I got angry today, and it surprised me because it was so physical, focused, energising, and strange. It felt like remembering a forgotten emotion. But I’m angry about all sorts of things, I thought: a myriad injustices, short-sightedness, destructiveness.
I’m not, very often. I don’t actually feel angry about them. I just feel a pervasive, frustrated sadness.
Concepts and systems – combinations of patterns and logics and relationships – make for very tiresome enemies. Literally. They sap my energy. They shape-shift, and frequently shatter into their individually justifiable parts. To see them in life, you have to stand back, take of your glasses and let everything go a bit blurry. A little like those picture comprised of smaller photos, the picture dissipates when you examine its individual components.
So although I sense a lot of systemic injustice, ranging from the feeling that ‘this could be a hell of a lot better than it is’ (the way we socially force ourselves into alienating drudgery) to ‘this is overwhelmingly, catastrophically, wrong’ (systemic abuse of our environment and ecosystems), I cannot challenge it to its face, it cannot answer back and justify itself, I can’t take it to court or stand in the street and yell at it. Or at least, if I did, it is not able to listen or react.
And I just cannot get very angry with the individual carbon trader, with those who consume thoughtlessly, with those for whom the effect of their cumulative actions is far out of sight, with those who put their short-term needs above the hypothesised future of those they don’t know. When anger is directed at players within the system, it is often seen as inappropriate and unhelpful, or childish and out-of-place, or unjust and addressed at the evil straw-men do. I am robbed of a potent emotion.
So the anger I feel at systemic wrong has no place to rest, no purchase, and it evolves into a deep and slow sadness. Sadness is calmer, gentler, and an easier emotion to take with you into discussions about the complex operations of global trade.
And sadness motivates in a very different way to anger. The thoughts and actions of anger are light, because they address the present and are aided by physicality and a quickened heart. The thoughts and actions of sadness are effortful, because they drag with them the weight of a sunken heart.
Activist protests are often expressions of our anger at systemic wrong. Yet what quickens the pulse, sparks the violence and gets activists the most fired up is the quite close and personal experience of small injustices committed by the police. The rage directed at police officers who mistreat protesters quickly surmounts and surpasses in power any emotions we are able to drag up against famine or carbon trading.
Set me next to an personal injustice, as today – a stark and cruel abuse of power – and the flint strikes against my sad heart and sets it burning. I cannot often inhabit anger’s simplicity, but I am in need of its flame.