Yesterday’s New York Times includes an editorial, “America, We Have a Problem,” that cites three core ingredients putting America at risk. The ingredients consist of “othering”, “aversion”, and “moralization”: basically, ingredients that denigrate a person or political party that holds opposing views, rather than finding common ground.
Punitive intolerance and anger are often found in tandem, as my latest podcast guest explains more fully. Mix in money, power, and race; then add media-stoked anger and you have a recipe for an explosion.
Calling it the “Turbulent Twenties,” the scholars Goldstone and Turchin have modeled economic and demographic trends that suggest a political crisis is brewing in America, on par with the Civil War era. When the country’s elites are keen on protecting their own selfish happiness, the risk is great that the general public’s feelings of disappointment and distrust will turn to rage. Almost 30 years ago Goldstone predicted the rise of a figure like Donald Trump. Now would be a good time for another Lincoln or FDR.
Anger, Politics, and the Health of American Democracy
Released today: episode #33 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight,” featuring Steven W. Webster, the author of American Rage: How Anger Shapes Our Politics. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.
Webster is an assistant professor of political science at Indiana University. His research and writings focus on the role of anger in American politics, including the growth of “negative partisanship” in our country, and the ever greater polarization separating Democrats and Republicans.
This episode covers the behavioral implications of anger in American politics, from increased intolerance, blame, and aggression, to an ever-deepening lack of trust in government’s efficacy. Among the topics being addressed is the role of the media and internet in stoking anger; how democratic norms are threatened by partisan taunting; and the way anger invites loyalty to party over country.
Yesterday these four tech executives testified via video chat before the antitrust committee of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Judiciary Committee. If you’re a Christian steeped in the Bible’s book of Revelation, their joint appearance might suggest to you The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse: riders symbolizing pestilence, war, famine, and death. As a consumer or a woebegone business competitor of these four executives, however, you’re more likely to be wondering: who will ever restore our TRUST in antitrust enforcement?
From left to right, you’re viewing three household names and a fourth, Sundar Pichai, who now runs Alphabet (i.e. Google). What do Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Tim Cook of Apple, and Pichai have in common in these four photographs atop Wednesday’s New York Times article about the pending hearing? The answer is eyes wide open, as if the four men are alert to seizing on new opportunities as they operate de facto monopolies, or at least duopolies, in domains like online search, online marketplaces, app stores, and advertising sales.
Have unfair, even illegal acts been committed by these tech giants? That’s for Congress and federal prosecutors to decide. Much clearer is that the FBI estimates losses from white-collar crime of between $300 to $600 billion annually. In contrast, the total is $4 billion a year for the blue-collar crimes of burglary and robberies. Don’t waste your energy; you needn’t guess which type of crime has the higher conviction rate.
On Economic Mobility & Learning Capacity
This week’s podcast episode concerns the story of a 150-pound, high school viola player jumped by three plain-clothes police officers who found him “suspicious looking.” Yes, an innocent black kid living in Homewood, a downtrodden neighborhood in Pittsburgh founded by Andrew Carnegie long, long ago, is a far cry from the wealth being generated in Silicon Valley. In today’s video, I briefly address why eyes wide open – curiosity – learning capacity – is emerging as the key to success in life.
Released today: episode #12 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast series, featuring David A. Harris, the author of A City Divided: Race, Fear and the Law in Police Confrontations. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode that appears on the world’s largest book podcast with over 1.2 million downloads monthly.
How do we move police forces from a warrior culture to connecting better with communities they serve?
Harris is a professor at the University of Pittsburgh’s law school and is the leading U.S. authority on racial profiling. In addition to also being the author of Profiles in Injustice (2002). Harris hosts the podcast Criminal Injustice.
Topics covered in this episode include:
Harris’s vantage point on what the Minnesota legislature got right and only half-right in recently approving a police accountability measure in the wake of the George Floyd killing.
Why navigating fear and anger is so hard for both black suspects and the police alike.
What role a lack of familiarity – and trust – plays for officers and suspects in trying to avoid escalating their encounters.
