Thursday, February 27th, 2014 07:36 pm
This is me trying to organise my thoughts after a very interesting twitter conversation got too convoluted for my cold addled brain. It's very important to note that my friend Helen who started the conversation and the people we're talking about/to are white Australians (mostly women) with similar politics, and we're discussing both things that affect us (like feminism) and those that don't (like refugee rights). This is NOT about people using anger as an excuse to denounce opinions or points of view they can't handle. (Which is a thing that happens a lot. A LOT. So don't do it here :P)

So! The question is: "Some people really aggressively tweet all the activism and outrage. But what good is this doing?".

First, here's my replies so far with some improved wording. Other people had some very pertinent points but too much is locked for me to try and capture the whole conversation.

I think anger can be incredibly effective sometimes. And sometimes expressing it is itself vital to well being. I have difficulty making that call especially since I'm not much prone to anger. But I dislike blanket condemnation/expectance.

I agree in principle that raging all the time isn't helpful, but have just seen "stop being so angry" used in really bad ways too often, so... *insert nuanced argument incapable of being expressed by my cold-addled sleepy brain in 140 characters*

And after thinking about it some more: in my opinion anger is rarely itself the problem. Cruelty, dogmatism, violence, no space for personal needs are problems.

It's very different expressing anger on someone else's behalf (eg, for us, refugees) versus on your own behalf (eg feminism) The LATTER can be important. And the latter is what normally gets dismissed as being "too angry"/"over emotional" etc by those not experiencing the injustice.

And now my further thoughts:

Anger is an emotion. It is value neutral. People can't help being angry/not angry. Saying that someone is "too angry" is unhelpful and sometimes outright cruel (what are they supposed to do, stop caring?), better to say they're too aggressive, too emotive etc. These are things people can change. (People CAN sometimes get into an unhealthy place with anger, but unless you're a close friend or therapist it's not really our place to judge)

That said, one thing which is a matter of choice is equating "caring/being educated about the issue" with "being angry about the issue". This can lead to some (in my opinion) unambiguously bad stuff like treating anger like the only reasonable reaction and an atmosphere of performative anger where there's peer pressure to be The Angriest to prove you care. This can lead to burn out (because being angry all the time is unpleasant), dogmatic standards which value talking the talk over walking the walk, people thinking that as long as they're angry enough they've done their duty etc. But I have also seen people who aren't angry about an issue themselves assume anyone who claims to be is just pretending, it's important not to overdiagnose and assume bad faith.

More ambiguous is educating/converting people by (a)making it clear how angry you are and/or (b) Making them angry too. Personally I think this has it's place, but it can be overemphasised. As someone with an anxiety disorder I can be forced to disengage from certain causes if the activists are so emotive it makes me miserable, eg the way climate change activism emphasises "THIS IS BAD! REALLY!!" over ways we can fix it. I imagine some other people find activist environments full of anger impossible too. So I think there needs to be more than one approach, and more than one environment. At best, angry activists make the less angry ones look extra calm, and we can take conflict shy people aside and explain things in nice soft tones :)

Saying whether SPECIFIC activist movements are too far over on the expressions/assumptions of anger side would require me being more involved in local activism than I currently am. I don't think it's impossible. But just because there may be, in some sense, "too much anger", doesn't mean anger doesn't have it's place and uses. THE END.

Please don't seek Helen out, since her tweets are locked for a reason (though she said it was ok to quote her initial tweet and use her name). This isn't about critiquing her in particular, I just had THOUGHTS.
Thursday, February 27th, 2014 05:03 pm (UTC)
Well-put and coherent, also correct.

Burn out from anger is real thing. Particularly because profound social change takes decades.
Thursday, February 27th, 2014 07:48 pm (UTC)
As someone with an anxiety disorder I can be forced to disengage from certain causes if the activists are so emotive it makes me miserable, eg the way climate change activism emphasises "THIS IS BAD! REALLY!!" over ways we can fix it.

Yes, absolutely. When I was involved in environmental activism I went to a workshop one time about effective campaigning. The workshop talked about "problems-campaigning" and "solutions-campaigning" and about how different people respond to different types of messages (eg. "Stop the whaling!" vs "Save the whales!"). That particular organisation was moving very much towards solutions-campaigning, which I personally find far far more effective. In climate change terms that meant promoting alternative energy sources instead of campaigning against fossil fuels, for example.

This post also got me thinking about my own anger when I get angry on my own behalf (instead of angry on behalf of some other group of people who I empathise with but don't belong to). I realised that I often get so angry that I can't deal with the emotional overwhelm and have to completely disengage in order to maintain my own mental health and wellbeing. Which is why I don't really do any activism on topics that affect me personally.
Friday, February 28th, 2014 04:44 am (UTC)

(Unpacked: This post has given me many things to ponder and subconscious will be digesting this for Some Time(tm) I expect. Thank you for supplying these catalysts.)
Sunday, March 2nd, 2014 05:21 am (UTC)
There's so much to this - I really appreciate your post and appreciated the initial conversation. I'm also not prone to anger, but I also recognise that I don't generally feel entitled to my anger. I think that the nuances around anger and context are critically important when considering the angles of an issue or people's activism or reactions to activism or an issue - your post covers that well I think.
Tuesday, March 4th, 2014 08:40 pm (UTC)
Great points here, especially on the value-neutrality of anger and the importance of not equating it with level of activist commitment. I do think "too much anger" often gets highlighted as the reason for bullying and other types of bad behaviour in activism, which is unfair - plenty of people manage to perpetrate all sorts of nastiness without coming across as angry at all. That said, an environment of nonstop socially-mandated performative rage (or performative cynicism and despair) is bad for everyone and inaccessible to many.
Saturday, March 8th, 2014 07:32 am (UTC)
Well said, on so many counts.