes, when I momentarily lost my verbal shit in the post office yesterday.   This came a day after delivering learned comments about recognizing the signs that you are about to get angry, taking a breath and pulling yourself back from the explosion.

My rent check, in the printed mailer provided by my landlord, was returned to me several days after I mailed it.  It was postmarked and returned with no reason for its return anywhere on the envelope. I brought it to the Post Office today to have its delivery expedited.   The woman at the window studied it for a long time, turning it over and over in her hands, peeling back the stamp, turning it again, her lower lip hanging down pensively. After a few minutes of this, and before she could reach for a magnifying glass, I pointed out that she was not going to find any further information.  I told her it was a rent check, returned to me in error, and that I needed it delivered as soon as possible.   She asked what day I had mailed it, when it had been returned to me.  She looked blankly as I told her “I mailed it Tuesday,  it was returned Saturday” then consulted her phone, presumably for a calendar.   After a long pause she looked up at me without expression, slid the envelope back to me and sent me over to her supervisor.

The supervisor looked at the postmarked envelope, turned it in his hands, shrugged and told me maybe the printed address had not been read through the window.  I pointed out that it was quite legible, printed in caps, in fact, and in the place where every business correspondence is addressed.  He countered with “machines, these are read by machines, which sometimes make mistakes.”  

He told me he could not expedite delivery of this erroneously returned mailing, then, when I appeared dissatisfied with this answer, asked me if I had never made a mistake.  I told him, of course, we all do, but that in the case of this properly addressed, properly posted letter I hadn’t made a mistake, the Post Office and its sorting machines had.   I was asking him to correct this mistake.  He said all he could do was send it again, by regular mail, and that hopefully it would go through this time.  He told me he would draw arrows directing the machine’s attention to the place where the address is on the business envelope, that hopefully it would be properly routed by the machine this time.

“Arrows,” I said, “directing the machines to the ordinary place for an address.  Presumably these arrows will get a postal machine to remove its head from its mechanical ass and sort the envelope properly this time.”

“Those are your words,” he said, unnecessarily.

 When I  still appeared unsatisfied, realizing he was dealing with an angry, implacable dick, he slid a postal form, PS Form 3849, under the glass and told me if I had a complaint, to call the number on the form.  The move removed any doubt I had about being in a conversation with an immovable asshole, in this case one named Umar, but I managed, for a time, to maintain a grim cool.   

This was the time, as I urged my friend the other day, to notice the signs that this was going badly, not going to end well, the physical signs that fight or flight chemicals were flowing, the familiar, climbing feeling that generally happens when I find myself confronted by a robotic attitude, by some insistent jerk sitting behind bullet proof glass who won’t back down no matter what.  This was the time to walk away, there was clearly nothing to gain in this interaction.

All he could do, he told me again, was “overstamp” it and draw arrows on the envelope pointing the machine to the address, and hopefully it would get there, by regular mail, in a few days.  Unless I paid extra, there was no other option available to me, nor anything else the post office would do, or had any obligation to do.  “Feel free to make a complaint,” Umar told me, giving me his name.    I told him to overstamp it and send it again.  He did.  I thanked him for his time, through gritted teeth.

Walking out of the post office I was steamed.  After walking about a block I realized I should have gotten a receipt of some kind of the re-mailing, in case of future trouble with the landlord (and to avoid a $25 fee to stop the original check, in the event the letter didn’t make it the several miles to my landlord’s office).  

As I turned to go back to the Post Office I passed the ongoing standoff over a parking spot.  On my original trip to the Post Office, fifteen minutes earlier, I’d seen one car backing in to parallel park as another nipped in quickly from the other direction.   Neither car could get into the spot now, and neither driver was willing to concede an inch to the other.   The two drivers were locked in their positions, neither one backing down, while a traffic jam built up behind them, a bus trying to make a turn was now blocking all traffic on Broadway.   Horns were blaring.   “The human condition,” I thought, as I entered the Post Office again, to enact my part.

Umar would not come to the window, though he saw me standing at the window.  I called him and pounded on the bulletproof glass with my fist as he disappeared around the wall.  I continued calling his name in a loud belligerent voice.  When he returned, affecting the unflappability of the perfect asshole, he refused to give me any kind of receipt.  Impossible, he said, unless I paid for it.  I then exploded.

