HAPPINESS AND PASSION III
(Q. 40-48)There is a certain optimism intimately connected with the start of a New Year. The badly scribbled page of the last year is torn out and thrown away and a virgin page awaits our pleasure; we may write on it what we will and in just the way that pleases us most. It is a nice thing for the rest of the world, for it gives them, by a pleasant fiction, a taste of what the Catholic enjoys, by solid fact, from a few moments at the feet of Christ in the confessional. But for a man or woman to expect to go through a new year without meeting a difficulty or emergency would be even more absurd than for a Catholic to expect by a good confession a complete liberation from the occasion of or temptation to sin.
Of course there will be difficulties and emergencies in the business of carving out happiness, which after all is the business of human life. And because this happiness is an intimately personal thing and the tools we use to carve it out are our intimately personal human actions, the difficulties encountered will be intimately personal difficulties. It is just another evidence of the beautifully perfect attention to detail on the part of thc divine Architect, that we are equipped with intimately personal means of coping with these difficulties and emergencies.
It would be a mistake to picture this emergency equipment as a vague precaution, like a fire-cxtinguisher gathering dust on the wall; in fact the frequency with which we must use our emergency equipment brings out the solemn truth that all of human life is an emergency permitting of no coasting, no loafing along. The whole gamut of emotions destined to play the part of inner principles of vigorous action in the face of difficulty gets little rest in the course of an ordinary human day. The emergency passions — hope and despair, daring and fear and anger in the sensitive appetite and the corresponding emotions in the intellectual appetite or will are like the crack troops of an army at war. Whether the army be advancing or retreating, they are in the thick of the fight as an advance or a rear- guard; even in the quiet moments of rest, they are thc sentries guaranteeing the security of the army. For these emotions arc indeed the champions, the defenders of the mild or concupiscible passions from which all activity springs.
Source of emergency passions
In the last few chapters we have gone thoroughly into the mild or concupiscible passions of love and hate, desire and aversion, pleasure and sorrow. We have seen love as the basic passion, the foundation of all action, the source from which springs every other emotional activity. In the last chapter we saw something of the necessity of the other mild passions, their possibilities for good and evil and the real threat to our times in the over-emphasis of these mild passions, particularly through a constant deliberate increase of acquired or artificial sensible desires and pleasures.
There is an intimate link between the mild and the emergency passions. Because love is so basic, all hope or despair, daring or fear, all anger takes its rise from the fact of love and its consequent desire. Without the mild passions there would be no necessity for the emergency passions, for there would be nothing for these latter to defend. A man who is thoroughly bored has no use for anger, despair or hope; he has no use for anything because he has no excuse for activity and, as he sometimes discovers for himself, he has no excuse for living.
Interrelation of mild and emergency passions: Difference of goals
We might picture all emotion, except sorrow and pleasure, as a swift flight to or away from some goal. It is after all nothing more than the activity of our appetite seeking to attain good or to avoid evil. But if this picture is accurate, there is a striking difference between the mild and the emergency passions. The first, the mild passions, while travelling in pairs, really seek different goals; the goal which one seeks is good, that which the other avoids is evil. Like emergency passions are grouped in pairs, but certainly they do not travel together; in fact each one of a pair rigidly excludes the other. They are flights that deal with the same landing field; one going to it, the other rushing from it. Hope and desperation look at the same difficult thing; the one rushing toward it, the other despondently surrendering before it. The saint, increasing his love for God, correspondingly increases his hatred of sin; but as his hope in the divine mercy increases, his despair and fear of the malice of the devil decrease even to the extent of enabling him to look upon the antics of the devil (as did the Cure of Ars) as a harmless and amusing break in the monotony of life, much as we might smile tolerantly on the growls of a toothless old dog.
- Effects of emphasis on mild passions:
- Decrease of power of command and lessening of emergences
There are only two possibilities in the face of a difficulty or an emergency: the one is to fight with victory in sight; the other, to admit defeat either by flight or surrender. The passions dealing with difficulties can be quite accurately classified, then, as passions of victory — hope, daring, anger — and passions of defeat — desperation and fear. Their mutual incompatibility is even more evident if we call them the passions of strength and of weakness; strength and weakness in this matter do not mix, as a strong stomach and a weak head might very well belong to the same man. What contributes to the weakening of man is a contribution to his fear and despair, an attack on his hope, his daring, even on his anger.
