Martha Nussbaum, “What Is Anger, and Why Should We Care?”
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MARTHA NUSSBAUM: Well,
thank you all for coming. And so I’m really talk
probably for about 35, 40 minutes, and then try
to allow plenty of time for questions. This is a project that is
drawn from material that I’m going to be presenting
as a series of lectures, and it is not a historical
project about the Greeks, which some of my work is,
but it does begin with a scene from Greek drama. And I want to tell you that you
have the chance, on February seventh and eighth, of seeing
some of your fellow students actually act out–
and, of course, faculty– act out some of
the things I’m talking about, because at our Law Literature
Conference on Friday, February seventh, we’re going to be
performing the very scenes that I’m talking about. And we have a bunch of
students playing the jurors and the handmaidens and so on. And wonderful faculty actors,
including Judge Posner. So, OK, at the end of
Aeschylus’s Oresteia, two transformations take
place in the archaic world of the characters. One is famous, the
other, neglected. In the famous transformation,
the goddess Athena– played by Alison
Lacroix in the drama– introduces legal institutions
to replace and to terminate the seemingly endless
cycle of blood vengeance, setting up a court of justice
with established procedures of reasoned argument and
the weighing of evidence, and a jury selected from
the citizen body of Athens. She announces that
blood guilt will now be settled by law, rather
than by the Furies, ancient goddesses of revenge. But– and this is
part and parcel of her famous transformation
of the Athenian world– the Furies are not
simply dismissed. Instead, Athena persuades them
to join the city, giving them a place of honor beneath
the earth in recognition of their importance for
these same legal institutions and the future
health of the city. Typically, this
move of Athena’s is understood to be a recognition
that the legal system must incorporate the dark vindictive
passions and honor them. The suggestion is that the
resentful passions themselves remain unaltered. They simply have a new
house built around them. The Furies agree to accept
the constraints of law, but they retain an unchanged
nature– angry, dark, and vindictive. That reading, however, ignores
the second transformation, a transformation in the nature
and demeanor of the Furies themselves. At the outset of the
drama, the Furies are really repulsive
and horrifying. They are black,
disgusting, their eyes drip a hideous liquid, the god
Appollo– played in the drama by Tom Myles
wonderfully– depicts them as vomiting up clots
of blood that they have ingested from their prey. They belong, he says, in
some barbarian tyranny where it’s customary to kill
people arbitrarily and mutilate and torture them. Nor when they awaken
do the Furies belie these grim descriptions, as
the ghost of Clytemnestra calls them– and that’s me,
I’m afraid– they do not speak, but they simply moan
and whine, noises characteristic of animals. Their only words are get him,
get him, get him, get him, get him, as close to a
predator’s hunting cry as the genre allows. As Clytemnestra says, “in your
dream you pursue your prey, and you bark like a hunting
dog on the trail of blood.” If the Furies are later given
really articulate speech, as, of course,
the genre demands, we’re never to forget this
initial characterization. What Aeschylus has done here is
to depict unconstrained anger. It’s obsessive,
destructive, existing only to inflict pain and ill. As the distinguished
18th century philosopher Bishop Butler observes, “no
other principle or passion hath for its end the misery
of our fellow creatures. In its zeal for blood,
anger is subhuman.” And Apollo’s idea is that this
rabid breed belongs somewhere else, in some society that does
not try to moderate cruelty. Surely not in the society
that claims to be civilized. Unchanged, these
Furies could not be part and parcel of a working
legal system in a society committed to the rule of law. You don’t put wild beasts in a
cage and come out with justice. But the Furies do not make
the transition to democracy unchanged. Until quite late in
the drama, they’re still their bestial
selves, threatening to disgorge their venom. Then, however, Athena persuades
them to alter themselves so as to join her city. “Lull to repose the bitter force
of your black wave of anger,” she tells them. But, of course, that means a
really profound transformation. Indeed, a virtual change
of identity, so bound up have they been with
anger’s obsessive force. She offers them
incentives to join the city– a place of
honor beneath the earth, reverence from the citizens. But the condition of these
gifts is that they become human, not totally taken
up with revenge, but able to adopt a new
range of sentiments. In particular,
benevolent, constructive, forward-looking sentiments
toward the entire city. They must also refrain from
stirring up vindictive anger within it. The deal is that if they do
good and have and express kindly sentiments, they will receive
good treatment and be honored. Perhaps most fundamentally
transformative of all, they must agree to listen
to the voice of persuasion. All of this, needless to say, is
not just external containment. It’s a profound
inner reorientation. So they accept Athena’s
offer and express themselves with gentle tempered intent. Each, they declare,
should give generously to every other in a
mindset of common love. Not surprisingly,
they’re transformed physically in related ways. They apparently assume an erect
posture for the procession that concludes the drama, and they
receive crimson– or actually maroon, in our production–
robes from a group of citizen escorts. They’ve become women
rather than beasts. Their very name is changed. They are now the
Eumenides, which means “the kindly ones”
rather than the Furies. This second
transformation is just as significant as the first
one, and, indeed, crucial to the success of the first one. Aeschylus shows us that
political justice doesn’t just put a cage around resentment. It fundamentally
needs to transform it from something barely human,
obsessive, blood thirsty, to something human,
accepting of reasons, calm, deliberate,
constructive, measured, something that protects life
rather than threatening it. The indignation that
inhabits just institutions is not an angry
sentiment at all. It’s a measured judgement
in defense of life. The Furies are still needed,
because this is an imperfect world, and there will always
be crimes to deal with. But they are not wanted or
needed in their original shape and form. Indeed, they are not
their old selves at all. They become instruments
of justice and utility. The city is liberated
from the scourge of vindictive anger, which
produces civil strife and premature death. And in the place
of anger, the city gets forward-looking justice. It’s no accident that the major
Greek and Roman philosophers from Socrates
straight on to Seneca were strong opponents
of retributivism in the criminal
law and defenders of a welfare-based deterrent
conception of punishment. Another liberation
goes unexplored but invites our
imaginations– it’s the liberation of
the private realm. In the old world of the
Furies, the family and love, familial and friendly, were
burdened by the continual need to avenge something for someone. The need for retaliation
was unending, and it shadowed
all relationships, including those
