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The Value of Rage

June 4, 2009

I was raised to avoid anger at all costs, taught it was the mark of a lower class too intellectually poor to afford better expression. This is present in the feminist discourse as well, as Gilligan has always been treated kinder than Dworkin as I have discussed feminism with others.

This means that a body of knowledge is going unused, namely the epistemology of rage. In America, I am not allowed to consider the motivations of Valerie Solanas or Shulamith Firestone for advocating (even if jokingly) killing all male-gendered people or permanently abandoning pregnancy as “barbaric”. I am not allowed because of the intellectual and physical violence with which they act. As a pacifist, it is additionally uncomfortable for me to accept and value this viewpoint. Despite my difficulty, I must investigate and attempt to understand what brought these authors to the point of advocating these actions, if possible doing so in a way in which  I can identify a part of myself that would act in the same way, as well as the part that recoils in disgust against these actions.

When I divide myself into a permanent tension of oppositions in this way, my attitude towards these authors attains clarity, and I can take them in, understanding that they are in me. It is important for all of us to undertake this process, no matter gender we identify as, as we all have the currents of the oppressed and the oppressor inside of ourselves. I understand that this last statement may seem like an escape route for myself, especially as I am speaking from a male standpoint (at least by physical appearances). I believe it would be more discriminatory, however, to deny women and men the their ability to understand both roles.

I have written before on the gendering of the First and Third world. If we undergo the same process of investigating motivations to understand the respective rages of the Third World and the bewilderment rapidly followed by rage of the first world, we can move towards an encounter unclouded by naievety.

15 Comments
  1. Jay permalink
    June 4, 2009 1:38 pm

    Anger/rage and violence are not synonymous. If a pacifist is human, they have anger. No sense in denying the humanity of emotions. Not sure what you mean by intellectual violence.

  2. Alison permalink
    June 4, 2009 2:16 pm

    Thomas, is there a link to the writing you’re referring to so I can get a better idea of what you’re discussing here? Please share if so! I’d like to read it.

    Also, can you explain what you mean by the “respective rages of the Third World and the bewilderment rapidly followed by rage of the first world”? Are you thinking of a specific example?

  3. thomasmurphymusic permalink
    June 4, 2009 3:29 pm

    @ Jay. While it may be relatively easy for you to embrace anger as part of the humanity of emotions, I have struggled with allowing my anger to be part of my interaction with others. I fear that it becomes a dominating force on my part. As far as rage and violence are concerned, I do not view them as a unison either, but believe they are present in many things. For example, your comment does violence onto the position I have presented.

    For an example of intellectual violence, check out Ward Churchill’s famous article, “The Ghosts of 9-1-1: Reflection son History, Justice, and Roosting Chickens”. You will of course have a different encounter with this piece than me, but encountering this work was quite violent to my relative satisfaction with myself as a discontent American citizen.

    As always, I would appreciate your further thoughts.

    @Alison- Unfortunately, both of the sources I am referencing were created far before the digital age, so they exist in old fashioned book form. The Solanas work I am referring to is the SCUM Manifesto. I question the effectiveness of my using this example, as it has been held up by many anti-feminists as damning evidence of the movement, but I wanted to make an attempt to explain how it gained value for myself.
    The Shulamith Firestone work is The Dialectic of Sex. She interprets de Beauvoir, Freud, and Marx among others, using the Marx division of labor framework to argue that gender inequality is forced on women by forcing them to be involved in child-rearing tasks, and to end this women should not have biological children but use scientific means to reproduce.

    As for the Third World/First World comment, I was not specific because this pattern has been played out so many times. Here is one. The similar pattern can be seen in Iraq, Pakistan, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras, Iran, etc. The US government supports Afgan & Arab mujahedin against the Soviet-backed Afghan Communist government with weapons, money, and suppleis. After the Soviets withdraw, the US cuts all support. Many of the mujahedin later become al Qaeda affiliated. When these people’s rage results in attacks against the US, the American reaction ranges from “Why do they hate us?” to “They hate our freedom”.

    • June 4, 2009 5:58 pm

      Thomas, I have to point out that this part of your argument makes me extremely uncomfortable – “your comment does violence onto the position I have presented”. A position, an idea, cannot suffer and cannot experience having violence enacted against it, so to suggest that violence can be done to it eliminates the importance of the victim’s experience and perspective in defining violence.

      • Jay permalink
        June 5, 2009 9:23 am

        This ultimately seems like a semantic debate here, which would appear to move the focus of the discussion away from the initial topic. Be that as it may, I contend that broadening the definition of violence to include any sort of intellectual disagreement undermines the power of the word in its more traditional sense. I think that is also basically what ekswitaj is suggesting.

        From my point of view, the whole idea of peaceful reform or pacifism is to take whatever grievance, umbrage, or anger that a system has caused one and resist it by using the power of words and modeling peaceful behaviors. If violence includes voicing disagreement with another’s opinion on highly sensitive material, than we would have to say MLK Jr., Ghandi, and Jesus Christ were intensely violent individuals. Inflammatory words can be used to incite violence or cause emotional harm, certainly, but channeling anger or even rage into constructive criticism or merely intellectual disagreement would seem the best way to affect change without violence.