Increase of sorrow and passions of defeat
In a very general way, then, our last chapter gives w some insight into the intimate connection of these emergency passions with the mild or concupiscible passions. We noticed that our dedication to sensible pleasure and sensible desire undermines man’s power to command his own actions, made him more and more a slave driven by appetite, rather than the master directing the course appetite should take. As this tendency increases, the very occasion for these emergency passions decreases; in the final analysis, the man thoroughly bored with life and the drug addict are in much the same position: the one has no reason for commanding or directing his activity, for he has no goal in sight; the other has no power to command his activity, indeed has no desire but that which will not obey his orders. The increase of sensible sorrow consequent on a dedication to the mild passions, is a direct attack on the passions of victory, an embracing of the passions of defeat. The very finality of sorrow is a death-stroke to hope and an invitation swinging wide the door to despair.
Hope and despair:
Hope and despair — at least here we are on familiar ground. Half our days and more than half our thoughts are charged with hope, surely no one can tell us much about that. Do we really know what hope is? A mother hopes her precocious son will become President some day, we hope some time to be able to sleep for about a week uninterruptedly, in our day- dreams we build up the towers of hope to heights that dazzle our friends and rivals. And none of this has anything to do with hope; it’s desire, pure and simple. For while hope and desire both look to a future good and so are set off clearly from joy and pleasure in a present good, hope deals with a great and difficult good, precisely under the aspect of greatness and difficulty. One does not hope seriously that there will be tartar sauce with the fried oysters, that is much too petty for hope; and the one place where we experience absolutely no difficulty is in our day-dreaming.
Their nature: In men.
The goodness of this future good of hope, sets hope off distinctly from fear slinking out of the shadow of evil; the possibility of the attainment of that future good marks the boundaries that separate hope from the withering deserts of despair: Like all the passions, hope and despair are motions, surgings of the sensitive appetites: the one speeding to a good that in spite of its difficulty and greatness is judged possible; the other fleeing from good because its very difficulty makes it appear impossible of attainment. Impossibility puts an ugly mask on the good which awakened love, a terrifying mask that makes us forget the good in an abject surrender which is as contrary to hope as flight is to pursuit.
Perhaps you have noticed how very calm a dog can be about a bone that is out of reach; much more philosophic than a man is about the last train to town just disappearing down the track. In fact animals are generally much more stoical facing the impossible, much less prone to despair than are men. They appear more philosophic only because they cannot be philosophic at all. That paradox is the answer to a puzzling difficulty. The very fact that hope deals with the future would seem to exclude it from the animal kingdom; the leaden feet of the material never outrun the twin guards of time and space. Material nature has been confined within thc narrow limits of the concrete, the particular, the existing; only a spiritual nature, made very closely to the image of God, can, like God, escape from time and space, peer into the future and beyond it into the halls of eternity. Yet animals hope and hope looks only at the future.
St. Thomas insists there is a kind of hope in the animals, but a hope which is following in the steps of a knowledge that is not the animal’s but God’s. It is an instinct, placed in animal nature by God, which will send the lion racing after a deer that is not far off but which leaves thc lion unmoved by prey much too distant to be possible of capture. Undoubtedly that is true. But actually the note of futurity disappears when we look more closely at the example, or indeed at the hope of any animal. That hope aims at a target within the limit of present, immediate possibilities; it would never enter a lion’s head to take a correspondence school course to build up the tremendous possibilities the advertisements guarantee. It would seem as though the instinctive judgment between the immediately possible and impossible is the outer boundary marking off the animal’s view of the present, the immediate, the concrete.
Cause of hope — experience
It is not so with man. His hopes can scale the walls of heaven because his mind can know God; his despair can grovel on the lowest floors of hell precisely because his hope can aim so high. His despair can be a heart-breaking, shattering thing, tearing at the very roots of his being because man can look so very far into the future, because his hopes or the crash of his despair can be so long preparing. The animal appears calmly philosophic in the face of the impossible, because it lacks the key that would throw open the doors of philosophy and allow it to look down the long vistas of true hope — the ability to think, to know the universal truth, to see the invisible God.
