• Gentlemanly Musings •
Wrath: Mid-life as one, long, dispiriting, apoplectic rant.
Fuck You and the Horse You Rode In On!
M. Chariot doesn't have particularly rigid religious views. But I do believe that there is a great deal to be learned from the moral, ethical and spiritual ideas which have emerged from our shared human history. I think of them as messages from the ancients, from which we may glean insight into our lives today. One of my favorite classical, ethical references is the concept of The Seven Deadly Sins.
The Seven Deadly Sins have been culled from the worst of human misfortune. Millennia of social, personal and cultural blunders have condensed the rancid stew of lousy human behavior to this sticky, unsavory list: Wrath, Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust and Pride. There are many more sins, certainly - I can name 3 more I've flirted with just this morning. But these 7 are considered the majors. Surely, they are part of human nature - when we look within, we recognize each of them. But loose one of these monsters from the constraints - and watch out!
One certainly doesn't have to believe in God, the afterlife or any particular religious dogma to recognize the problems which emerge when a person - or a society - indulges a bit too heavily in, say, Greed. Take a peek at the headlines, if you've got the stomach for it. Unconstrained Greed can make life a pretty dismal affair for everyone - why, Greed alone can bring about the collapse of an entire civilization! The Seven Deadly sins are handed down to us for consideration by those who have gone before as a kind of shorthand, for Things You're Better Off Keeping A Lid On.
Hieronymus Bosch, The Seven Deadly Sins (and the Four Last Things) 1485
Oil on wood panels. The painting is presented in a series of circular images.
In the large center circle, starting at the bottom and proceeding clockwise:
Wrath, Envy, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth, Lust, Pride.
The Return of Wrath
But Wrath is the Deadly Sin that appears to be making something of the Big Comeback of late, and can be linked to the aging Boomer population. Boomers may no longer have the juice for Lust. They may lack the ladder-climbing energy for Greed. But we'll be damned if we can't still shake the arthritic finger of Wrath! Most people think of Wrath as anger, but that is because we learn only the simple definition of the sin when we are young. For Wrath is, in essence, The Middle-aged Sin. Wrath is the result of that souring of the attitudes in late maturity, when we run the risk of becoming testy, bitter, contemptuous, mean-spirited and resentful. Wrath is the wrong turn at the fork in the road of Middle-age.
Scowling Faces of Middle-Aged Wrath: Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck, LImbaugh, Coulter
Greed - that electrifying New Sin of the 80s - is now curtailed by a problematic economy. As a result Wrath - invective, bullying, sniggering, bellowing, hate, bigotry, jeers - composes the new social formulae of the day. The screeching yowl of the wrathful can be heard on Fox News Channel, talk radio, political posturings and even casual conversations between strangers at the bus stop. Wrath is in.
Wrath automatically focuses on the most negative interpretation of events; it trades in contempt, sneers at hope. Confronted with innocence, the wrathful respond with cynicism. Dialogue? Wrath shouts louder so as to drown it out. The wrathful "got theirs" and embrace the uncompromising attitude that you "Go Fuck Yourself". Wrath incites mobs and underlines the motivation to pointless - and endless - war.
Styles of Middle-Aged Wrath: The Resentful Old Coot, The Raving Paranoid Witch, The Hate Granny, The Sour Old Fart, The Bitter Auntie. Which one are you?
Cantankery and Bitchery - once considered poor form and now popularized by a media enamored of caterwauling melodrama - are frequently little more than the New Wrath. Wrathful persons will frequently argue they are "just being honest" - but real Honesty is in fact a virtue, closely connected to Kindness, Responsibility, Discretion, a concern for the well-being of others. Without virtuous intent and in the hands of the wrathful, "Honesty" is just a convenient label for the handiest blunt instrument.
The wrathful shout that their anger is righteous; but psychologists describe real anger as episodic; connected to the impulse for self preservation. Anger is an emotion shared by humans and animals when tormented or trapped, a reaction to perceived, deliberate harm or unfair treatment by others. What distinguishes Wrath is that it is not episodic but dispositional, related more to character traits than to instincts or cognitions. Irritability, spite, sullenness and meanspiritedness are a few of those character traits which define Middle-aged Wrath. Anger seeks justice, resolution. Wrath considers itself the solution.
Wrath's Evolutionary Antecedent: The visceral thrill of shrieking and throwing feces.
We can recognize the wrathful by their belief that the louder, the meaner and the uglier - the better. Like the archetypal Bitter Old Lady, Wrath implies that all we have left is to spit, to scoff, to complain, to insult, to marinate in the wretched stew that is Wrath. Like the classic Mean Old Coot, Wrath looks backward, not forward, is fearful of new people, new solutions, new ideas. Wrath supports - even advances - one or more of the following: cruelty, humiliation, divisiveness, hopelessness, violence, war, miserliness, bigotry, racism and end-times ideologies. It is important that intelligent persons understand, and can discern, between righteous Anger, Honesty and the low-grade human ugliness that is Wrath.
Boomers who are seduced by the cackling call of the New Wrath would do well to think about what that last marvelously entertaining sin - Greed - has recently done for our society. Some of us may remember jumping on the Greed Bandwagon, being swept up by the visceral charge of Greed in the 80s. "More, more, more!" "Greed is Good!"
It did feel good for a while there, didn't it? The bracing turn-on of unapologetic acquisition! But look where it let us off once that nasty little wagon crashed. Could be a long time before we manage to pick up the pieces. Which might be something to consider next time we think Letting Our Wrath Flag Fly is the cleverest response on hand.
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To the extent that we, and those around us, buttress the best in human character by maintaining an at least cursory
adherence to the Seven Virtues, we support a sound personal life - and a sound society. It may not give us the same spittle-flecked, artery-constricting charge we get from Wrath - but it's the Adult thing to do.
The Seven Virtues
Wisdom, Justice, Moderation, Courage, Faith, Hope and Love