“This place is fucked up and you are the fucking supervisor of it!” I snarled idiotically, if also accurately, and stormed out, banging the door hard enough to break it.   A moment later it occurred to me that his next move would be to reach into the bin, retrieve my letter with the rent check, rip it neatly in half, ball it up and toss it into the garbage.

The “complaint” number he gave me had no option for complaints.  It was not a complaint number.  The wait to speak to a human was “40 to 50 minutes”.   I found myself flooded with fight or flight chemicals as I searched the web for how to make a complaint against customer-relations challenged civil servant Umar, to protect myself if he did the angry thing and destroyed my payment to the landlord.  He could also simply have left it on a shelf, to sit for a few weeks.

I called the federal agency that oversees the Post Office, spoke to a very sympathetic woman (whose name I foolishly did not take, though she gave me my case #) who assured me this will be investigated and an email would come back to me within 3 business days.  She told me it was a good move on my part to have photographed the returned envelope, and that I should hold on to the photo.

Odds are Umar didn’t rip it up, the landlord will have it the day after tomorrow, cash it by 3/20 and done and done.  In the odd event that he did ‘go postal’ on my check to the landlord, there is at least a record, a complaint with the federal office that investigates alleged improprieties by postal workers.  For whatever that might be worth.  

But if that impenetrable wall of glass hadn’t been between us, and Umar had stepped toward me, I can’t say for sure, in spite of not being a fighter, in spite of my conscious attempt to remain peaceful, that I would have been able to resist what nature would have been imploring me to do.  I’d had fair warning as things went from fartlike to actual shit, but it was no help in this instance.

This is one reason anger is such a dangerous thing.  It is waiting, always, particularly for those of us who were victimized by angry adults when we were children, and anger can almost always convince you that you are 100% correct in your reaction.  Umar had probably had a shitty day himself, didn’t feel like being reprimanded by some snotty, disgruntled customer for a simple mistake he had nothing to do with.   When the customer poured salt on his shit-sandwich of day by telling him “if you had said ‘this shouldn’t have happened, I’m sorry for the hassle, we’ll get this over to your landlord ASAP,” Umar could only claim he had said that.  “I told you I was sorry,” he said sullenly, then slid the fake complaint number under the glass by way of saying “lick my unwashed, crusty asshole, sir.” 

There is no winner in this kind of transaction.  It is best to keep them short and to the point, though that is far more easily said than done.   Remain humble, do not proclaim that you have surmounted the ugly thing that will soon be ready to bite you in the ass again, hard, and with very sharp teeth.

Moms Demand Action

I heard a great interview (conducted by former U.S. Attorney Preet Barara on his podcast) with Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, now a nationwide organization with more than 4,000,000 members.   You can hear the entire interview here.   From Moms Demand Action’s website (clickez zis link):


Moms Demand Action was founded by stay-at-home mom Shannon Watts on December 15, 2012, in response to the devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The organization quickly flourished into a leading force for gun violence prevention, with chapters in all 50 states and a powerful grassroots network of moms that has successfully effected change at the local, state and national level. In December 2013, Moms Demand Action partnered with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to unite a nationwide movement of millions of Americans working together to change the game and end the epidemic of gun violence that affects every community.

Shannon Watts has educated herself on the issue, and on the numbers.  Once more I am reminded how important having the actual facts and the data are in any complicated discussion.  In any talk about our violent gun culture, we need to take the actual facts of the grisly fucking case into consideration, in order to, as Barara pointed out, prioritize our efforts at fixing the problem.  

For example, I had the impression that semi-automatic weapons, and the automatic ones created by using a “bump stock,” were responsible for much of the American gun carnage.   Wrong, those killings amount to something like 2% of all gun murders in the U.S.   Still a fairly large number, but banning assault weapons would leave 98% of all American killings by gun untouched.  

Not to say it’s not important to keep powerful combat weapons out of the hands of maniacs, out of any hands, but it is perhaps more important to make sure no domestic abuser gets to legally carry any kind of fire arm.  For every rich white fuck who rents a hotel room as a sniper’s nest and rains bullets from his fancy assault weapons on a crowd gathered to enjoy some music there are apparently as many as 49 incidents where somebody with a documented history of violence just takes a handgun, delivers a line from an action movie, and shoots somebody in the face.

