The Difference Between Anger and Rage — And How It Explains Terrorism

Young kids hold rifles in unision

Anger is a response to a perceived or actual injustice. If you believe somebody acted in a wrong way (by some standard of “wrong”), and could/should have made a different choice, then you will likely feel angry.

Anger can be based on a provably true or faulty standard of “justice.” For example: “That vandal broke my car window. It’s not his car, there’s no reason for this and I’m furious,” is based on a rational standard of justice. On the other hand, “My brother Joey is taller and better looking than I am, and I’m angry,” is not based on a valid standard. Biological characteristics are not chosen. They’re neither fair nor unfair, but simply given.

Rage is qualitatively different from anger. Rage involves not just a more intense feeling of anger. It’s actually a response to profound anxiety. Rage, at least in part, is the psyche’s way of trying to reduce the very uncomfortable feeling of extreme anxiety. Whenever one feels powerless or helpless — particularly as a victim — one will tend, at least in part, to feel rage.

People sometimes feel rage in private, nonviolent and nonpublic ways. I’ve been told, “I was so upset and stressed out that I threw my phone across the room,” or, “I was so irritated that I ripped up her picture.” Most of these actions are of no consequence and nobody will ever know about them. Others say, “I had my own private meltdown when I was stressed the other day.” Again, while it might or might not be healthy for your psyche and body, it’s of no consequence to anybody else.

In other cases we see a perpetual rage manifesting as violent, destructive behavior. That’s what’s usually going on with terrorism.

If you wish to understand the kind of rage it would take to lead one to join a terrorist movement, you have to understand what it feels like to perceive yourself as a victim not just in certain instances but all of the time. Sometimes people are victims, of course. To be a terrorist, you’d have to feel like you’re a perpetual victim. Such an emotion is almost always exaggerated if not completely delusional. But once you’ve accepted your victim status and decided on the culprit — “infidels from the West” in the case of Islamic terrorists — then the stage is set, psychologically, to feel kinship and commitment to a terrorist movement.

In an unusually astute article entitled “Laughing at Mohammed,” [1-9-15] columnist Daniel Greenfield spoke about the Islamic terrorist rage against the cartoons poking fun at their prophet Mohammed.

Greenfield writes,

Islam frowns on images of its frowning prophet, not to mention images of anything else, but it is particularly offended by the institution of the cartoon. The photo keeps us human. The painting can even enhance and flatter its subject. But the cartoon reminds us of our flaws.

Islam insists that Mohammed must be perfect because the religion is reducible to one man. Take Mo away and Islam is left with a bunch of Jewish and Christian prophets until trucks arrive from Jerusalem and Rome with the theological sheriff to repossess their stolen scriptures.

Greenfield hits on some true points. Whenever an idea or person you consider sacred or important is mocked, it’s reasonable to feel disgust or anger. Humor isn’t always funny, and you’re not obliged to laugh at what’s important to you. But there’s a difference between disgust and fear. If the person mocking your ideal hits a nerve, then you will experience anxiety in an extremely powerful way. So powerful, in fact, that the anxiety will turn to rage. If you’re already predisposed to be active with a terrorist movement due to the mentality of the perpetual victim, then the rage sets you into motion. This is undoubtedly at least part of what fuels terrorists in their brutal crusades, whether it’s the school shooters, the Muslims or anybody else.

Think about it. When you’re angry, at least you feel alive. When someone exposes a potential vulnerability, logical contradiction or other flaw in your prophet or ideal, then you have several choices. One is to consider the source. “Well, that person doesn’t know what he’s talking about because of such-and-such.” Another option is to simply feel uncomfortable, but repress it and try to move on. That’s not particularly inspiring, although it’s more rational than rage. A third choice? Succumb to rage.

Greenfield goes on:

Muslims know their Mo weakness. If Mohammed is mocked, then Islam collapses.

We are talking about one of the most thin-skinned ideologies in history. Granted, there’s plenty of evidence in the history of Christianity and other religions to show that Islam is not the first. But Islam is more than a religion. It’s the last, gigantic gasp of undiluted, raw mysticism from a pre-scientific and pre-industrialized era. Its collectivism and primitive tribalism makes Communism seem like a polite union formed by a willing group of workers who generally get along with their employer; its subjugation of women and gays makes the religious right seem like Oprah; and its hatred of all things scientific and modern makes environmentalism seem like a quaint movement designed to encourage kindness to animals, and nothing more. Of course suicide is the culminating ideal of this religion’s purpose. If you were a fundamentalist Muslim, wouldn’t you want to kill yourself, too?