fundamentally benign, such as Orestes’s
relationship with Electra. Our Orestes played beautifully
by Daniel [? Ababa, ?] I should mention. Revenge just makes it impossible
for anyone to love anyone. But now law takes over the
task of dealing with crime, leaving the family free to be
a place of reciprocal goodwill. It’s not that there are no
more occasions for anger, but if they’re serious, you’ll
turn them over to the law. And if they’re not
serious, well, why should they really long trouble
reciprocal concern? As Aristotle will later say,
“the gentle-tempered person–” and that’s his name for the
virtue that we should strive for in the area of
anger– “is not vengeful, but instead inclined to
sympathetic understanding.” Law gives a double benefit–
it keeps us safe without, and it permits us
to care for one another unburdened by the
cycle of vengeance within. So that’s my normative
thesis in a nutshell. But it’s radical and
evokes strong opposition, for anger, with
all its ugliness, is still a very popular emotion. Many people think it’s
impossible to care for justice without anger at injustice. And that that anger should
be encouraged as part of the transformative process. Many people also believe that
it’s impossible for individuals to stand up for their
self-respect without anger, that someone who reacts
to wrongs and insults without anger is
spineless and downtrodden. And, in fact, I used
to believe that. And I used to really
accept the idea that women should tap
into their own anger, acknowledge it, and see this
search for suppressed anger as part of a good personal
struggle against injustice and for self-respect. Moreover, many
people also believe that getting angry when someone
else does something bad to you is essential to taking
that person seriously. So if you wrong me
and I don’t get angry and I just take it
calmly, well, am I treating you condescendingly? Like a kind of child or
a non-responsible person? So anger is popular. Still, I take courage from
the fact that in recent years we’ve seen three noble
and successful liberation movements conducted in
a spirit of non-anger– those of Mohandas Gandhi,
Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Surely people who stood up for
their self-respect and that of others, and who did not
acquiesce in injustice. So now what I’ll do for
the rest of this talk is to try to argue that a
close philosophical analysis of the emotion of
anger can actually help us to support these
philosophies of non-anger, showing why anger
is fatally flawed from a normative viewpoint. Sometimes just incoherent,
sometimes based on bad values. But in either case, of dubious
value to both life and the law. So I’ll present my general
view, and then I’ll show, briefly, its
relevance to thinking about transformational justice. So let’s begin with Aristotle’s
definition of anger, which really does a pretty good job. And it commands
pretty wide agreement in the Western
philosophical tradition. Although, as we’ll see,
it needs some correction. So what Aristotle says is
anger is a pained response to a significant damage
to something or someone that the person cares about. And it’s a damage
that the angry person believes to have been
wrongfully inflicted. He then adds that
although anger is painful, it also contains within
itself a kind of pleasant hope for payback or retribution. So what are the elements? Significant damage and
damage that pertains to someone or something
you care about, wrongfulness, and then
the other element, the element of the hope
or wish for retaliation. Now all of this
seems to me pretty basic and uncontroversial. Perhaps the idea that
it contains retaliation is a little more
controversial, although all Western philosophers
who write about anger do concur in that. But I think we should
understand that this can be a very
subtle [? which. ?] It doesn’t mean you
have to really want to strike back yourself. The angry person
might simply want the law to catch up with that
person and inflict punishment, or even maybe that
God should do that. Or, even more subtly
still, she might just wish that that person’s life
will go badly in some way. That that betraying spouse will
have a bad second marriage, and then that will be
a sufficient punishment for the betrayal. So, you know, I
think once we include all that, it does seem very
plausible that anger does involve that strike
back tendency, however subtly it comes out. Without that, I think
we would be dealing with some sort of
compassionate grieving and not really with anger. And no doubt this
strike back tendency is part of the
evolutionary heritage that we have where
anger is concerned. And I’ll come back to that
when I talk about motivation. One more thing that Aristotle
says though is not quite right. He says anger is
always a response not to any old wrongful
act, but specifically to what he calls a “slighting”
or a “down ranking.” Now, I don’t think this
is true all the time. I can certainly get
angry at social injustice without thinking that it’s
a particular, you know, down ranking of me. I can even get angry at
an abstract violation of a principle, if
I care about that. But still, the truth is
that there’s a lot to that, and perhaps more than
we like to acknowledge. People who do good
empirical research on anger are constantly struck by the
extent to which people really do think that relative status
is really the crucial thing that they get angry at. And at least very many cases
of anger are perceived as bad, because they are down
rankings of that person. They push your status downwards. Now, OK, so what’s the problem? I think the central puzzle
is that the idea of payback just doesn’t make sense. Whatever the wrong
was that was done, let’s say it’s a
murder or a rape, inflicting pain on the
wrongdoer doesn’t actually help restore the
thing that was lost. As Aeschylus already says,
“when a man’s blood spilled upon the ground, what
can call it back again?” We think that it
does do some good, and we do think about
payback all the time. And I think it’s a
deeply human tendency to think that some sort of
proportionality and punishment somehow makes good the offense. Only it actually doesn’t. I mean, let’s say my
friend has been raped, and I urgently want the offender
to be arrested, convicted, and duly punished
in a way that’s proportional to the
badness of rape. But, really, what actually
good will that do? Looking to the future, I
might want many things. I might want to restore
my friend’s life, I might want to work with other
women who have been raped, and particularly I might want to
prevent and deter future rapes. But harsh treatment of
this particular wrongdoer might or might not
achieve the latter goal. It’s an empirical matter, and it
has to be studied empirically. Now Jeremy Bentham, the founder
of Utilitarianism, saw that. And he really was not the first,
because the Greek philosophers preceded him, but he was
the first in recent years to expose the payback fallacy. Usually people don’t treat
this is an empirical matter. They’re in the grip of a kind of
idea of cosmic proportionality or fitness that makes them think
blood for blood, pain for pain is the right way to go. Now, that’s deep and human. No doubt it’s part of our
evolutionary equipment. But I think it’s
fatally flawed as a way of making sense of the world. But now let’s return
to Aristotle’s idea of down ranking,
for there’s one, and I think only one
situation, in which the payback idea really does
work and makes sense, and that is when I see
the wrong as entirely and only a pushing of me
down in the social rank. In other words, only
about relative status. So if the problem is
not the murder or rape itself but the way it’s
affected my ranking in the social
hierarchy, then I really can achieve something by
humiliating the wrongdoer. By pushing him
relatively lower, I push myself relatively higher. And that actually works. So I don’t need to worry about
the real well-being problems caused by murder and rape. If it’s all about
status, then that kind of humiliating punishment
actually works. So, in short, a
wronged person who’s angry seeking to
strike back soon arrives, I claim–
and of course it has to be argued at
much greater length than that– at a
fork in the road. And there are three paths
that lie before her. First path is the payback path. So she goes on the payback path. The problem with that is it
really doesn’t do any good, and it’s in the grip of
this fatally flawed idea of cosmic proportionality. Or, second path, is the
path of status focus, and there she might
really achieve something. But the problem is, her
norms are pretty bad. It’s not very good to
think of murder as all about your relative
status in the world and to think that that’s the
only thing you care about. So what else? What’s the third path? Well, if she’s rational,
after exploring and seeing the flaws in these
first two paths, she might then focus on
doing whatever would actually make sense and do some
constructive good going forward and then, as we see, that may
well be an empirical matter. This might include the
punishment of the wrongdoer, but it would have to be as
a part of strategies that are addressed to the future. So what’s really wrong with
the status path though? Many societies do encourage
people to think of all injuries as essentially about themselves
and their own ranking. Life does involve
perpetual status anxiety, as more or less everything
that happens to one can either raise your
rank or lower it. I mean, primate societies
are entirely about that, and no doubt we inherit quite a
lot of that in our own society. Aristotle’s society is often
called an “honor culture,” but that’s as if our society
was not an honor culture. And I’m afraid that
all too many societies are in the grip of
that narrow focus. Still, the tendency
to see everything that happens as all
about one’s own rank does seem pretty narcissistic
and ill-suited to a society in which
reciprocity and justice are important values. It loses the sense that actions
have intrinsic moral worth, that my friend’s rape is
bad because of the suffering it inflicts, not bad
just because of the way it pushes someone down
in the social hierarchy. Even for the person
herself, the victim, it somehow seems
off to view rape as all about status
or down ranking rather than about
pain and trauma. If it were primarily
about status, it could be rectified by
humiliating the offender. And many people certainly
believe something like this. But I think that thought is
a red herring diverting us from the reality,
and, of course, the very difficult problem
of dealing with the victim’s pain and trauma. And then, going forward,
to try to prevent such acts from happening again. All sorts of bad acts–
murder, theft, assault– need to be addressed as
the bad acts they are. And their victims, or
the victims’ families, need constructive attention. None of this will be likely to
happen if people are thinking of the offense as all
about relative status rather than about
injury and pain. So to put my radical
claim very– succinctly, when anger makes sense,
it’s retaliatory tendency is normatively
problematic because it’s focused on status and
not on the other values. And in the other case,
its retaliatory tendency doesn’t make sense
and is normatively problematic in that way,
because we would all like to make sense. So in a rational person,
anger– realizing that soon transforms itself and
goes in a different direction. So from now on, I’m going
to call this healthy segue into a forward-looking thought,
and, accordingly, from anger into compassion that planning,
the Transition with a capital T. OK, so that’s a technical
term in my manuscript. So to clarify further what
I mean by the Transition, let me consider a case in which
anger takes a political form, because we’re going to
get there soon enough, and therefore I
introduce now the topic of transitional justice. So I want to look carefully
just at the sequence of emotions in Martin Luther King, Jr.’s,
“I Have a Dream” speech. Now, King, indeed, begins with
the quite Aristotelian summons to anger. He points to the
wrongful injuries of racism, which have failed
to fulfill the nation’s implicit promises of equality. One hundred years after the
Emancipation Proclamation, quote, “the life of the
Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of
segregation and the chains of discrimination.” Now, the next move King makes,
though, is highly significant. For instead of demonizing
white Americans, or portraying their
behavior in terms apt to elicit murderous
payback desire, he calmly compares
them to people who have defaulted on
a financial obligation. America has given
the Negro people a bad check, a check
which has come back marked insufficient funds. Now here, I think,
begins the Transition, capital T, for makes us think
ahead in non-retributive ways. The question now
is not how whites can be made to suffer pain,
but how can this debt actually be made good? And the financial
metaphor brings up the thought of actually
constructively fulfilling something, not of humiliating
the debtor, which would not help the debt get paid. The Transition then
gets underway in earnest as King focuses on a future
in which all may join together in pursuing justice and
honoring obligations. But we refuse to believe
that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe
that there are insufficient funds in the
great vaults of opportunity in this nation. So notice, no mention
of torment or payback, only of determination to ensure
the protection of civil rights at last. And, of course, the “we”
can include white people as well from now on. King reminds his audience
that the moment is urgent and that there’s a danger
of anger spilling over. But he repudiates that
behavior in advance. Quote, “in the process of
gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty
of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy
our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup
of bitterness and hatred. Again and again we must
rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical
force with soul force.” So the payback is
now Transformed. It’s reconcieved as the
vindication of civil rights at last, a process that unites
black and white in a quest for freedom and justice. Everyone benefits. As many white people
already recognize, he says, their freedom
is inextricably bound up with our freedom. King next repudiates
the despair that could lead either to violence
or to the abandonment of effort. And it’s at this point that
the most famous section of the speech, the “I Have
a Dream” takes flight. And, of course, the
dream is not– you know, it’s not like the
Book of Revelation. It’s not a dream of torment
or retributive payback. It’s a dream of cooperation
and equality, liberty and brotherhood. In pointed terms, King invites
the African-American members of his audience to
imagine brotherhood, even with their former tormentors. “I have a dream that one day
on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and
the sons of former slave owners will be able to
sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day,
even the State of Mississippi, a state sweltering with
the heat of injustice, sweltering with the
heat of oppression, will be transformed into an
oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that one
day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with
its governor having his lips dripping with the
words “interposition” and “nullification,”
one day right there in Alabama little black
boys and black girls will be able to join hands
with little white boys and white girls as
sisters and brothers.” Now, there’s indeed anger
in King’s speech at first. And the anger
summons up a vision of rectification, which
naturally takes initially a retributive form. But then King gets busy right
away reshaping retributivism into work and hope. For how, sanely and
really, couldn’t injustice be made good buy
retributive payback? The oppressor’s
pain and lowering do not make the afflicted free. Only an intelligent
and imaginative effort toward justice can do that. So that’s what I mean by
the Transition, capital T. A movement from anger,
with all its defects, into forward-looking
constructive thought and work. Now a little parenthetical. King favored nonviolence, so
have many intelligent leaders. Sometimes, however,
that strategy fails. Nelson Mandela records the
gradual decision of the ANC under his leadership
that violent strategies would have to be pursued. But it was– so he gave up
on nonviolence temporarily and strategically, but
never on non-anger, I claim. So notice, while urging
ANC members to wake up and, in some way, to
heed the call of anger, if you want to say that, as a
motivating force, nonetheless he never failed to point
forward to the Transition, pointing people toward
a future of cooperation rather than retributive payback. And I’m going to come
back to Mandela in a bit. OK, so what good can we say
about garden variety anger? Anger has a very limited
but real utility, which derives very likely
from its evolutionary role as a fight or flight mechanism. And I think there are
three things that it does. It can, first of all,
be a wake-up call. Namely, you’re feeling angry
is a sign that something’s badly wrong. And that’s useful. It can sometimes also,
second, be a motivator. It can motivate people
to address real problems. And King wrote extensively
about that aspect. So we can keep that
limited role for anger while insisting that
the idea of payback is profoundly misleading and
that to the extent that it makes sense, it does so
against the background of diseased values. Finally, third, anger
might be a deterrent. That is, people who
are known to get angry often thereby deter others
from infringing their rights. Well, I mean, here one can
only say that the way anger deters is not likely to lead to
a future of stability or peace. Instead, it’s all too likely
to lead to a future of more devious aggression. And there are many ways
of deterring wrongdoing, some of which are much more
attractive than inspiring fear of an explosion. The tendency to
anger and retaliation is deeply rooted in
human psychology. Anger brings some benefits that
may once have been valuable in human prehistory. Even today, vestiges of
that useful role remain. Beneficent systems
of justice, however, have largely made this
emotion unnecessary, and we’re free to attend
to its irrationality and destructiveness. Well, OK, so what’s
the upshot for law? In my larger project,
I have really two long law-focused chapters. One is about everyday
justice, and then one is about revolutionary justice. So far as everyday
justice goes, the upshot is precisely what Bentham
and Plato long ago thought, namely that constructive
forward-looking thought about how to deal with the whole
social problem of wrongdoing is what should interest us, not
the empty fantasy of payback. Punishment, if we
end up opting for it, ought to compete for our
attention with other strategies for preventing an
incapacitating crime. And thus the debate about
the so-called “justification of punishment” is
actually much too narrow. It really should be the debate
about how punishment measures up to other strategies. The society can use ex
ante to deter crime. As Bentham himself said,
preventing wrongful acts is a complicated task. And we need to consider it
in the broadest possible way, asking how nutrition,
social welfare, education, and a variety of constructive
policies may contribute. He argued that the focus
on punishment ex post is actually extremely
inefficient if what one really wants is less offending. Often, the same result
can be attained, quote, “as effectually at a
cheaper rate by instruction, for instance, as
well as by terror, by informing the
understanding as well as by exercising an immediate
influence on the will.” End quote. At any rate, you’ve got to
study the entire question. Well, Bentham, unfortunately,
cedes too much ground to ordinary intuitions in
the rest of what he writes, because although he makes
the right framing move, he never pursues
the larger inquiry. Well, it was just
beyond his means. He was a philosopher,
and so he focuses on the narrower task of
reconceding criminal punishment in a Utilitarian framework. So being a legal
thinker, he simply didn’t have the wherewithal
to approach the larger social problem, but I
think he was certainly going in the right direction. Just imagine if parents
stopped thinking about education,
nutrition, inspiration, and love and focused
single-mindedly on how they could inflict
pain after wrongful acts are committed. Well, I mean, that’s
obviously bad parenting. And I think we all
recognize that in that case. And parents don’t
behave that way, because they love their
children and they actually want them to flourish
going forward. Unfortunately,
citizens do not always love their fellow citizens
or think of their well-being as a part of their own. And that, I fear, is why modern
societies in general– but I think ours in
particular– have been willing to tolerate a
pile on the pain strategy as if it really made sense. Well, there’s a lot more
to be said about that. I’m giving– for
the faculty here, I’m giving a Work in Progress
Workshop on it in March. But let me, however,
conclude by turning back to transitional justice and
to King and his fellows. So lots of people see anger as
very appropriate in situations of oppression and is
linked to the vindication of self-respect. Non-anger continues to strike
many people as strange, unmanly, even, in
some way, revolting. Webb Miller, the
UPI correspondent who reported Gandhi’s nonviolent
protest action at the Dharasana Salt Works in 1930–
and Gandhi wasn’t there. It was actually led by
the poet Sarojini Naidu– he observed scores
of marchers getting beaten down by the British cops,
and he reacted very negatively. As he writes in his memoir, he
said, “not one of the marchers even raised an arm to
fend off the blows. They went down like tenpins. From where I stood, I
heard the sickening whacks of the clubs on
unprotected skulls. At times, the spectacle
of unresisting men being methodically
bashed into a bloody pulp sickened me so much
that I had to turn away. The Western mind finds
it difficult to grasp the idea of nonresistance. I felt an indefinable sense
of helpless rage and loathing, almost as much
against the men who are submitting
unresistingly to being beaten as against the
police wielding the clubs. And this despite the fact