There is a certain note of astonishment in our discovery of hope in an old man and that astonishment is unjust. The amused tolerance of the phrase “hope never dies” and the grim lugubriousness of the Latin proverb “While I live I hope” are really the fruits of a disappointed egoism. Age is not a destroyer of hope, it is the patient, solid builder of rational hopes. I do not suppose there are many men who have discovered latent acrobatic ability by falling downstairs without injury, but any number of parallel discoveries equally startling can be found without difficulty. The surprise of Matthew at turning out to be quite a good apostle left him practically speechless all during the life of Christ. Experience often shows us that things are possible to us which we had never suspected of ourselves. But it does much more than that; it puts new possibilities within us. After all, a man does not stand still at any stage of his career. Even though his job be so uncomplicated a thing as shining shoes, he grows through experience. By experience things become possible to us that were not possible in the bright days of youth. The death of a young doctor or lawyer is a loss to the community because of what that man might have become; the loss of an experienced professional man is a loss because of what the man was. A comparison of the earlier and the more mature work of St. Thomas brings this out clearly in the field of scholarship.
Paradox of cynical old age < p> The one bad effect, if it can be called bad, which experience exercises on hope is to destroy false hopes. We expect hope to die out of a man in much the same way we expect his hair to fall out with increasing age, only because of the ridiculous over-estimation of our powers which has led us to so many disappointments. These disappointments have no basis in the transient qualities of the ideals we pursued; but rather in the acknowledgment forced on us by time that we are not quite the paragons we thought we were.
Paradox of hopeful youth
Yet, if we are in search of overflowing hope, it is not to old age we must go. The most hopeful people in the world, says St. Thomas, are young people and drunkards; defect of age or superabundance of wine is quite apt to paint the world in much rosier colours than the facts will allow. Nor is this unreasonable. After all, hope deals with the future and youths have plenty of future and very little past. Hope struggles hand to hand with the difficult and the great heart and abounding spirits of youth do not dodge but rather search out difficulties, champion hopeless causes and underdogs. Hope peers into thc realm of the possible and youth has suffered too few repulses, faced too few obstacles to be anything but an easy believer in thc possibility of things. A man in the expansive mood of too much good cheer is easily a match for the super-abundant spirits of youth; and there is probably no quicker way of making obstacles disappear and repulses slink into oblivion than to drown them in strong drink.
Relation to love and work
Perhaps another reason for the hopefulness of youth is that the loves of youth are deep, fast and strong; for love is, after all, the parent of hope. The grandchild of love might well be another love born of the family of hope; but the founder of the line must always be love. Urged on to what we love by a strong hope, we might very well learn to love a person who helps us in the attainment of what we hope. The benefits that God showers upon us are not merely proofs of His love for us, they are strokes of divine genius calling into life our love for Him from the clay of realized hopes.
Hope is an alert emotion that mirrors victory in its very face. It is dealing with the difficult and the difficult will suffer no slipshod attack to overwhelm it. It is difficult, for example, to walk on icy streets, so we give it our full attention. There is nothing lackadaisical about our stride, no peering at the sights or philosophizing on life in a great city. Our mind is fully concentrated on the business of keeping our feet; the one intention upon which our will is focused is that of pursuing our way in human fashion rather than on all fours. And, ordinarily, we make a good job of it. That is what hope does for all work undertaken through its inspiration; it makes it careful work, intent work and work well done which brings pleasure. It creates another of those pleasantly vicious circles by which our concentration on our work gives pleasure in the work and that pleasure increases our concentration.
Fear: Its nature and distinction
The passion of fear presents quite a different appearance. It is a passion of defeat, somewhat less than sorrow because it deals with a future rather than a present evil; it is thc immediate parent of desperation. It looks into the face of a future terrible thing that can barely be resisted — and runs. No wonder it runs; for fear as long as it lives looks only on the face of evil. Perhaps that evil is one opposed to nature itself, corruptive of nature and contrary to the very desire to exist; or it may be opposed to a good we have learned to love and desire. But whether the fear be a natural or an acquired fear, it takes one look into thc face of evil and flees.