Lately, I’ve been obsessing over how anger and fear are often two sides of the very same coin: fight-or-flight responses to danger. I got there, first, due to the three-headed monster of Covid-19, the resulting economic tailspin, and the justified civil unrest ignited by the murder of George Floyd. In every case people feel uncertainty, a sense of circumstances beyond their control. Where things get emotionally complex is that fear can turn into anger. That’s because the anxiety that comes with uncertainty can—in an emotional sleight-of-hand maneuver—be “resolved” by anger that offers relief from danger by compelling us forward to take charge of our destiny. (See my earlier blog, Anger Management: Emojis Cloud the Picture)
So I started my obsession by seeing how fear and anger intertwine around the issue of control. Then I started looking more broadly at another intersection: between ambition and a desire for control. That step brings me today to China’s leader Xi Jinping and to the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.
I can’t think of anybody more ambitious on the world stage right now than Xi. From the crackdown in Hong Kong, to almost daily military incursions into the waterways and air space of Taiwan, to suppressing the birthrate in the Muslim province of Xinjiang, China is on the march. And that’s just a part of Xi’s goal of overturning the previous century of Western domination. Look at Xi’s facial expressions and the one constant is low-grade smiles tightened by the presence of anger. And yet underlying that anger is concern about whether China’s Communist Party can maintain its control over its vast population.
Turning to America’s home front, DeVos’s facial expressions on national TV this past weekend were a study in fear. How to justify sending students and teachers back into the classroom this fall with a pandemic raging and no meaningful federal government response? From Fox News to CNN, DeVos dutifully made the media rounds: angerly supporting Donald Trump’s threat to cut off funds to school districts that don’t comply by opening up again soon. At the same time, however, that DeVos’s words ran hot her face betrayed anxiety whenever she was challenged by a news anchor to explain how this will all work. Open-eyed looks and rising eyebrows did nothing to convey assurance that this will all work out as not-planned. What didn’t waver was DeVos’s long-cherished goal of challenging the validity of public schools, given her faith- and class-based preference for “saving America” with more private, parochial schools.
This week’s new podcast is also to no small degree about fear, anger and ambition. My interview of novelist Siri Hustvedt concerns the character of S.H., who moves to New York City to become a writer and must cope with isolation, self-doubt and slights, large and small, from various men –culminating in a guy attempting to rape her. That scene falls at literally the midpoint of the novel, with half its pages still to follow. And there at the heart of the book occurs a change of heart, as S.H.’s greater assertiveness is manifested most clearly in the pocketknife that she begins to carry around with her for self-protection.
Now, not everyone carries a knife (or a gun). But in every case, anger can become a virtual weapon—perpetuating harm—or a benign source of self-empowerment. The choice of how we utilize anger lies at least somewhat within our conscious powers of control. Stay tuned: anger and fear aren’t going anywhere. Those two emotions will undergird almost every major news story you read for the rest of 2020. Of that much, I can assure you.
Coping with Danger: How to Build Up Your Resiliency
Mysteries of Time & Memory
Released today: episode 10 of Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight podcast, featuring Siri Hustvedt, the author of the novel Memories of the Future. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode.
How Do We Write Our Personal History at the Same Time That It’s Written for Us?
The Literary Review (UK) has called Hustvedt “a twenty-first-century Virginia Woolf.” She’s the author of seven novels, four collections of essays, and two works of nonfiction. Hustvedt has a PhD in English literature from Columbia University and lectures in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. She is also the recipient of numerous awards, including the European Essay Prize.
Topics covered in this episode include:
What it can mean to be a heroine instead of a hero, including in regards to which emotions might conventionally be considered “off-limits.”
The role that the author’s over-a-dozen drawings play in this novel.
Musings on what the roots of ambition might be, and how ambition and shame, as well as memory and imagination are often intertwined.
Want to send a mad-as-hell email, but you’re not sure which anger emoji to use? Welcome to chaos. My quick study of over a dozen anger emoji options reveals ambiguity and errors. The two most common depictions of anger show widened eyes combined with downward, inward pinched eyebrows. But that pair of facial muscle activities conveys fear as much as it does anger. Also commonly shown: an open mouth that suggests the presence of surprise and fear rather than anger.
Probably the worst anger emoji belongs to emojidex. After all, a distorted mouth depicts feeling sadness and disgust, not anger. What’s the most accurate anger emoji? The one from OpenMoji. Besides the usual eyes wide and eyebrows down combination, it alone shows a mouth with the lips pressed tight together. The second best anger emoji comes from Facebook. The company has added vertical wrinkles between the eyes with lowered eyebrows. That visual detail emphasizes a specific version of anger, focused concern.
Oddly, none of the anger emojis I reviewed had all of the most reliable tell-tale signs of anger. There are three of them: narrowed eyes, a jutting chin, lips pressed hard together (the opposite of an open, gaping mouth). Time to head back to the drawing board for graphic artists seeking to depict anger.