Religion, by its own definition, is based on faith. When something is based totally on faith, it’s impossible to point to rational evidence to support confidence in one’s viewpoint. This could actually apply to any position or principle one holds as true, whether it’s related to religion or anything else. It’s hard to hold firm to any viewpoint in the absence of evidence to back it up. As a result, anxiety rises when that lack of evidence is exposed — as in a cartoon poking fun at the heart of your prophet — and, since you were already psychologically predisposed to terrorist violence in the first place (via your victim mentality), the rest follows.

The most inane and idiotic response to rage is to think you can appease it. These superior-sounding people saying things like, “We shouldn’t poke fun at their religion,” suggest that such rage can be contained or controlled by greeting bombs and dead bodies with hugs, compassion and inaction. Nothing could be further from the truth. You’re dealing with the psychological equivalent of frightened, wounded wild animals in a state of perpetual rage. Their human conceptual faculties are turned against them, like a spaceship or airplane on auto-destruct, where each and every violent action they take is rationalized as self-preservation.  Nothing can be done to calm them. You’d get further reasoning with a full-blown Alzheimer’s patient. In all honesty, it’s too late for most of them. The only thing you can do when encountering such people is whatever it takes to save yourself.

Why do terrorist acts so often end in shootouts where the killers are destroyed? And in the case of Islam particularly, suicide is the actual intention of the violence, as in 9/11 and the other suicide bombers. The ultimate way to end extreme and pervasive anxiety is to kill yourself. Most highly anxious people don’t do this, of course, but in the case of Islam you’re provided — in exchange for your blind faith — a guarantee of eternal and unimaginable bliss not for your virtue, but for your acts of destruction.

The Islamic faith: It’s hard to imagine a more self-contained and airtight (on its own terms) recipe for self-annihilation and existential destruction than this particular metaphysical approach. I don’t know that any ideological system — any other religion, cult, fascist or communistic government — has ever contemplated or developed as consistently and wholeheartedly a credo of self-destruction.

Greenfield continues,

Islam didn’t win any theological debates with the religions whose holy books Mohammed rifled through and looted like a shoplifter at K-Mart’s religious books aisle. Its theology was the sword. It didn’t win the war of ideas. It killed those who had different ideas until the religion of Islam became supreme.

Force is indeed the methodology of the weak, in that the forceful do not live their lives by reason or evidence. Instead, they live by blind faith/dogma and/or blind emotions. Granted, in instances where the forceful succeed at murdering or injuring the innocent, they have displayed strength and power over their victims. But the destruction of others has done nothing to win over their hearts and minds. They haven’t won anything; they’ve merely negated.

Laughter is the weapon of the weak against the strong, writes Greenfield.

Yes — from the point-of-view of the attackers, the ones who initiate violence against those who are terrorized or killed. Laughter is a reminder that while, “You might threaten my physical well-being, or even take my life — you’ve never had a hold of my mind.” This is the thing that sends them into a rage more than anything else. Witness the relentless threats and — this past week — actual attack against the publishers of the anti-Islamic cartoon. In the minds of these depraved and lost souls, the cartoonists exposed their religion’s weakness. They would have none of it.

This is the one thing all dictators have in common. They cannot tolerate dissension. It’s not enough to break association with those who disagree. They cannot bear to live on the same planet with dissenters, because they feel entitled not to have to — and because it makes them more anxious than most of us could comprehend in our most fear-provoking situaton.

Because the mind is an objective requirement of human survival, the fact that victimizers will never have their victims’ minds, regardless of what they do to their bodies, makes them incredibly anxious and, consequently, full of rage.

Neurotic, irrational and continuous anxiety is the distinguishing feature of any genuine control freak. What makes the neurotic terrorist so dangerous is that systematic violence is the only way he will choose to quash his anxiety. Religion and ideology are merely his drug, or his excuse, for trying to eradicate an intolerable amount of anxiety.

A society and civilization of strong, rational and confident people — America as many still visualize it, for example — would never succumb to terrorism. If we do, then it says much more about the kind of people so many of us have become than about any inherent strength in the terrorists who use religion as their drug of choice for self-annihilation.

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