Rage is helpless anger.
If anger finds a productive outlet, it can achieve great things (See Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, et al.) King and Gandhi believed their words could be effective agents for change. There was a receptive audience somewhere – white Northerners, the British public – who would listen, and perhaps embrace a new direction.
But when you feel no one is listening, you lose a sense of efficacy, of control over your environment. So you go into a rage. Instead of turning your anger into words, you go into action on unexamined feelings.
Rage is essentially a temper tantrum. Just like a frustrated toddler who throws a fit because he can’t have his way.
There is nothing more destructive. Especially when the phenomenon takes place on a large scale – affecting an entire culture.
Mass rage occurred in China from 1966 to 1976, during the so-called Cultural Revolution.
China was humiliated during the 19th and 20th centuries by the fact that it had somehow slipped a couple hundred years behind the Europeans in terms of technological advancement. This was a temporary situation – China led the world in technology for eons, and they caught up quickly. But the humiliation and helplessness of those years led to a feeling of rage that exploded in such bloody events as the Taiping Rebellion of 1850-1864 (a civil war triggered by religious fanaticism) and the Boxer Rebellion of 1898-1901 (an outburst of violence by ultraconservative forces against foreigners.) The ultimate scream of rage was the Cultural Revolution, in which the Chinese, lost in a cult-like worship of Chairman Mao, turned their fury upon themselves, destroying their educational system, smashing their monuments and treasures – and losing an entire generation of human achievement.
It hasn’t only happened in China. Hitler somehow convinced the German people that they were “humiliated” during WWI, and used it as the trigger for a convulsion of violence against innocents that resulted in the virtual destruction of Germany as a nation. American Southerners convinced themselves that they’d been “humiliated” during the American Civil War, and used that as the pretext for a bloody outbreak of violence and oppression against innocent African-American citizens during the late 19th century – around the time Mark Twain termed the USA “The United States of Lyncherdom.”
Exactly the same thing is happening today in the Muslim world, and we can only hope they get over it soon.
The pattern is familiar – the “humiliation” of the Muslim nations by foreign occupiers, a deep sense of helplessness and the fall-back into conservatism and reaction, clinging to backward traditions and rejecting anything new that might smack of acculturation. Then comes the violence – always the violence, officially focused outward on the forces of change, then turned inward, producing cruel persecutions of helpless minorities, and – ultimately – an orgy of self-destruction.
In the end, rage always results in harm to yourself.
The Chinese Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution destroyed their own institutions, persecuted their own intellectuals, dismantled their own universities.
It was a source of amazement, during the 1992 Los Angeles riots, that the rioters were burning their own neighborhoods. They weren’t burning down Hollywood, they were burning down South Central.
Muslim reactionary fanatics – so-called “terrorists” – destroyed the World Trade Center. But most of their continuing violence seems aimed at other Muslims, mostly within Muslim countries. If some young man wrapped himself in explosives and blew himself up in a crowd in the USA, it would be a national trauma. But this awful event appears to occur on a weekly basis in the Muslim world.
Humiliation is when someone tells you something true about yourself that you’ve avoided seeing. It was hard for the Chinese to own up to falling behind in technology, especially when they’d always led the way. And it was hard for white Southerners to own up to human slavery being a heinous crime, or for Germans to accept that an imperial age had passed Germany by, and that their boundaries would be limited to those of a mid-sized European country – not a world empire.
It must be tough for the Muslim world to realize that it is due for some self-examination and fresh thinking around issues like democracy, freedom of speech, the treatment of women and separation of church and state, where they are clearly falling behind the rest of the world.
These are truths that need to be heard, and processed. Instead of lashing out in violence, they could put their upset into words, and achieve personal growth.
If only someone in the Muslim world believed we were listening, and would open up – take that risk – and tell us what’s upsetting him. Perhaps he could write an article, or give a speech, or start a movement – a peaceful movement – that would bring attention and understanding to what Muslims are experiencing around the world. He could answer the question on everyone’s lips after 9/11 – “why do they hate us?”
Then perhaps we could understand what their upset is really about, and bring this horror to an end.