Next up in my series on the celebrities I analyzed for Famous Faces Decoded is Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, born on this day in 1984. Which two emotions most distinguish Zuckerberg from the 173 celebrities I facially coded for my book?
The people I surveyed said happiness and joy. The truth is, yes, joy distinguishes Zuckerberg – as shown here. With a true, joyful smile, the muscle around the eye tightens, creating a sparkle that can’t be readily faked. Think of joy as the equivalent of drinking champagne, which Zuckerberg can afford many cases of at this point in his career! In contrast, what is Zuckerberg’s second most characteristic emotion? It’s anger; should you doubt me, check out his appearances before Congress in April of 2018. As to Zuckerberg’s least characteristic emotion, it’s fear.
Last spring, Donald Trump launched his “Cherry Blossom Collection” available online at his Trump Store, complete with images of The White House appearing below the branding: Trump Hotels. Now for his encore performance, Trump has delayed the release of the Covid-19 economic stimulus checks so that his name can be added to the checks’ memo section. This break in protocol led me to imagine he might want a currency bill of his own. Which national leaders featured on U.S. paper bills would most compete with the highly-emotive Trump? There are two.
First, Trump’s favorite president, Andrew Jackson ($20) wins the sadness sweepstakes with eyebrows both raised and pinched together, creating waves of wrinkles across his forehead. Jackson’s mouth also shows sadness with left corner of his puckered mouth drooping. Second, Benjamin Franklin ($100) wins the defiantly on-guard award. His eyebrows are arched, his eyes wide, and his drawn-up chin collides with firmly pressed lips that hint at a smile while a smirk crowns the left corner of his mouth. It’s quite the feat: surprise in Franklin’s upper face, while his lower faces mixes together anger, disgust, and a hint of a smile overshadowed by contempt (i.e., the smirk).
Let’s imagine Trump really, really, really wants to win re-election. What might that take? My suggestion is that he substitute his characteristically angry, sad and disgust-ridden face for Woodrow Wilson’s tight-lipped look, and re-release the $100,000 gold certificate that was briefly in circulation amid the Great Depression. As unemployment skyrockets, I can’t think of more apt symbolism than that right now.
As a kid, I learned the value of spotting the bullies on my elementary school playground. One bully liked to sit on kids, squashing them with his weight. Another bully wore cowboy boots and, boy, did it hurt if he managed to kick you in the shins. But how about at work: assuming nobody is physically assaulting anybody else, could bullying be playing a role in destroying productivity and morale? How might you nip that in the bud, if you find it? The answer would require knowing what to look for, emotionally speaking.
The surest signs, I believe, consist of a larger-than-usual volume of a pair of emotions, often shown in tandem: anger and disgust. I came to that conclusion by studying world leaders for my book Two Cheers for Democracy. Analyzing the facial expressions of world leaders and correlating the results to how Freedom House ranked the degree of “civic openness” in countries across the globe, I asked the question: which emotions most reliably signal a tendency toward being a dictator—a bully–instead of being democratically inclined? The answer is anger and disgust, along with a relative absence of happiness. A case in point is India’s prime minister Narendra Modi. Note on the Time magazine cover how his upper lip is flared in disgust, while his eyes are narrowed and lips are pressed together in anger. Recently, Modi sought to have the country’s Supreme Court require the media to publish only his government’s official accounts of how the covid-19 pandemic is impacting India. While the Supreme Court didn’t rule in favor of that demand, media stories about the Modi government’s “inspiring and positive” efforts on this crisis are increasingly all that can be found, as harassment of “naysayers” builds in severity.
In holding a private counseling session with an office bully, remember that anger revolves around a desire for control, to have matters unfold in a manner of that person’s choosing. Disgust, in turn, can signal that a bully finds someone else’s ideas revolting (and a revolt against the bully’s own preferences). Wherever their presence exists, what additional emotion does anger and disgust tend to develop in others? The answer is fear, as people freeze because nobody dares to move on their own accord. Regrettably, that reaction can allow would-be dictators to orchestrate the outcomes they alone want. There is, however, an antidote to the most destructive qualities of anger and disgust. Find a gentle way to “drop” into your conversation with a bully the fact that research indicates the value of happiness. Genuine happiness, as opposed to official happy talk, can lead to superior solutions arrived at more quickly, when we all stay open to brainstorming better options.