that when I came to India, I sympathized with
Gandhi’s cause.” The marchers, however, were
not simply acquiescing. They continued to march, and
they kept chanting the slogan, long live the revolution. And yet, as Webb Miller says,
there’s something in the mind– and not only in
the Western mind– that resists accepting this way
of reacting to brutal behavior. So what did King and Gandhi say
in their copious theoretical writings to these
people who think that anger is the right
response to such behavior, and the only response
consistent with self-respect? First, they point out that
the stance they recommend is anything but passive. Gandhi soon rejected the
term “passive resistance” as a misleading
term for his idea. And both he and King continually
insist that what they recommend is a state of mind that is
highly active, even as King puts it, “dynamically
aggressive,” in that it involves resistance
to unjust conditions and protest against them. “But when I say we
should not resent, I do not say that we should
acquiesce,” says Gandhi. And King, similarly, “I
have not said to my people, get rid of your discontent. Rather, I have tried to say
that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled
into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action.” And both men hold, as
I’ve tried to say here, that anger is inherently
wedded to a payback mentality. Gandhi says resenting
means wishing harm to the opponent, even if only
through the agency of God. And King, similarly, speaks
of a strike back mentality. So that’s what they
want to get rid of. And we’ll soon see what they
want to replace it with. Moreover, they say that
the new attitude is not just internally
active, it issues in concrete physical
actions, actions that require considerable courage. King calls this
direct action, action in which, after
self-purification, by which he means the rejection
of anger in oneself, one’s own body is
used to make the case and great risks are taken. This action is a forceful
and uncompromising demand for freedom. The protester acts by marching,
by breaking an unjust law in a deliberate
demand for justice, by refusing to cooperate
with unjust authority. What’s the goal? In King’s case, to
force a negotiation and to move to social change. For Gandhi, it’s no
less than to overthrow a wrongful government. The idea of acquiescence
in brutality is presumably what Webb
Miller is revolted by, but he just misunderstands. So what’s the new
attitude with which they propose to replace anger? King, interestingly, allows
some scope for real anger. Holding the
demonstrations and marches are a way of motivating
people and then channeling repressed
emotions that might otherwise issue in violence. Nonetheless, even when
there’s real anger, it must soon lead to
a focus on the future, with hope and with faith in
the possibility of justice. Moreover, anger
toward opponents is to be transformed into a
mental attitude that carefully separates the
deed, which is bad, from the doer, who is not bad. And we should not attribute
unalterable evil to people. Deeds may be denounced,
people always deserve respect and sympathy. After all, the ultimate
goal is to create a world, as King says, where men and
women can live together. Above all, then, one
should especially not seek to humiliate opponents
in any way or wish them ill, but instead should seek their
friendship and cooperation. Gandhi remarks that
early in his career he already didn’t like
the second stanza of “God Save the Queen,” which asks
God to scatter her enemies and confound their politics,
frustrate their knavish tricks. He says, how could we–
why should we assume that opponents are knavish? Surely the believer and
non-anger should not really think that about opponents. The opponent’s person
might have made a mistake, but we hope he can be won over
by friendship and generosity. But since we’re all thinking
of Nelson Mandela– of course, it’s close to the King holiday,
too, just by good coincidence– but we’re all thinking
about Mandela. And his ideas played a
central role in my project even before his recent death. So let me just conclude with
an example from Mandela. Now, OK, so I have
argued that there are these two paths–
the payback path and the status path. And they both are wrong
in different ways. And I’m not going to try to
show that Mandela implicitly comes to the same conclusion. He’s less theoretical
than King and Gandhi, but really very interesting
in what he thinks. He recognizes, first of all,
that obsession with status is unworthy. And he consciously refuses
to go down that road, although he uses
his understanding of the prevalence
of status obsession to deal with other people. As for payback, well, he
understands that one very well. And he feels it in his own
life and talks about it a lot. And yet he recognizes
that it doesn’t really get you anywhere. So after the fruit of long
self-examination in prison on Robben Island– and he does
say that it was particularly anger that was his focus
in his self-purification, if you want to use
the King term– he realizes that non-anger
and a generous disposition are far more useful. And above all, they’re
much more useful for the person who’s the
fiduciary of a nation. To put it in a nutshell,
a responsible leader has to be a
pragmatist, and anger is incompatible with
forward-looking pragmatism. It just gets in the
way, so a good leader must move to the Transition
as quickly as possible, and then, for much of his
life, just stay there. Well, let me just read a part
of one of his very intimate conversations with
Richard Stengel, who is the guy who helped him put
together his autobiography, but he also had other materials
which are now published. He says to Stengel, “I told
the incident of an argument between the sun and the wind. That the sun said, ‘I’m stronger
than you are.’ And the wind says, ‘no, I’m
stronger than you are.’ And they decided, therefore,
to test their strength with a traveler who
was wearing a blanket. And they agreed that the
one who would succeed in getting the traveler
to get rid of his blanket would be the stronger. So the wind started blowing,
and the harder it blew, the tighter the traveler pulled
the blanket around his body. And the wind blew and
blew, but it couldn’t get him to discard the blanket. And as I said, the
harder the wind blew, the tighter the visitor
tried to hold the blanket around his body. And the wind eventually gave up. Then the sun started
with its rays. Very mild and they
increased in strength. And as they increased,
the traveler felt that the blanket
was unnecessary because the
blanket’s for warmth, and so he decided to
relax it, to loosen it. But the rays of the sun
became stronger and stronger, and eventually he threw it away. So by a gentle method it was
possible to get the traveler to discard his blanket. And this is the parable
that through peace you will be able to
convert, you see, the most determined people. And that is the method
we should follow.” So significantly he
frames the whole question in forward-looking
pragmatic terms. So how are we to achieve
something, get the other party to do what we want? And then he just shows that
this task is much more feasible if you can get the other
party to work with you rather than against you. Progress is impeded by the
other party’s defensiveness. A gentle approach, by
contrast, can gradually weaken defenses until the
whole idea of self-defense is given up. Now, Mandela was not naive. And indeed, he was not
