Over at Libertarian Peacenik, Thomas
tells of the difficulties he had in trying to forge a
left-right-libertarian Tea Party alliance.
The local Code Pink chapter was all for it, but the right wingers were more
horrified at the prospect of joining forces with Code Pink and a bunch of Ron
Paulites than they were enthused at the idea of building a more powerful and
more broad-based coalition, so they backed out and the alliance collapsed.
There aren’t many issues I can think of that enthuse and inspire the
American right-wing more than their mutual hatred for American liberals.
American liberals can share this vice in reverse to some extent, but it seems
more often secondary to their more substantial concerns. In both cases,
though, it tends to lead to a stubborn refusal to reconsider ill-considered
opinions (for fear such things might lead them to be mistaken for the cretins
on the other team), and it divides activists in areas where they could and
should unite, thus allowing those in power to fleece them more easily.
In the fifth
section of the fourth book of The Nicomachean
Ethics, Aristotle discusses a virtue that concerns the appropriate
response to anger.
For this one, he has an especially difficult time finding the right words
for either the virtue or the vices, and, as you can see from the table below,
the various translators I have been
consulting also had trouble coming to any consensus on good English words
for the concepts.
Various translations of the virtue and vices concerning anger
|Vice of deficiency
||Virtue (golden mean)
||Vice of excess
insensibility to anger
incapacity of feeling just provocation
a phlegmatic disposition
over-aptness to anger
a choleric disposition
But even if shorthand words are hard to come by, this virtue and these vices
seem fairly easy to picture. We’ve all known someone who is a hot-head and
flies off the handle easily, quick to take offense and getting all bent out
of shape over some little thing. And we’ve all known someone who’s a pushover,
wimpy, a Caspar Milquetoast who lets people walk all over him without raising
a protest. And, too, we’ve all admired someone who, at the appropriate time
and in a confident manner, stood up and said “enough is enough” when an insult
or injustice became too great; or, on the other hand, someone who patiently
bore with minor annoyances that would have driven a lesser person to stomp
their feet and pull out their hair.
Aristotle, and the translators, believed
that people tend to err on the too-quick-to-anger side of the continuum, which
is why most of the words suggested for the virtue suggest a tamping-down of
anger: meekness, mercy, patience, gentleness, mildness. These days, I could
see an argument either way. There is a lot of stupid belligerence, but on the
other hand, I’m amazed at the variety and severities of insults to dignity
that people routinely put up with without complaint.
Aristotle believed that the excess of anger is worse to have around than a
deficiency of anger, and that this too is a good reason for setting up the
opposition the way he did. Even that I’m not too sure about. If people
habitually put up with gross insults to their dignity then these insults can
become unexceptional. The commonplace mendacity of politicians or advertisers
is such a variety of insult — accepting it without complaint has become so
habitual that it looks eccentric to behave as though one took offense at being
lied to. Perhaps this sort of corrosion is as bad or worse than that caused by
The excess of anger has, in Aristotle’s view, a number of different varieties.
The hot-headed person that I described is one — he or she gets angry at the
wrong things, and to an excessive extent, and on too much of a hair-trigger.
But someone like a “sulky” person who holds grudges can exhibit the same vice
but in a different way: by being angry at (possibly) the right things and the
right amount and after the right amount of consideration, but not expressing
that anger in a satisfying way and so holding on to it long after its time has
passed, finally expressing it as some misdirected act of revenge.
Index to the Nicomachean Ethics series
Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics