post by lsusr · 2021-04-18T16:14:08.309Z · LW · GW · 23 comments

I don't get angry. I haven't gotten angry in ten years. A Buddhist would say I have "pulled up anger by the roots".

Anger is predicated on the desire to hurt someone. The desire to hurt someone as a terminal value is pure evil.

I have been on the receiving end of a lot of anger. Ostensibly, it is because of things I did or I didn't do. None of that matters. How often a particular person gets angry at me has little to do with me and everything to do with that person.

Though I no longer get angry, I do feel stress. My baseline stress is a function of physical exercise, social interaction, food, meditation and art. But that's not goes through my head. When I feel stress, I go looking for something I'm doing wrong like an appointment I've forgotten about, a chore I've been putting off or some other personal inadequacy. I misattribute the stress to a confabulation [LW · GW] and then go about solving the wrong problem.

I think angry people do the same thing. They feel anger before identifying a target. This would explain why observation that whether someone gets angry at me in a particular interaction correlates with how frequently that person has gotten angry at me in the past and cannot be predicted by my proximate influence.

With particularly angry people, I can predict when they will get angry before they do but I cannot predict what they will get angry at. Except that, if I am alone with the person, the target will eventually become me no matter what I do.

  1. There are two red flags to avoid almost all dangerous people: 1. The perpetually aggrieved ; 2. The angry.

100 Tips for a Better Life [LW · GW] by Ideopunk

When I was a kid I had an adult berate me for not shoveling dirt into a hole and then, an hour later, berate me for shoveling dirt into the hole. Neither beratement had anything to do with the task. He just wanted to make me suffer. But he didn't understand his own motivation. He confabulated that I was a lazy kid who should have known better than than to do (or not do) whatever I was doing (or not doing).

The most undeserving victims of anger are the victims of genocides and such. But in my personal experience, the people for whom anger causes the most suffering are angry people themselves. Anger is incompatible with happiness. If you are frequently angry then you are frequently unhappy.

Pulling up anger by the roots makes you a gentler, happier person. The catch is that anger is a natural defense against other angry people. To safely remove a natural defense you must replace it with an artificial one.

If you are not an angry person then the best way to deal with angry people is to avoid them. If you cannot avoid angry people then distance yourself from them. If you bump into angry people then diffuse the situation. If you cannot diffuse the situation then fight as a last resort.


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comment by romeostevensit · 2021-04-18T18:52:45.952Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Law of equal and opposite advice: some people are socialized into repressing anger/turning anger inward toward the self which makes it easier for people to take advantage of them. These people need to pass through a phase of recontacting their anger before trying to 'let go' of it.

Replies from: lsusr
comment by lsusr · 2021-04-18T20:55:51.563Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Yes. Suppressing anger is counterproductive.

comment by Raemon · 2021-04-18T21:04:15.930Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

One thing that strikes me here is you seem to be talking more about "angry people" (i.e. people who are somehow persistently tending towards "angry"), as opposed to "anger, a transient state that an otherwise healthy person is in."

One purpose of anger AFAICT is to build game theory into the psychology of social organisms, without them having to have a fully idealized game theoretically sound approach. 

It's useful to have punishment and threats as a tool in our coordination toolkit. Punishing someone generally requires you to burn resources of some kind. Sometimes it's locally worth it to punish someone, because even though you will burn resources, you'll almost immediately start reaping rewards from the next steps in an iterated PD or Stag hunt. Other times, the payoff is extremely diffuse, and it's honestly just worse for you to spend resources of tit-for-tatting. BUT, it's still overall better for defectors to know that they risk the possibility of someone "disproportionately, 'irrationally' punishing them", so they don't bother defecting in the first place

At least one of anger's roles, I think, is to facilitate that. 

I think a downside of anger is that our native implementation of it isn't designed to handle complex coordination problems of the modern world. So I think there are reasons to be dissatisfied with that native implementation, and to want to change it in some way. But I wouldn't try to remove anger from your arsenal, or encourage others to do so, unless you/they have actually fully "replaced" the job that anger was doing. (and honestly I'm not sure I know anyone who is at this level, I think anger is doing lots of subtle things, and trying to replace native emotional software is pretty likely to go wrong in various ways).