ideological, either. He wasn’t like Gandhi who
said that we should not resist Hitler by violence,
we should instead try to win him
over to friendship. And I feel that was
a doomed proposition. But Mandela’s parable is offered
in a particular context, that of the ending of a sometimes
violent liberation struggle with people on the
other side, many of whom are real patriots who want
the future good of the nation. And he insisted from
the start of his career that non-violence is a strategy,
but non-anger is behind it. And behind the strategic
resort to violence was always a view
of people that was focused not on payback, but
on the creation of a shared future. So with that in mind,
let me end with just one more Mandela story, which shows
him renouncing both the status error and the payback error. So here’s Mandela,
and he’s talking about– it was the time when he
was in Victor Verster prison. So it was the third of
the prisons he was in, and it was clearly a
transition toward his release. But he still was
watched all the time. And he had these
Africana warders. So he’s talking now about his
interaction with Warder Swart, a white Afrikaner warder,
who was watching him when he was in this prison. The question was how the
dishes would get done. A question in many households
all over the world. [LAUGHTER] All right, “I took
it upon myself to break the tension and a
possible resentment on his part that he has to serve a prisoner
by cooking and then washing dishes, and I offered
to wash dishes. And he refused. He says, this is his work. And I said, no. We must share it. Although he insisted and he
was genuine, but I forced him, literally forced him, to
allow me to do the dishes. And we established a
very good relationship. A really nice chat Warder Swart. A very good friend of mine.” Now, it would have been
so easy, of course, to see the situation as
one of status inversion. The dominating
Afrikaner is now forced to serve the once despised
ANC leader who, of course, by that time, they
know, is about to be the leader of the country. It would also have been so easy
to see it in terms of payback. The white warder is
getting a humiliation he deserved because of his
complicity in oppression. Significantly, Mandela
just isn’t even tempted by either of those doomed
paths even briefly. His only question is
how shall I produce cooperation and friendship. And it was this
remarkable capacity for generosity and
reciprocity that, I think, was his great genius. The fruit, as he
reports, of years of isolation and
bitter self-criticism about his tendency to anger. So it’s a difficult
goal, but it’s that goal that I’m recommending for both
individuals and institutions. Thanks. [APPLAUSE] OK, so we have about 12 minutes,
at least, for questions. And– yeah? STUDENT: So we talked
about the Greeks and also modern non-violent
movements [INAUDIBLE] in between those two
I think Christianity’s fairly influential–
has an influential role in Western thought. And I guess I bring
this up because there’s two things in my head that
I’m really thinking about. And the first is the story
of Christ being really angry at the money changers
in the temple, and, like, overturns
the [INAUDIBLE]. And there’s the very famous,
you know, turn your other cheek. MARTHA NUSSBAUM: Yeah, yeah. STUDENT: And I guess
I was wondering if you could talk
about Christianity as influence,
complicated influence, on our understanding
of anger and justice. MARTHA NUSSBAUM: Oh, good. Good. You know, actually
the larger project is about both anger
and forgiveness. And what I want to say
is that in both Judaism and Christianity there
are really– well, to simplify it, two strands. One is one which, up
to a great degree, valorizes anger and then says,
under certain conditions when the person apologizes humbles
himself, confesses, et cetera, there should be this kind
of conditional forgiveness. And that I criticize
for various reasons, but I try to point out that
even the forgiveness that’s offered in that way is
a kind of covered anger, because it’s really,
you know, a way of putting the
other person down. But then there’s
this other strand– and it is harder
to find in Judaism. You can find it only in,
I think, rabbinic texts that are a kind of
counter tradition. But anyway, in Christianity
it’s fairly prominent– which is one which sometimes people
call unconditional forgiveness. But I would rather say
generosity and love. My prominent example
of this is the case of the prodigal son
where the father– it’s often talked about
as a case of forgiveness. But think about what happens. So this son who wasted
all his father’s money and did all these bad
things decides to come home. Now, we have
absolutely no reason to actually think
he’s repenting. He may just be hungry, you know. But he comes home. And the father sees
him in the distance, and he has no idea whether
the son is actually repenting or going to
apologize or anything. He just loves him. And he comes out
and embraces him. And the older son,
who’s been a good guy, gets very upset
at this and says, you know, why are you
embracing this wrongdoer when I’ve been here all the time and
I haven’t done anything wrong? And the father repudiates
that and he says, you know, you’re always with me. Don’t worry. But this one was lost
and is now found. So that, I think, there’s a
lot of the story of Christ that goes in that direction. Now, as to the money changers. By the way, there’s an
interesting thing about that. There’s one very interesting
Eskimo culture, Inuit culture, described by anthropologist
Jean Briggs in her great book Never in Anger,
where they really believe what I’ve just said,
that you should never be angry. You should just cooperate. They have to cooperate under
very harsh circumstances, and anger is a real threat
to the success of hitching up the dog sled in 40 below, which
maybe we can from last week, right? [LAUGHTER] So, you know, they– but
Jean Briggs was smart, and she wanted to figure
out whether they really thought that you
shouldn’t be angry or just that you
should constrain your expression of it or what. So she asks them about
the money changers. Was Christ– because they
were all Christians, at least their moral ideal–
was he really angry? And they right away say, no. He was not really
angry, but he knew that this was a culture in which
to get the result you want, you have to put
on a performance. And he was just performing it. So it’s very
interesting reading, and I think, you know, maybe–
I mean, the anger of God is a really, really
interesting topic. And I do have a section in
the manuscript about that. But I do think that that’s a
very appealing way of thinking about it, because of course
there are situations. And I myself am
often in situations where I realize that if I talk
in a calm and collected way, which I’m inclined
to do, it really is very counterproductive
sometimes, because people think
this snooty woman with this intellectual
voice is being calm, and that is putting me down. And people get very angry
when you talk to them calmly. So sometimes– [LAUGHTER] –it works better, you know,
to put on a performance of a certain degree of anger. But, of course, if it’s a
performance, it’s modulated. It’s under your
control and so on. So anyway, I think
it’s a great question. And I’d love to
talk more about it. Yes? STUDENT: OK, I’m sorry
because I came late. But my name is Raul. I am from City of Chicago
Theological Seminary. One of my questions is between
the Ghandi, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Mandela. So the three guys
