|The Role of Anger in the Consciousness Development of Peace Activists:
Where Physiology and History Intersect
The outline of the paper is in 3 parts. First, I will illustrate the role of anger in consciousness development from the autobiographical and oral history materials I have mentioned. Second, I will suggest how this may play a role in history, assuming a dialectical view that institutional contradictions arise and become resolved during the course of history. Third, I will compare the anger of the historical human actor, in this case the peace activist, to the other kinds of aggressive behavior that I and others have studied in non-human mammals and I will suggest some aspects of evolution that must have occurred along the way.
Let me now begin with the study of consciousness development. There are two kinds of conclusions that I have drawn from this study. First, I find that peace activists develop their consciousness not just in the peace movement, but also in various movements for social justice, including women's rights, racial equality, environmental protection, trade union organizing, etc. All that is needed is to note how such famous peace activists as Jane Addams (1910), Eugene Victor Debs (Ginger, 1949), and Martin Luther King Jr. (1958) began their work in movements for social work, trade union organizing and civil rights, respectively, to illustrate this fact dramatically.
Second, I have found that consciousness develops in a similar sequence in many activists, a sequence that may be described in 7 steps (Adams, 1985). These steps are acquisition of values and knowledge; anger; optimistic vision; action; affiliation; personal integration and historical analysis. The role of anger should be seen in the context of these 7 steps.
I will begin from the autobiography of Jane Addams. Having already set forth on a quest for knowledge at the university and in her travels, she had a confrontation in the East End of London which she says was critical in her development. She had come upon a mass of starving people who were bidding for rotten food at an auction-their hands upraised, 'empty, pathetic, nerveless, and workworn. ..clutching for food which was already unfit to eat'. As she explains it, after that she could never forget' the despair and resentment which seized me then'. It was this resentment against social injustice that led to a vision of a settlement house in Chicago, to her action in establishing it and to her further development on behalf of social work, women's suffrage and eventually her outspoken and leadership role in. the opposition to World War I.
A revealing example comes from the autobiography of W.E.B. DuBois (1968), who was transformed by anger from his life as a scholar into his life as a leading civil rights activist and, later, as an opponent of colonialism and the Cold War.
' At the very time when my studies were most successful, there cut across this plan which I had as a scientist, a red ray which could not be ignored. I remember when it first, as it were, startled me to my feet... The news met me that Sam Hose had been lynched, and they said that his knuckles were on exhibition at a grocery store. ...I began to turn aside from my work. ...One could not be a calm, cool and detached scientist while Negroes were lynched, murdered and starved.'
Later in his autobiography, DuBois describes the final straw that led to his activism, which was the founding of the Niagara Movement which later developed into the NAACP. Once again, we see how anger played a critical role:
'But when Trotter went to jail, my indignation overflowed. I did not always agree with Trotter then or later. But he was an honest, brilliant, unselfish man and to treat as a crime that which was at worst mistaken judgment was an outrage. I sent out from Atlanta in June 1905 a call to a few selected persons "for organized determination and aggressive action. ..."'
Dorothy Day (1952), who founded the Catholic Worker Movement which has played a leading role in the American pacifist movement, traced her involvement to events that occurred when she was arrested while working as a journalist in a demonstration for women's suffrage. In this experience one can see the roots of the peculiar combination of despair and anger at social injustice that characterized her later work.
' I was to find that one of the uglinesses of jail life was its undertone of suppressed excitement and suspense. It was an ugly and a fearful suspense, not one of normal hope and expectation. ...The bar of gold which the sun left on the ceiling every morning for a short hour taunted me; and late in the afternoon when the cells were dim and the lights in the corridor were not yet lit, a heartbreaking conviction of the ugliness, the futility of life came over me so that I could not weep but only lie there in blank misery. I lost all feeling of my own identity. I reflected on the desolation of poverty, of destitution, of sickness and sin. That I would be free after thirty days meant nothing to me. I would never be free again, never free when I knew that behind bars all over the world were women and men, young girls and boys, suffering constraint, punishment, isolation and hardship for crimes of which all of us were guilty.'