Ken Connor

"A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control." --Proverbs 29:11

I call them "meanies," those men and women who spend their days spreading vitriol on the internet. Nameless, faceless, they lurk in the shadows of many websites and blogs, waiting for any opportunity to tear those with whom they disagree to shreds. With a toolbox full of putdowns and vulgarities, they work hard at trying to show that their opponents are not only wrong, not only stupid, but actually evil. Mean-spiritedness is not a new problem, but never before have "meanies" had such a public platform from which to spew their venom, and rarely has society been so willing to celebrate meanness and odium. The problem is so widespread that political parties and major policy organizations rely on meanness and anger in promoting their message.

Peter Wood, in his recent book A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now, says there is a difference between New Anger, which is everywhere today, and Old Anger. There has never been a time when men and women did not get angry. Yet, at one point, anger was seen as a passion to be restrained whenever possible. Self-control and self-mastery were considered virtues; a man who was quick to anger was seen as weak and unstable. For a political leader to burn with anger in public on a regular basis was certainly considered a red flag.

In his review of Wood's book, Howard Kurtz says this about New Anger:

New Anger is everything that Old Anger was not: flamboyant, self-righteous, and proud. As a way to "empowerment" for ethnic groups, women, political parties, and children, New Anger serves as a mark of identity and a badge of authenticity. The Civil War, and America's past political campaigns, may have witnessed plenty of anger, yet not until recently, says Wood, have Americans actually congratulated themselves for getting angry. Anger has turned into a coping mechanism, something to get in touch with, a prize to exhibit in public, and a proof of righteous sincerity.

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.