put some– it’s called restorative justice. So when you talk about
restorative justice, I think of this as going to in
the middle in terms [INAUDIBLE] and the justice environment. So what do you think about that? MARTHA NUSSBAUM: Well,
that’s a big topic, and I’m not going to be able to
deal with it exhaustively here. But what I really think
is that in going forward, we need two things. The first is truth and
acknowledgment of the wrong that was done. And why do we need that? We need that because of trust. We need it because
you’re not going to trust the police
unless they agree that what they did before was wrong. And then we need reconciliation. So I actually think the
South African commission, as it really operated,
did the right thing. That is to say, first they
have to tell the truth and we have to have
a public record that establishes a basis for trust. And then we just– no
more piling on pain. We just have reconciliation. Now, I say as it
actually operated, because Desmond Tutu’s book
has the title No Future Without Forgiveness. Now, he describes what
he did quite correctly. And what he did had no
component of groveling, apology, confession, or forgiveness. But then there’s
this last chapter where he suddenly pulls out
all the Christian tradition and he says, well,
now, what we really need is a person has to confess
and has to humble himself. And then he has to– you
know, if he does all that, he can receive forgiveness. I think there are a lot of
processes in our world today that have built on that. And I think, unfortunately
so, that what really happened was much better. Because the minute you get
into that confessional mindset, I think you deter the prospects
for trust and reconciliation. So any way, to put
it in a nutshell. Yes? [INAUDIBLE] STUDENT: [INAUDIBLE] first
[INAUDIBLE] question. MARTHA NUSSBAUM:
Can you talk louder? Because I can’t hear you. But also, the mic can’t
hear you, I’m sure. STUDENT: OK. From the [INAUDIBLE]
perspective [INAUDIBLE] Eastern and Central Europe
we have also– we can add also so Ghandi,
Mandela, [INAUDIBLE] and so on. And it’s actually interesting
that all those strategies of forgiveness that
they were more or less similar [INAUDIBLE] that
non-violence was on the agenda. But the main issue that is
still in the political life is– and this question
[INAUDIBLE] because [INAUDIBLE] after those brilliant persons
came to some kind of new ground for new political divisions. It means that they
provoked, the people provoked, so to say,
new anger of those who wanted something more than
just a general forgiveness. They wanted a
going case-by-case. And it’s very interesting
because it is still on the agenda in those
small countries of Eastern and Central Europe as
a point of reference for political divisions. And it seems to be very far
from being settled down. And it goes through to
the next generations. I would like to ask if– MARTHA NUSSBAUM: Yeah,
well, you know, I think it is a contextual matter. I mean, the first thing I’ll say
is that, as I said in the talk, non-violence, to my mind,
is optional and strategic. And it’s really the non-anger,
the sentiments behind it and what you’re trying to
achieve that’s primary, and that there may be
circumstances in which violence will be the only
thing you can do, but you should do it
has a certain spirit. But anyhow, to get
to your question, I guess I think that in the
South African situation, they were right to refuse the
idea for individualized trials. And the reasons that Tutu
gives are very good reasons. Namely, that if they went for
trials, people would lawyer up, they would really
obscure the evidence, and then there would
never be the production of a public record that
would be the basis for trust. Now, on the other
hand of course, I’m all in favor of trials
in the everyday justice case. That is, when a criminal
commits a crime, I think truth is served by
the criminal trial conducted in the right spirit, which,
of course, it is often not. But so in the
everyday case, I think what we want is
the truth component is established by a criminal
trial that’s individualized. And then the reconciliation
component is, I think, best fostered by a
variety of approaches to the whole
questions, beginning with education and nutrition. But in the punishment domain,
focused on rehabilitation. And, I mean, I talk in the book
about a number of experiments with juvenile justice that Jon
Braithwaite has conducted which have very much that spirit. So anyway, so, you
know, your case is a complicated
intermediate one, because we have
countries that are– perhaps you could
get the evidence for an individualized trial. And there’s– I guess one can
understand why people would want to do that. And of course, a lot of people
are angry in South Africa that there were no
individualized trials. I guess I would just think
it’s a contextualized matter. Do you have an
urgent need for trust that will actually be derailed
by this often doomed search for criminal convictions? Because they’re going to
lawyer up, and the evidence is very hard to get. Or are you in more of an
everyday justice situation where the best way
of getting the truth is the individualized trial? And I guess I don’t know enough
about the individual countries. We could talk about
that some other time. Yeah? Thank you very much,
because I really feel the opposite
of anger right now. But I’d like to know if– [LAUGHTER] If you know Michel Foucault’s–
one of his masterpieces Surveillance and Punishment
where he argues that prison is an instrument of power the state
has developed through the ages. And I’d like to know if his
view of prison and retributive justice has inspired you? Made you involve
in your conception? Or if you don’t share
this view at all. MARTHA NUSSBAUM: Hm. STUDENT: I don’t
it’s [INAUDIBLE] now. MARTHA NUSSBAUM: Yeah, I
actually– although I’m critical of lots of
things about Foucault, I guess I– particularly in the
gender domain and the child sex domain and so on– but that
particular work, I think, is a very, very important book. And, yeah, I mean I’ve
taught it with Judge Posner. We had a seminar on
Foucault in the law. And I think that’s
his best book. I would also mention his
new book, which actually hasn’t come out in English yet. But it’s a book about
the confessional. And it’s come out in French,
so you could read it. But it’s– [LAUGHTER] I know. But actually I’ve got a
copy of it, [INAUDIBLE]. But Bernard Harcourt,
our colleague, has translated it into English. And I actually
have the manuscript of Bernard’s
English translation. And, you know, it
really added a lot to what I was saying about
the Christian tradition, because in his usually
idiosyncratic way but still with a lot of
interesting evidence, he shows the rise in
the disciplinary use of the confessional as
an instrument of power over the wayward
conscience of the monk. So it was a way of
control– you know, very much like
Discipline and Punish, we turn from controlling acts
now to controlling thought. There’s this kind of move
toward thought control. If we can get
people to feel they have to confess all the time–
and then that’s never finished because there’s always
going to be some new sin you can get to confess– then we
can control them very much. So, yes, I think that’s a very,
very good and interesting work. Yeah? STUDENT: At first when you were
talking about Martin Luther King and Ghandi, it seemed
sort of like violence and anger were linked no matter. And then you brought
