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Anger trivialized, or the gripes of wrath

Anger is going out of style, or so we are being told rather angrily by a psychologist named Carol Tavris, who is stamping her foot and leading a fierce charge against what she calls the ''Anger Industry.''

And who constitutes this ''Anger Industry'' that put anger in style in the first place? Other psychologists, of course. The same folks who are now sending the temper tantrum to its room, without supper.

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A brief review of the modern history of anger may be in order. Before the Anger Industry started to give a good name to rage, anger was one of the seven deadly sins - an ugly aberration that put the mark of the beast on the brow of the human being. Anger was murder in its subjective state: the antithesis of reason.

But then, along came the Anger Industry to cater to the 1960s, a decade lived , for better and for worse, at the pitch of a shriek. Anybody who wasn't angry at somebody simply wasn't paying attention, it seemed. Under the circumstances, the psychologists - who tend to go along with popular usage in behavior, as lexicographers do in spelling - declared anger to be ''normal,'' indeed ''healthy.'' A good primal scream, it was decreed, was better for you than jogging. Talk about your aerobics.

Furthermore, anger did wonders for personal relationships. A whole library of books came out, advising couples how to fight and more or less slug their way to love.

Anger became practically synonymous with honesty.

What a grand world it would be, the Anger Industry suggested, if only everybody could get angry! And for a while, everybody did.

The cant phrase - remember? - was: ''Get in touch with your feelings.'' Funny thing. More often than not the feeling turned out to be, not humor, nor affection, nor a certain lyricism about the world and its creatures, but rage.

The hothead became our moral hero. A skilled militant could make his infantile fury over losing a parking space to a little old lady in a Chevy seem like a global crusade for social justice.

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Boy, was he in touch with his feelings!

Anger is the cocaine among emotions - a false energy that convinces people without convictions that they must have convictions. Else, why are they so angry?

Everybody gets angry some of the time. A few people get angry most of the time. The stupidity of the psychologists of the Anger Industry was to prescribe anger for everybody a lot of the time.

People felt a social pressure to snarl and be indignant, much as they once felt a social pressure to smile and ''be nice.''

Anger became our habit.

Who knows how much responsibility the cult of anger should bear for encouraging people to explode - make the big flamboyant gesture - rather than resolving the private and public problems of the times? We still live by its rhetoric.

And so the situation got so contrary that Carol Tavris has had to write this book called ''Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion,'' telling us that, far from ''letting off steam,'' anger only makes you angrier, like Vesuvius. Couples who ''express their hostility'' do not strengthen their bond - quite the contrary. See ''Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?'' Nor is all this fuming good for the circulation. Angry people are more likely to self-destruct physically.

These are things we should have known all along. Why do we always have to wait for experts to point out the obvious - after other experts have taken a half-truth and stampeded us in an opposite direction?

And still the main issue is missed. For it is not, finally, a question of physical health or ego welfare but of morality. Runaway anger trivializes itself - makes itself cheap. When anger is not reserved for main events, every petty frustration, every mean ambition gets equated to Lear on the heath or Achilles on the plain of Troy. Patience and reason and sweetness of temper are despised as the virtues of slaves. The very notion of what constitutes human goodness gets all out of whack. And that is something to become a little angry about.

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