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Sunday, January 20, 2019
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Book review

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“A bee in the mouth is always bad.” Author and anthropologist Peter Wood overheard this bit of folk wisdom from a carpenter and made it the title of his book on American political and social anger.

While we used to see chronic rage as a bad trait, it has become nearly a form of performance art in America. And we don’t seem to be tamping it down as we hurtle toward the 2016 general election. Although written in 2007, in the political climate of today, Woods’ seems almost prescient.

But is our collective anger different from other eras? “Vituperation is as American as cherry pie,” Woods writes, noting that our nation lived through the Civil War. There is something different about the bellicosity of our times. The pace of change, the psychobabble and commentators feeding our heads, the rise of the blogger, broadcasting and podcasting classes — these are different times, indeed.

There is a “new anger” afoot that is best illustrated by the bullying and ugliness found on Twitter, or as Wood describes it, the very public “deriding an opponent for the sheer pleasure of expressing contempt for other people….New Anger is a spectacle to be witnessed by an appreciative audience, not an attempt to win over the uncommitted….If in your anger you reduce your opponent to the status of someone unworthy or unable to engage in legitimate exchange, real politics come to an end….Whoever embraces [New Anger] is bound to find that, at least in the political realm, he has traded the possibility of real influence for the momentary satisfactions of self-expression.”

This, no doubt, will ring a familiar note to those who find themselves sucked into the other world of newspaper blog comment sections. You know who you are.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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