Six kinds of fear
The varieties of that flight of fear are illuminating, perhaps even amusing or embarrassing when we bring them down into our own lives. Fear is flight from a future evil which exceeds our power so that we cannot bear up under it. With that in mind it is easy to see that evil we fly from may be connected immediately with our own actions or with exterior things. The obvious evil connected with our actions is labour; and we fly from excessive labour by laziness. It is unflattering but true that a lazy man is a man in the grip of fear; the writer’s difficulty in composing his first line gives him an appreciation of the solidity of the reduction of laziness to fear. The other evil affecting our actions is baseness or turpitude. The very red face and thoroughly embarrassed manner of a young nun going into the family entrance of a saloon to cast her vote is one of fear’s ways of running away from this evil; the agonized shame of the woman taken in adultery and cast before the feet of Christ as her sin was bellowed to the four winds is another. One has to do with the baseness, immodesty or unbecomingness of an action to be done; the other with the discovery of a shameful act already committed — a distinction nicely stated in the Latin (crubescentia ct vcrecundia) but impossible of statement in English.
Things to fear
As to the world about us, fear creeps into our hearts when we are confronted with magnitude, with the unforeseen, thc unprecedented, the unpredictable. And our flight takes the form, respectively, of admiration (amazement), stupefaction, and anxiety. Let us look at these more closely. Admiration, in its strict root sense, is thc emotion called forth by such things as a sunset seen from the height of an alp, a storm at sea, the vision of truth, or the death of God on the Cross. It is a form of fear which flies from present judgment, mistrusting its ability to judge so great and new a thing — but it inquires later on with the end of reaching an accurate judgment. It is rightly called the first principle of philosophizing. Stupefaction is a definite impediment to all philosophical inquiry, for it flies from both present judgment and future inquiry. It is a mental paralysis in the face of things that cannot happen but do; it is the way the Indians felt upon their first contact with firearms or the way the Apostles felt seeing Christ walking upon the stormy waters of the lake of Galilee. In fact, admiration and stupefaction are to thc intellect what laziness is to the external members of the body; an inactivity, a refusal to operate in the face of difficulty, a kind of paralysis in its presence.
Perhaps the most common form of fear is what St. Thomas calls “agonia” — approximately translated by “anxiety”. It deals with an evil that cannot be provided against because it is so unexpected, or so unpredictable. It is the kind of thing that spoils the start of a man’s vacation by vague worries about what he forgot to pack, or makes a woman wring her hands. It finds eloquent and accurate expression in the agonized question “What shall I do?” and it is the emotion behind that activity that occupies so much of our lives — the business of worrying, a business that in spite of all our dissipation of energy by no means exhausts the infinite possibilities of the things that might happen.
Causes and effects of fear: Defects
What is it that induces these different types of fear? What is there for a man to fear? It is quite evident that a man in good health has not much fear of death — it is too far off; neither for that matter has a man facing the firing squad — it is an evil that holds out no possibility of escape, so he considers himself as good as dead already. Two conditions must be had in the future evil that frightens us; it must be imminent and it must admit some possibility of escape.
More particularly we fear what happens suddenly, what comes as a complete surprise. A safety island that pops up unexpectedly before a man’s car always looks bigger than safety islands should decently look; it is imminent and our eyes must be as big as saucers to take in its enormity. As a matter of fact the imminent character of an evil robs us of the chance to prepare to repel it, by the very suddenness of the attack we are stripped of the remedies we might have found. The same is true of an evil that appears irremediable; precisely because there will be no way of remedying that evil, we fly from it most desperately. We are quite right in giving the palm of heroism to a doctor who faces imminent death to care for the victims of a plague; and even more reasonable is shrinking from the irremediable pains of hell.
But strangely enough, at first sight, there is no reason for fearing sin. After all, sin is wholly within our own powers; no one can push us into it, trick us into it, we cannot fall into it by mistake. The object of fear is something which exceeds our power to repel. We might quite reasonably be afraid of the occasion of sin, knowing our own weakness from experience, but not of the sin itself.
We can be, and often are, frightened by fear itself. In fact this chain of terror can be sketched out indefinitely; we can be afraid of the fear of fear. Fear as a passion is not completely under our control; the phantasms of terror it calls up are also in the sensible side of our nature and are not completely obedient to our intellect and will. In a very real sense, the passion of fear is an evil outside of our spiritual nature and one which may possibly overwhelm our resistance. But this is true of fear only in the same sense it is true of all thc other passions; they can be controlled by reason, man can repel fear. And if at any time they overwhelm reason, the actions produced during the interregnum of passion are not thc actions of a man but those of an animal.
Fear can indeed be a very terrible thing; yet it is love that gets us ready for fear. It is because of our love for a thing that its opposite takes on the form of evil; so that a catalogue of our loves is at the same time an indication of the roads by which fear can invade our souls. Sometimes, very indirectly, it works the other way around and fear disposes us for love; as when a man, through fear of punishment, begins to keep the commandments of God, then begins to hope and through hope is led to love.
A much more personal cause of fear is within our very selves — our own weakness. It is because of a lack of strength that we are unable to repel the invasion of evil; fear is not merely a passion of defeat, it is a confession of weakness. The effective, direct cause of fear is the power and strength that are able to inflict this evil upon us. Weakening our own powers almost guarantees the increase of fear with a double guarantee; a guarantee that assures our inability to resist evil and at the same time confers power and strength on our enemies. Yet the we of that power to inflict evil is something to be ashamed of rather than to glory in, for it is only by a serious defect in our sense of justice that we can wish to do injury to, inflict evil on, another. In the name of justice, such injury might be inflicted in retaliation; in the name of fear, it might be inflicted to avoid injury to ourselves as a nervous dog attacks a passing child; but to inflict such injury merely because we have the power is a perversion of the social nature of man.
Fear, particularly a great fear, is not to be lightly imposed on anyone. Man was made to reach out of himself to the world around him, to play host to the universe, bringing all things into his own mind, to scatter those gathered treasures in constant communication with his fellows and finally, to reach out and touch divinity itself. Fear reverses all this and drives a man into himself. As a citizen in a lawless town shrinks into the safety and quiet of his own home, or as the vitality of a dying man retires further and further into the depths of his being before quitting it altogether, so a man under the influence of fear shrivels up, contracts, withdraws into himself, even physically. We really shrink with fear; our feet get cold and our hands numb as we freeze with it. Our fingers tremble, our knees shake; we lose control over our exterior members through the process of shrinking into ourselves as a turtle draws itself wholly under the protection of its shell.
True enough, fear makes us much more willing to seek counsel and to listen to advice, but at the same sane, like all passion, it makes our counsel much less excellent than if it were done free of the shadow of impending evil. If the lover sees all things through rose- coloured glasses, it is equally true that a man racked with fear sees all things through a fog of gloom; and the results of our thought are not worth very much if we are unable to see the truth before our eyes. Of course, a little fear may be a good thing, because it does move us to look about, to take counsel; as it grows it has the same effect on our mind, as it has on our hands and feet, seriously interfering with its operation when it does not totally impede the work of the intellect.
Daring: Its nature and relation to hope.
An imminent evil does not necessarily reduce us to this pitiable state of fear; it often awakens in us the contrary passion of daring by which instead of fleeing headlong to escape the danger, we hurl ourselves at it to conquer it. This aggressive approach to imminent danger flows as naturally from hope as desperation does from fear. The desperate man is essentially a coward, a beaten man, for fear is a victory over the man who is frightened; daring smacks of victory, as does hope, and is the passion most contrary to, most distant from, that of fear.
It follows, therefore, that whatever increases hope and dispels fear automatically contributes to daring. We may work on this double cause of daring, either directly, by working on the motion of appetite itself, or indirectly, by working on the organic changes which accompany this motion of the sensitive appetite. A man’s knowledge of his own powers, the strength of his body, his experience in facing danger, the greatness of his wealth or any other like consideration which bolsters his estimation of the possibilities of successful action directly increases hope, for hope, like all passion, follows in the steps of knowledge. So the realization of the power of others who are on a man’s side, his multitude of friends, his confidence in divine help, all flow into and swell the stream of hope into the charging torrent of daring. Fear is susceptible of exactly the same direct influence. The realization that a man has no enemies or, much more powerfully, the knowledge that he has injured no one, pushes whole masses of fear to one side; the man who has many enemies, especially the man who deserve to have many enemies by the injustices he has committed, has good reason to be haunted by many fears.