The problem of "the guy who yells at you for digging the hole and then yells at you for filling it back" isn't that he's angry, it's that he has miscalibrated anger and some maladaptive patterns with it.

Replies from: irarseil
comment by irarseil · 2021-04-26T17:43:42.424Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'd say 'anger', as many other such psychological constructs, is ambiguous and can refer either to a trait / feature (an anger-prone person, a person who tends to become angry easily) or to a state (a person who is momentarily angry). The same distinction can be made vis-à-vis other emotions (sadness, happiness, disgust, anxiety...) and perhaps personality traits. I'd propose the terms 'momentarily angry' and 'anger-prone' (and similarly for the other emotions: momentarily sad and sadness-prone, etc) if there's a need to disambiguate, but not being a native English speaker I'm not really sure of them being fit.

comment by Razied · 2021-04-18T18:39:41.065Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I largely agree that anger and emotional happiness (but not ultimate Happiness) are quite incompatible, doing 1200 hours of meditation over two years has reduced both the frequency and half-life of any anger I feel and it made me realise just how unpleasant it actually was. However, let me try to steelman anger:

First, very advanced meditators actually seem to report that even moments of anger are "perfect" in some way, just like all other moments. I've certainly seen Shinzen Young and other zen masters get somewhat angry, not at anyone, but to emphasise a particular point in an emotional way. So anger is certainly useful for communicating your values to an audience. Hearing someone say "I really care about this" in a neutral tone doesn't quite have the punch of someone getting mildly angry.

There also seems to be a relationship between anger and a sort of aggressive motivation. I notice that my bench press sets seem a lot easier if I get angry first, and they're also a lot more pleasant, being angry without doing anything is unpleasant, but expending that "angry energy" towards a goal does seem to be pleasant. Being angry about things like the existence of cancer can certainly help with motivation to solve these problems. 

Replies from: lsusr, Dumbledore's Army
comment by lsusr · 2021-04-18T20:51:43.494Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I agree that aggressive motivation can be useful in the weightroom, on the dais and elsewhere. I consider anger to tautologically require a desire to inflict suffering upon a conscious being. If we define anger more broadly to include a zealous zen master or a deadlifter then anger can be a good thing.

Could anthropomorphizing cancer and then getting angry at it help advance science? Maybe. I do not personally derive utility from this mindset but others might.

comment by Dumbledore's Army · 2021-04-18T21:01:20.385Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To expand on your last sentence, anger can be a driver of positive change in the world. Greta Thunberg is angry that people are carelessly wrecking the only planet we have to live on. Racial justice protesters in the US are angry that black people keep getting killed by the police. Unless you're a saint, being furious about some injustice is much more motivating than the dispassionate thought that 'x would be a good deed'.

Having said that, I would agree with OP that most of the time in most interpersonal situations anger is damaging, and for most people becoming less angry is a good thing. (Or at least many people should become much more aware about why they are angry, at whom, instead of letting themselves be generically angry and taking it out on the nearest available target.)

Replies from: lsusr
comment by lsusr · 2021-04-18T21:24:22.539Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

When I watch the speeches of Martin Luther King Jr, I am inspired by his total absence of anger. Perhaps he is a saint, in which case I endeavor to follow his example.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2021-04-18T19:09:26.511Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I think you are confusing anger with hate.

Like all emotions, anger is adaptive - though it may have been more so in the ancestral environment. Even today anger tells you something. Quick google:  

Hate was presumably also adaptive but I think its purpose is mostly lost in modern society. There I agree that it amounts to useless destruction. 

Replies from: lsusr
comment by lsusr · 2021-04-18T20:44:05.040Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This may be a disagreement about words. For me, hate comes from disgust and aversion whereas anger comes from a desire for comeuppance and redress. It sounds to me like your definition of hate is similar to my definition of anger. If my definition of anger equals your anger of hate then we are in agreement about reality.