up Nelson Mandela and the use of productive–
sort of productive violence in the proper spirit. And I’m just curious, can you
have this productive violence without anger? It seems like– it does
seem like violence to anger have to be linked in a way. But– STUDENT: Well, this
has been discussed a lot in this tradition. And, you know, way back
to the Greeks and Romans, because Seneca, who also
has views related to mine, you know, he was a
politician, but he had friends who were in the military. And they wanted to know, how
can we have an army doing its job without anger? And he points out, and
I think quite plausibly, that an angry army is not
the kind of army you want. It’s likely to run
amok and do things that they’re not told to do. What you want is people
who know what they’re doing and they do their duty
and they’re inspired by a sense of their duty. And then he goes on to
give examples of that. And then that’s much more
likely to be a disciplined army. Now, with the ANC, of course
it was very, very tricky. And I guess I think
Mandela, once in a while, would allow the
motivation of anger. But he also knew that the
doom of the whole thing would be if that
gets out of hand and retains too much longevity. And so always he–
you know, with himself and with his close
associates, he always operated in a
spirit of non-anger. And then, with the
larger group, you know, it was crucial that at some
times he really intervened. And, well, if you’ve seen–
have you seen the Mandela movie? There’s this episode near
the start of the nation where violence is breaking
out, and Mandela really feels that he
has– I mean, there are two things he does that
are really quite surprising. The first has to do
with the national anthem where people are– well,
there are three things really. There’s the rugby
team, but we all know that story from the other
movie, which is, I think, a much better movie. But– [LAUGHTER] You know, they had already
voted that the rugby team would no longer represent the nation. The ANC had voted that,
because they were so angry. And he really comes
in then and says, no, you must not have that
spirit of retributive payback because this is– sports are
a big inspirer of people, a big source of
cooperation and motivation. You know, and he singlehandedly
vetoed an ANC unanimous vote. It was quite dramatic. But with the national
anthem, again, they, you know, of
course, they want to sing Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika. . They don’t want
to sing, whatever it is– Die Stem–
the Afrikaner anthem. And they had already
decided that they were going to, you know, put
in a new national anthem. And again, you know,
just single-handedly– and luckily he had that
influence– he just says, no. We’re going to have this
fused national anthem. So if you know the national
anthem that is sung today, it’s actually in four–
well, the first part is in two African languages. So it’s four languages. Then there’s the
Afrikaner part that’s the traditional Afrikaner
national anthem. And then there’s a bit
in English at the end. So it’s bringing everyone
together in music. But with the time when his
henchmen were stirring up violence, he actually
went on television and, once again, you
know, he just said, this is not going to happen. We must cooperate. Unfortunately in the
Mandela movie, the guy, he thinks that to play an
older man, you go to sleep and you pretend you’re
asleep half the time. Idris Elba’s a good actor,
but he doesn’t do aging well. So he’s sleepwalking through
this bit, and it’s not at all like Mandela. But he gets on TV
and he says something that I think is incorrectly
scripted in the movie. He says, I’ve forgiven them,
and you must forgive them, too. Mandela never used the word
“forgiveness,” to my knowledge. But anyway, he did say–
make this speech that was incredibly effective
in getting people not to– to stop the violence. And Gandhi could do
the same thing, too. It’s, you know, not easy because
a leader can’t be everywhere at once. And during Partition,
Gandhi could stop the violence
and West Bengal, but he couldn’t stop it in
Uttar Pradesh and so on. But anyway, it does
seem very important that that spirit should
infuse the whole movement. And I think King was the
most successful in that, because he really had drilling
sessions where, you know, people really did go through
this kind of learning of non-violence and learning
of the spirit of non-anger. And they really
worked hard on that. And I think very successfully. Yeah? I’m more of a
consequentialist concern [INAUDIBLE] because I’m
thinking of several good things we have now. I’m thinking democracy, limited
government, the end of slavery here in the US, which are
all things that came out of processes that rose
out of anger and violence towards the previous regime. So do you think these things,
democracy, limited government, could have emerged without
anger and violence? STUDENT: Well, OK,
I just suddenly realized that we’re out of time. But these are– each historical
case is very complicated, and, I mean, the civil rights
movement, of course, I’ve already talked about. The end of slavery? I think that’s a very
complicated one for you, because the leading proponent
of the end of slavery and a crucial linchpin
was, of course, Lincoln. But then there were also people
like Harriet Beecher Stowe, who was extremely
influential, whose spirit was one of empathetic
understanding and cooperation, and not of punitive payback. So I think, you know, it’s
a “they,” not an “it,” but a lot of the
crucial actors acted in the spirit of non-anger. And I would say
that’s very, very true of the American
Revolution as well. But I can’t go into it in
detail because I suddenly realize that we’re out of time. So thank you all very much.

18 thoughts on “Martha Nussbaum, “What Is Anger, and Why Should We Care?”

  1. MsNussbaum is a pontificator, moralism is not logical but appealing to emotio. It is ridiculous to say that anger is aifight or flight mechanism, No anger is the reaction when the gulf between expectation and reality. It is an ontolgical issue. Aristotle was inapable of understanding this and neither is MsNussbaum

  2. I wish somebody could have asked her about Christ's treatment of figs and pigs. The money-changers I can understand. I feel angry about them myself. But figs and pigs! What had they done?

  3. As the Yin incorporates a little of Yang so it is vice versa, Thank you Martha for being a poet of understanding the logos that we have in the Yang aspect of Emotions.

  4. Why are there so many ad hominem comments here? I have read Nussbaum, took a course with her, and read some of her work closely and critically. If one has an argument against what she says here, then it should be given, not stupid comments about accents and ignorant comments about her supposed haughtiness.

  5. I don't think anger never comes with that wish to sympathize with others. And sometimes is a useful resource to communicate our own boundaries. And sometimes it works. Are there "types" of anger? …

  6. Also, why think that anger excludes the possibility to think also about the pain and not just about the social status?

  7. I would love to hear the professor discuss the butterfly effect which has to do with chaos theory. Natural Law is the only true law which requires righteous anger. As above, so below, it cannot be prevented but only delayed. Debt ( negative) must and always is repaid ( positive)

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