Indirectly, hope is increased and fear dispelled by what St. Thomas calls warming up the heart. We have said fear numbs, freezes a man, withdrawing his vitality into the depths of his being; while hope demands as its bodily accompaniment a great heart and abundant spirits. Anything, then, that contributes to the warming and swelling of the heart, the faster flow of the blood, the raising of the spirits, whatever acts against the shrivelling, numbing effects of fear, contributes to hope and daring. In the concrete, then, warm full-blooded people are naturally more daring; wine-drinking people have a ready source of daring at hand; while drunkards are daring not only because of the swelling of the heart and soaring of the spirits under the influence of drink but also because of the fog that clouds the brain and gives them illusions of grandeur as to their own powers. In this latter respect the inexperience of youth is a cause of daring by removing the came of fear, i.e. keeping them in ignorance of their own weakness or of the presence of dangers. St. Thomas argues, on the authority of Aristotle and the scientific knowledge of his day, that a physically small- hearted creature should be more daring than one with a physically large heart — because the small heart is warmed much easier and more quickly than is the large one.
At any rate, a pertinent conclusion of all this is that martyrdom is really not so astounding in the saints; it is an almost inevitable outgrowth of their supreme hope and confidence in the almighty power of God. Even Aristotle noticed that those whose relations with divinity are amicable are always more daring; the devil, after all, really is a weakling.
Contrast of rational and passionate daring
To appreciate this more deeply, it will be a big help to contrast the passion of daring and the intellectual emotion of daring, daring in the will. The passion of daring is immediately dependent on sensitive knowledge; it is quite likely to be immediately aroused, to plunge into danger without realizing the difficulties to be met and consequently to be easily and quickly discouraged. The intellectual emotion of daring follows in the footsteps of intellectual knowledge, it depends on the judgment of reason. It stops to think and that often leads us to misjudge it. For example, during the days of war hysteria, anyone who had not rushed into a uniform at the first declaration of war was a coward; or, among the members of a juvenile gang, the boy who will not rush into any and every fight is necessarily “yellow”. The real evaluation of the two emotions, sensitive and intellectual, must be made not at the beginning, but at the end of the emergency; there you will always find the deliberate, intellectual daring, the emotion which started slowly, looked at all the difficulties, and then plunged into the fight — that daring is always the strongest finisher. It is not surprised or discouraged at difficulties, it foresaw them; it is not downhearted at defeats, it expected them. It is, in fact, the emotion of a truly brave man, the emotion of a man who fully realizing the danger, cognizant of all its difficulties and defeats, still goes resolutely ahead to battle the impending evil. It is the daring of the ordinary Catholic in his battle against sin; the daring of the saints in their battles against themselves; the daring of the martyrs in their battles against the enemies of Christ. It is the kind of daring demanded by Christ of His apostles when He warned them again and again of what the world had stored up for them.
Anger: Its composite nature and singularity
We come now to the last, and perhaps the strangest of the passions, the passion of anger. Its strangeness is the strangeness of the hybrid or the mongrel; it has a little of everything in it, but is a very individual thing. Like all the emergency passions, it has its roots in love, but unlike all the others, it arises only from the immediate conjunction of many passions: there must be, over and above love, at least sorrow for an injury done us and hope of revenge before anger is born. Unlike all the other passions, it has a double goal, a goal of evil and a goal of good: it seeks vindication as a good to he desired, hoped for and thoroughly enjoyed; it rushes aggressively at the injury done as at an evil to be remedied by demanding satisfaction for it.
Its pre-eminence in man
Among all the passions, this one is very particularly our human passion; we have a special claim on it, we, far beyond all other creatures, have exploited it, and in a very real sense it is more natural to us as men than are any of the other passions. Considered from the part of the object, the passion of desire, at least the desire for food and sex, is more natural than anger. But from the part of the subject, while desire is more natural than anger to all the other animals, in man anger has deeper roots in the rational nature than has desire. Anger fits in very well with reason; in fact it demands a comparison, a weighing of the injury done and the satisfaction to be demanded, that can be had properly only by the medium of reason. There is no such intimate tie-up between the desire and reason as there is between anger and reason. What we call anger in the animals is very often sheer fright.