Replies from: GuySrinivasan, Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by GuySrinivasan · 2021-04-18T21:00:34.013Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anecdote: I thought I didn't get angry. My wife identified a spectrum of emotions, the upper end of which she said was anger, such that I found it obvious I had the middle often enough and the upper sometimes. I did not previously identify the upper as "angry" but on reflection I noted that many others definitely seem to. The lower end of this spectrum looks more like "frustration" than anything else.

Replies from: Gunnar_Zarncke
comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2021-04-19T05:58:26.216Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I like the idea of making emotions continuous or a spectrum but I don't think a single linear one will do. 

for example, anger can feel good - if it works (I can't say that from personal experience so much as from observation from kids).  

Replies from: lsusr
comment by lsusr · 2021-04-19T06:44:46.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

To build off of your comment here [LW(p) · GW(p)], the idea that "anger can feel good" is a phrase where the meaning of individual words depends heavily on one's direct experience, personal background and cultural context.

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2021-04-19T06:18:12.486Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

We seem to mutually misidentify anger and hate. That is surprising. Emotions are usually assumed to be universal. Could be cultural. I looked it up and there found this research question: 

Human Emotions: Universal or Culture‐Specific? (PDF)

Anna Wierzbicka has made an effort to decompose this into fundamental building blocks:

Emotions Across Languages and Cultures: Diversity and Universals

I have not yet fully read it but this seems like a program worthy to communicate wider.

Replies from: lsusr
comment by lsusr · 2021-04-19T06:30:19.593Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Emotional machinery is universal. Emotional ontologies can be culture-specific. I do differ on a lot of cultural assumptions relative to community here on Less Wrong such as on the flexibility of abstract concepts [LW · GW], civilization-specific ontologies [LW · GW], the essence of goodness [LW · GW] and stuff that isn't even on the Western map [LW · GW].

comment by Raemon · 2021-04-18T18:33:05.701Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

This feels like it is strawmanning anger pretty bad (and focusing on places where anger has particularly gone-wrong). I'll have more stuff to say later but wanted to flag that for now.

Replies from: lsusr
comment by lsusr · 2021-04-18T21:30:27.407Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I had intended to drop[1] the case for anger entirely.

  1. "Dropping", a debate context, refers to ignoring an argument without attempting to refute it. ↩︎

comment by Gunnar_Zarncke · 2021-04-18T19:23:31.794Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Except that, if I am alone with the person, the target will eventually become me no matter what I do.

I don't know what you do but I might have an idea why you become the target (because this happens to me too): You seem to be the type of person who has their own ideas, own plans, and are not easily influenced or persuaded. For some - maybe many people - ramping up emotion is one (unconscious) way to make you (or other people) understand the urgency or distress they are in. If you ignore or otherwise do not respond or acknowledge other people's stress you make it worse for them. You may not have an obligation to do something about it but you also shouldn't be surprised if it happens.

Do you think this might relate to your experience?

comment by Stuart Anderson (stuart-anderson) · 2021-04-22T14:08:19.460Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Anger is predicated on the desire to hurt someone. 

Anger is predicated on unmet expectations. That's why you can be angry at things and concepts.

The desire to hurt someone as a terminal value is pure evil.

No, acts can be evil. Thoughts are just thoughts.

I think about hurting people all the time. Do those thoughts make me evil, or does my choice not to act on them make me good? How about neither? Most of your thoughts and emotions are little more than weather in your mind. One day the weather will be better, the next worse, but every day there'll be weather.

Furthermore, self defence is valid. Anger can be part of that.

How often a particular person gets angry at me has little to do with me and everything to do with that person.

An interaction is exactly that. You could certainly be a piece of set dressing in that person's life, but IME people do things they're blind to constantly. No, you're not responsible for other people's emotions, but you are responsible for your own situational awareness.

I think angry people do the same thing. They feel anger before identifying a target.

Not all anger is equivalent. 

I can have anger as a product of perceived injustice. This is the anger I use to get just outcomes. This is my vocational/utility anger. This happens as a product of external events interacting with my values.

Then there's my insanity anger. This is anger that just happens as a by-product of my illness. It is affect anger. I don't have a choice about feeling this anger, and it fits the case you're raising here.

