compositehiggs Martha Nussbaum cites the Inuits as a society where anger is considered deeply taboo and childish.
Heh, not saying you are perpetuating this by citing her, but that’s a somewhat silly distinction being made by Nussbaum. I would hazard a guess that anger is considered taboo in most cultures (based on my own personal experiences of being a person who has seen it at least once, I mean, that is the worst!!). But in a way, I would say it is a severe taboo to express anger in western society. If that sounds counterintuitive and that expressing anger in western culture is very normal, I would draw a distinction between two forms that anger on a cultural level seems to take.
One form is an expression of dominance over the target of one’s rage, or retaliating for a perceived threat or slight, or a pre-emptive suppression of dissent. The rage of a boss to make emotionally charged demands for higher productivity. We have a newly termed slang word for someone who engages in a particular expression of it–a Karen. This form of anger is not taboo in the slightest, if anything, it’s practically something those in positions of power or authority feel an entitlement to express. But, honestly, I have a hard time seeing this as “anger” in a strict sense. It’s more like insecurity, or just pure aggression. It’s anger as theatre or rhetoric.
The other is expressions of anger I would say is a more sincere and pure form of anger, something more honest to the mystery that is the internal human emotional experience. That emotion comes from things like the impulse to reject or resist an injustice, or the resentment of being forced to submit to exploitation. This kind of anger is just about the highest form of taboo in western society. You certainly can’t express it in public collectively and you’re even actively discouraged from experiencing it in your private life, because to do so is to emotionally reject the status quo.
Why I really like the article and as well why I think even out of context Nussbaum’s singling out of Inuit culture as having a taboo against anger is silly is because, in Inuit culture anger is certainly a taboo for adults, however, much like similar cultures, they are also endlessly tolerant of the behaviour of children. Anger is seen as childish because only kids are really allowed to do it. Having been raised with at least little glimmers of maybe somewhat similar forms of social control from an indigenous culture, enforcing that expectation through teasing is for adolescents, not children. They recognize that kids, for instance, are more emotional and more outwardly emotional than adults because they don’t yet have the capacity to skillfully distinguish reason from emotion. And they are much more honest about which of those two theories of anger of mine they may be feeling. The Inuit approach also recognizes the importance of teaching kids in a method of delivery that is in tune with the common internal world of a kid, which is emotional and expressive rather than intellectual and abstract. For kids hands on learning is always best, and that no matter what you want them to do or how you want them to think, all day kids are absorbed in imagination and play. It’s recognizing that you’re maybe trying to guide the kid up intellectually to your higher intellectual/ethical level, but also that in terms of imagination and play, you’re also capable of rising up to meet them on that higher level of imagination and play.
What I think is also most radically different in that approach, is that it acknowledges emotional regulation is a skill. The beauty of the part of the article where the mom eggs the kid on to throw the rock at her so the mom can play out the consequences, is that it understands that emotional regulation is a skill needs to be practiced to be learned. You need to practice experiencing emotions in order to ensure that emotion can be regulated at the moment they are most intense, and then, one can ensure the emotional experience leads to a constructive end.
It’s the fundamental failure of how I think western culture teaches us to deal with emotions, which is that most of us need to suppress them most of the time, keep them out of sight or drown them in substances, and it’s one’s personal responsibility to ensure you don’t act impulsively and harm others, I think so you can be a more pliable wage laborer. Emotions by their nature compel you to communicate and/or perform them, and the more intense they are the more urgent you feel you need to act on them. At the peak of an emotional experience is when the line between reason and impulse is the most blurred. So if all you’re taught as a kid is that your destructive emotions should be relegated to your bedroom during a time out and that you’ve mostly been ordered to not express emotions destructively by intellectual or just outright arbitrary demands from authority, you are much more likely to have no idea how to handle it when, say, during puberty, your emotions become intense and inexplicable even to you. But then, unhelpfully, the social pressure to contain destructive (including self destructive) behaviour just gets heightened, and the stock response from authority is just to try and punish you more severely for acting on what could just be impulse.
I guess what I mean to say is, most people don’t learn how to not throw rocks at people if they’ve never been taught how to hold the rock without throwing it.