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Anger can improve our future, according to guest lecturer

Students line up to ask questions after professor Martha C. Nussbaum “Anger, Fear and the Politics of Blame” lecture at the University of Utah on Feb. 22. The lecture highlighted the idea of anger and how it can be harnessed to better society instead of damage it, according to Nussbaum. (Photo by Joshua Messier)

Although anger tends to have damaging effects on society, it might be the answer to improving the future of humanity, according to a guest lecturer at the University of Utah on Friday.

The event titled “Anger, Fear and the Politics of Blame” was hosted by the S. J. Quinney College of Law as the university’s 2019 Tanner-McMurrin Lecture.

In her presentation, Martha C. Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago Law School, said there’s only one species of anger that could allow this to happen—“transition anger.”

What separates transition anger from other forms of anger, is that it takes one’s hope for payback or revenge and replaces it with the hope for constructive strategies, according to Nussbaum.

“[Transition anger] expresses a protest, but it also turns to face forward,” Nussbaum said. “It gets to work by finding solutions rather than dwelling on the infliction of retrospective pain.”

Nussbaum associated transition anger with a “good parent.”

“Parents often feel, with good reason, that children have acted wrongfully and they’re outraged,” Nussbaum said. “But they don’t usually think in terms of retributive payback. Instead, they typically ask themselves ‘what sort of reaction will produce future improvement in the child?’”

Students line up to ask questions after professor Martha C. Nussbaum “Anger, Fear and the Politics of Blame” lecture at the University of Utah on Feb. 22. The lecture highlighted the idea of anger and how it can be harnessed to better society instead of damage it, according to Nussbaum. (Photo by Joshua Messier)

After the lecture, some attendees said they agreed with Nussbaum’s idea of using anger as a tool for progression.

“There’s a lot of behavior that can be explained by very basic game theory,” said Jen Colby, a University of Utah graduate. “If you keep making the same move as the person you’re playing a one-on-one game with, you would have this endless spiral. […] There’s often an element of pleasure or satisfaction that comes immediately. But then in the longer run, you can’t outrun a cycle of retribution or retaliation.”

Some attendees said that the transition anger approach could lead to short term damage.

“Part of the difficulty with [transition anger] is that it creates a degree of uncertainty, so you don’t know how the other party is going to respond,” said John Watkins, economics professor at Westminster College.

However, Watkins said while he recognized historically that a reaction of transition anger could cause temporary pain, he thought the pain would be outweighed by the overall good for humanity.

“Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela, even though they pronounced the idea of [a] non-violence approach, they actually had violence used against them,” Watkins said. “Even though they suffered greatly from the violence that was exacted on them, I think it strengthened their position and point-of-view in a very paradoxical way. The alternative is probably revolution.”

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Josh Messier
Joshua Messier is finishing up his last year at Westminster College with a communication major and a minor in art. Originally from New Hampshire, Joshua moved to Salt Lake City for the best snow in the country. He's more than excited to graduate and see what will come next in life.

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