The question I ask of all emotion is whether it is contextually appropriate. If you are angry and it makes sense for you to be angry given the situation you're in then everything is working as it should be. If you're angry no matter what's going on then that is disease.

The most undeserving victims of anger are the victims of genocides and such.

The problem with a genocide is that it is a one size fits all solution for a far more specific problem. No genocide ever happens without friction.

If you don't want people to kill you then that's ultimately about fitting in where the territory is limited. Genocides are always about us and them and never about just us. So many people don't get that the goal has to be to become us rather than the tolerated them

Anger is incompatible with happiness. If you are frequently angry then you are frequently unhappy.

Without anger or depression I slow to a standstill. When I'm appropriately drugged I simply stop wanting or not wanting anything, or doing anything but the bare minimum. When I'm drugged, I don't care anymore. No investment, no anger (or much of anything else). It's like I go into power saving mode. At least when I'm angry I have a direction.

People take their normal psychology completely for granted.

Pulling up anger by the roots makes you a gentler, happier person.

Have you ever noticed that there's never any pop culture advice for people that are the problem that everyone's trying to avoid? It's quite irritating. You'd think someone would have written a book on it, but I've never seen one.

I suppose the question I would ask you is why don't you grind to a halt in the absence of anger as I do? Where is this happiness coming from? 

comment by Slider · 2021-04-27T17:33:45.740Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I was reminded of this post when I came across fictional example of developing anger as a constructive force and a sign of healing . The triggering was very conditional on conduct. The angerer has the target person and conduct clearly in mind before expressing the anger. The target of the anger was not angry. The target conduct was not targeted to the anger expresser.

The most important step for the bad forces to win is for the forces of good to do nothing. To not get angry means there is no conduct or agent that you would deconstruct. This means letting the most horrendous monster to thrive in peace. To dismiss that anybody could get legitametely angry at you is to claim you are incapable of evil. Sure we like to be the hero of our storym but genuine mistakes on whether we are a constructive force happens (nice job breaking it, hero).

Sure it is a more common problem to be overtly angry. And one can spin it in a way that some times making holes actually creates rather than destroys, to interfere in a process can be constructive rather than destructive. But that shouldn't mean that we exclude supression from our toolbox, or that we start calling destruction creation.

comment by Srdjan Miletic (srdjan-miletic) · 2021-04-25T21:17:18.636Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I'm not sure I've ever felt anger in the way it seems to be described here. As in, anger as an uncontrolled emotional response to disliking something/someone. I have felt something close to violence-instinct where I thought that a person was a danger/bad and it was time to hurt them but that seems different.

While I tend to agree with you that anger is bad an should be avoided that seems like an extension of the general rule of "You should decide what you feel' rather than letting feelings just randomly happen to you as if they're something external to you like the weather over which you have no control.

One point of disagreement, "If you cannot diffuse the situation then fight as a last resort". I'm not sure this is the correct approach. Let's say a bad person walks up to you and demands you apologize for a perceived slight. Should you do so if the alternative is violence? I realize many people here would say yes but to me giving in to evil/injustice in that way seems intuitively deeply wrong and I would rather choose to fight.

comment by curmudgeon_ga · 2021-04-19T11:09:23.605Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

Some people bring out the anger in others more often. Some people can talk others out of anger, while some people fan the flames. What can be said for that?

comment by Michael Luder-Rosefield (michael-luder-rosefield) · 2021-04-30T15:58:47.890Z · LW(p) · GW(p)

I am mostly a placid, very-hard-to-anger person, and that's something I do pride myself on.

There are some things that get to me, though, and I've often wondered if it's healthy, and if it's a call to action that I've been suppressing.

I hate social injustice and cruelty, and I know the negative emotions it provokes is a sign I should either do something about it, or learn to adjust my responses.

But there is something that I cannot bring myself to feel might be wrong -- cruelty/tragedy involving children When this comes to my attention, I feel deep anger, hate, and despair against the person and the world, and I don't think I can ever let go of that without losing something core to myself.