Kids that torture small animals grow up looking for bigger game to torture.   We don’t generally help these miserable kids, we smack them down.  There is a lot of free-floating anger in this world, in our country, a place in which more and more people are increasingly without attractive options, or any prospects, really, more and more of them locked up in gigantic numbers for small, seemingly insignificant crimes (like a bag of marijuana, or having an attitude with a frisking cop) while the wealthiest white collar criminals coyly flaunt their immensely profitable crimes, are interviewed smiling on TV, are appointed to high government positions, never at any time in danger of prosecution.  We live in a society that, in many ways, fundamentally makes no sense — outside of creating profit and wealth for an increasingly small number of winners.  

So belief systems arise to explain the vexing irrationality of society.   Napoleon noted that religion is what keeps the poor from killing the rich.  Another old chestnut is the common historical belief among countless millions that all of our troubles come from some fucking minority group that is causing all the problems, or from mouthy women who don’t know when to shut up, or baby birds who think they are so fucking cute.  

As a young school child I was bullied by a sadistic older kid named Larry Zimmerman.   He menaced me at the bus stop every morning when I was six or seven years old.   I don’t recall him ever punching me, although he may have, but he made it viscerally clear as he grabbed the front of my shirt that he’d like nothing more than his fist concussing my frightened little face.   After a while, and an eventual visit from my father to the bus stop, Larry lost interest in bullying me.  Years later, walking home from that same elementary school, I passed Larry squatting on the sidewalk.  As I walked around him I saw that he was busy slowly decapitating a baby bird that had fallen from a nest.

In Junior High School Larry hung out in gym class with a kid who had a hook for one of his hands.   The crew cut blond kid with the hook was cruelly mocked by classmates who called him “Captain Hook” and shit like that.   Larry got the boy with the hook up on a rope, his feet clutching the big knot at the bottom of the rope, just slightly off the ground, and pushed the kid, brandishing his hook face-high, into groups of boys in their gym clothes.  Hell of a scene.  At one point Larry stepped back, directly into me, and fell on the ground.  I recall the calm feeling I had looking at him on the ground as he looked up fearfully, seeming to recognize me.

I don’t know what eventually happened to the poor bastard, but I suspect things did not work out that well for him.   By sheer happenstance, I learned that the boy with the hook grew up to be a very handsome and charming man.   A friend was chatted up by him on a bus, and she gave the report, confirming that his name was Paul, that he was our age,  had grown up in Queens, gone to my Junior High School (the one I own).    A kid who is a bully at eight, decapitating baby birds at eleven, gleefully pushing a classmate swinging from a rope to terrify kids with his metal hook… these are all signs that this fellow probably should not be given training in firearms or a license to carry a gun.

The big problem when you have a competitive country run by well-paid, highly skilled advertisers, industry lobbyists and spinmeisters, where everything related to corporate profit is falsely framed as an issue of “liberty” and “freedom,” is that we lose the ability to look at the bigger picture.  The National Rifle Association calls itself American’s oldest Civil Rights organization (it dates back to 1871, not long after the end of the Civil War many are still fighting).  

True or false on the NRA as freedom fighters is, of course, a matter of your perspective.   Thirty million dollars in campaign contributions to Trump in 2016 may give you some idea of their commitment to justice, fairness and responsible gun use.   There are many NRA members who are not deadly fanatics, I am sure, but good people who just want to go to the range and keep their aim true.   Angry people who want guns to protect themselves from human animals who need to be shot have civil rights too, I guess.  We can say the same for members of fraternal organizations like the Ku Klux Klan, formed only a few years before the NRA Civil Rights group.  The Klan is entitled to due process too, when they are accused of crimes and things like that. 

We live in a country whose citizens have long been led to believe that there is closure available through deadly violence.   The history of the old West is one example, watch any Western.   Most action movies follow this simple formula: establish good characters, establish evil character, have evil character inhumanly torment and kill some good characters, surviving good character gets gun, cathartically kills evil one.  Roll credits.  America, I hate to point out the obvious — shooting the evil fuck in both knee caps, kicking him hard in the face, in the ribs, in the balls, shooting him in each hand, taking a knife and inflicting a deep wound in his torso, and leaving him to scream and whimper as he bleeds out, will not bring your murdered family members back to life.  You think you will feel better after you torture the evil, murderous fuck to death?  I don’t know.  But that’s a persistent myth in the nation we live in.  It’s a central part of our culture.  

Is cathartic revenge the best way to address the heart-rending problem of murderous violence against innocents in a society as brutally unfair as ours?  Probably not.  But that’s a big reason we allow people to buy as many guns as they want.  Freedom, yo.

Anger Makes You Mad

Neuroscience has identified the part of the brain that lights up when we are angry — the insula, deep in the cerebral cortex.   When the insula is aglow fight or flight chemicals like adrenaline and cortisol are released and the mind is literally disabled from making fine, or even gross, distinctions.  

A truly angry parent may actually be physically incapable of seeing the harm in venting against a young kid who has provoked them to rage.  Incapable of seeing the damage done by slapping the kid, or locking the kid in a dark closet and turning the music up to drown her screams or raging wildly against the child’s sense of self. 

This shut off of the moral faculty when rage is upon us seems like an obvious point, but it really isn’t.  Angry and “mad” are synonyms, but even that is only a hint of the obvious.  

The other side of being angry is that we instantly justify our anger, even though these deeply-held justifications often don’t bear much scrutiny.  All available evidence, when we are mad, points to our being absolutely right to be angry.   The urgent reason we feel angry couldn’t be more obvious, to us.   It’s telling, and very human, that the only non-physical faculty that continues to work when we are enraged is our homo sapiens ability to justify ourselves.

This trait, rage making one resolute and incapable of seeing another person’s point of view, is what makes war possible.  It explains mob lynching and every other atrocity.   Rage makes people support deadly policies of all kinds.   We don’t see the victims of war, lynching or deadly policies as humans with souls as unique and precious as those of the people we love.   We see them as irredeemable fucking assholes who deserve what they fucking get.   If Donald Trump had a massive stroke during a nationally broadcast speech, many Americans would feel no empathy for him, some would even laugh.   Reminds me of a great line of Trump’s, from early in the presidential campaign when he was picking off his Republican opponents one after another.

 I think it was Ted Cruz, right before he was voted off the island, who introduced a woman, I think it was Carly Fiorino, as his running mate (turns out Carly introduced “our next president” Ted Cruz — ed.).   The woman turned on stage and seemed to fall into a manhole.   She stepped forward and just went down.  Trump showed the great clip to his crowd at a rally.  The crowd loved it.  He pointed out that nobody on stage had gone to help her.  “Even I would have helped her,” Trump said with a smile and a little shrug.  “Even I!”   Cracked me up.    

My grandmother, no stranger to anger, liked to calmly say, after she’d provoked me with some harsh comment about my work ethic, “I know, I know… the truth hurts, I know…”   I’d sputter on in defense of the thing she had just attacked and she’d smile, and nod, and sympathetically tell me that the truth hurts, that she knew, she knew.   I loved her, but that was some hard to come back from shit.  

There is this, though: the things that will make us most angry are things that attack us where we are most vulnerable.   A shameful secret, dangled sadistically.  Noting a particular weakness we know we have.   Bringing up something painful in a way that seems unfair.   Making an issue of our greatest fear.  

I’m no expert on anger, but I have studied it for many years, since it played a terrible role in my life going back to my earliest days.   It turns out there are ways to avoid an angry confrontation, methods to defuse anger rather than escalate it.  

The intellectual part is hard enough, recognizing the maddening principle at work, the exact, familiar thing that pisses you off, before the anger takes over, and then learning what you need to say and do next to avoid escalation.   That intellectual understanding is crucial for de-escalating the situation.  It’s hard, but over time we can get better at recognizing the signs that we are about to get mad and take the steps that have worked in the past to calm our reactions.

The emotional component of anger is the truly hard part to master.   The overwhelming feeling of injustice hits us hard out of nowhere.  Suddenly we are under attack, the stress chemicals flowing, the insula lit up, the justifications for our anger mounting aggravatingly.  That, my friends, is the fucking hard part.   Something to think about while you consider how you feel about the idea that anger, even rage, is inevitable in human affairs.   I would not concede that in my own relations.