  4. June 4, 2009 5:49 pm

    With Solanas, it isn’t just her writing. There’s also her attempt to assassinate Andy Warhol who had lost a script of hers he had been considering for production and refused to compensate her (it wasn’t as easy a matter in the 60s to make additional copies as it is now). And you know something? As much as I abhor violence, I also understand how the cavalier disregard certain male artists have for the work of women artists can induce rage.

    Instead of discussing that, however, most have simply dismissed her as mad (funny how that word can mean both crazy and angry, no?).

  5. thomasmurphymusic permalink
    June 5, 2009 7:46 am

    @ekswitaj- I do not want to devalue the experience of the victim of violence. I am in fact trying to enlarge the scope of concepts we recognize violence in. Around the world, emotions, theories, and needs are often neglected because they come from someone who is “just a woman”. One does not need to carry physical wounds to have felt the pain of violence. You are right that a position can not suffer, but those who hold them, and need to believe them, certainly can. This raises a discussion of what violence actually is. Maybe we could start that by consulting the outstanding chapter “Outliving Onself” from Aftermath: Violence and the Remaking of a Self by Susan J. Brison. She is a philosopher who was brutally attacked and sexually assaulted. This book chronicles her journey as a survivor. It is amazingly beautiful, particularly in her interweaving of her personal narrative and philosophy.

    Here is the chapter: http://books.google.com/books?id=kAqssPtNDU8C&pg=PA37&lpg=PA37&dq=Outliving+Oneself&source=bl&ots=6TH9l75jHG&sig=wiidMHzjrrJ7BZT1L1Yg–iNcIM&hl=en&ei=whEpSraKI8OLtgfItPjJCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#PPA38,M1

    I hope you understand that I am not insulting your perceptions if I ask you to read my original post again regarding Solanas. I do not think I degrade her work in any way. This post is rather an explanation of the process through which I have come to appreciate her work.

    Thanks all for the discussion.

    • June 5, 2009 4:49 pm

      Thomas, I’m not sure where I gave the impression that I thought you were degrading her work? When I mentioned her being dismissed, I meant in terms of the general reception, not your post.

      • thomasmurphymusic permalink
        June 5, 2009 6:12 pm

        Okay, got it! I was concerned that I was being unclear in my writing. Thanks for letting me know.

  6. thomasmurphymusic permalink
    June 5, 2009 8:43 am

    @ ekswitaj

    I wonder if your point about “the cavalier disregard certain male artists have for the work of women artists” inducing rage is based on personal experience? If it is, I would love a post on your experience with this. I believe when we speak from our personal life, we are often most persuasive.

    • Jay permalink
      June 5, 2009 9:30 am

      I will note, shifting back to the thrust of the original argument, that I think there is much more value to channeled anger than rage. From a psychological perspective, rage is essentially unchecked anger. Anger can be quite valuable, because it makes us human and understanding our anger can help us better understand ourselves. Often, rage is the outcome of repressing that healthy level of anger until it rises to an intensity that is not valuable, but more often unpredictable and commonly misdirected. A similar phenomenon is looking at guilt as a healthy way for us to guide our behaviors based off of our own values and morality. Guilt left unaddressed it can lead to damaging levels of shame. I guess what I’m getting at is I believe that relying on rage as an agent of change will more often than not be ultimately counterproductive.

      • Thomas permalink
        June 5, 2009 12:38 pm

        @Jay- I agree that rage is more likely than not counterproductive. I am not educated enough in psychology to distinguish correctly between anger and rage from that perspective. Perhaps being more clear about what I meant by rage will help bring clarity to my point. I perceive rage as a time-lapsed anger, often collective, accompanied by a weariness. This weariness can be from a long state of stops & starts with no apparent progress (maybe this could describe the rage of those on all sides of the Palestinean-Israeli conflict) or a weariness of a cultural voice whose other means of registering their anger with the one who angered them have fallen on deaf ears.

        I would like to ask your permission to move to the personal. What is it that makes the thought of a Gahndi, MLK, or Ashis Nandy being violent objectionable? As I said in my original post, it is difficult for myself as well as other feminists I have encountered to embrace viewpoints coming from a place of deep anger(whatever we care to label it). What I am attempting to do is build an understanding of the motivations of these writers to gain an appreciation for their writing.

        The energy we spend pushing the possibility that these figures, and ourselves too, could be violent, forms an escape route. I am seeking to embody the possibility that what I fear and seek to destroy in others is in fact what I find fearful in myself.

      • Jay permalink
        June 5, 2009 1:49 pm

        What is objectionable about Ghandi and MLK being violent is the fact that they were not violent. It’s possible you want to consider the idea that the potential for violence was in those men. If so, I will grant you that. However, the message from the likes of Ghandi and MLK is one of non-violence. There message was that injustice can be more effectively combated without violence than with it. Again, this may just be a semantic quibble, but if you broaden ‘violence’ to mean everything than it effectively means nothing.

        I’m unclear what you mean by your last statement.

  7. Thomas permalink
    June 5, 2009 2:57 pm

    Let me do my last statement a different way; What is at stake for you if what I am saying were to be true?

    More broadly, what would make your life crumble if it was not true?

    What I am saying seems to be upsetting to you. I would like to learn more about that.

    What I admire most about MLK and Ghandi (pardon my earlier mistake) was the intense presence of themselves mixed with their theoretical/activist viewpoint. I believe this to be a truly powerful approach, moreso than one that posits a theory or facts without a face or as a supposed universal.

    Also, would others like in on this discussion? It is a productive one for me, and my intuition at least tells me that it is important.

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