Its causes and remedies
We can push this a step further and say that the naturalness of anger is greater than that of the other passions from the point of view of the physical constitution of the individual man. It is, for example, much more natural for a man with a choleric temperament to get angry than it is for a person physically inclined to coddle himself to be self-indulgent; the anger of the choleric individual will be aroused more quickly and thoroughly than the concupiscence of the effeminate individual. When we speak of being caught unawares by passion, of passion overwhelming reason before any defence could be mustered, our statements are more easily understandable of anger than of any of the other passions. Normally our other passions do not hit us over the head with the suddenness of a burglar’s attack.
The very motive of anger is an indication of its profound basis in rational nature. We are never angry unless someone has done something against us — or we think he has. In other words, the real root cause of anger is another’s contempt for us; and contempt is an injury that does not give us even the solace of being taken seriously. It is not too hard for us to be merciful, forgiving to a man who in an agony of pain heaps abuse upon us; he really does not mean it, it is the pain speaking; or to the dinner guest who holds the French up to ridicule not realizing that she is talking to a Frenchman. This contempt is the result of ignorance and is not personal. But one who despises us personally will have little trouble arousing our anger. The person who has such contempt for our hopes and efforts as calmly, indifferently, or even seriously but persistently to stand in the way of the things we are trying to get done will feel the full force of our anger. While one who offers us that climax of contempt which is deliberate insult presents us with the supreme cause of anger.
Excellence, contempt, satisfaction
On our side, we are disposed to anger by the contradictory qualities of excellence and defect. An orator might not resent a remark reflecting on his strength but he would resent a reflection on his oratorical ability; an opera singer might easily fly into a rage at the orchestra leader’s pitying smile for her high notes. The more unjust such contempt for a real excellence, the more irritating it is. A wise man despised by fools or an aristocrat made the butt of a rustic’s joke has more reason for anger because the contempt is so much more unjust. On the other hand, the very fact that anger arises from an injury done us makes those who are most easily injured most easily aroused to anger. So men who are sick are often querulous; a deaf man is sensitive about his deafness; a poor man about his poverty, and so on. From this same point of view, it very often happens that excellence is a protection against the injury of contempt; a man who is sure of his own pre-eminence, his own ability, who has no doubt whatever of himself, is not seriously bothered by whispering, jealousy or the activity of rivals. It is usually the small man, uneasy became of the slim hold he has on excellence, who resents competition or even the slightest whisper, for even so slight a breath of wind might easily dislodge him from his perch.
Its effects: Pleasure
Anger has its compensations; one of its first effects is pleasure. There is joy in anger if it don not go beyond the bounds of reason and give us grounds for regret. Anger rises against an injury done and seeks, through vengeance, remedy for the sorrow caused by that injury. The pleasure of anger is in proportion to the anger and to the satisfaction obtained. If here and now we actually have our vengeance, if we succeed in killing the fly that has been irritating us so, the pleasure is perfect, if we are still looking forward to that vengeance, we enjoy it by making it present through hope or by rolling it over and over in our mind as a child rolls a piece of candy around in its mouth, savoring it. That pleasure win even penetrate into our dreams and give our vision of vengeance a decidedly enjoyable turn.
But on the other hand anger is a very disturbing passion. The motion of anger is one of preying upon an enemy, surging against him; quite opposite to the motion of fear and desperation and with quite opposite physical effects. It brings a rush of blood, a tensing of muscles, an acceleration of the heart that is excellent for the purposes of vengeance but which does the use of reason no good at all. To use our reason we need certain sensitive powers and the actions of these sensitive powers are impeded by a physical disturbance of the body such as anger produces. If we see a man grow red with anger, see him bristle, his neck swell and his face turn crimson we might expect him to suffer a stroke, but do not expect him to produce the fruits of profound contemplation.
Effect on reason and speech
One effect of anger, which from different points of view may be good or bad and which is not an invariable effect unless the anger be very great, is to dam the flow of words. Whether with reason, or seriously impeding reason, anger in the bellowing stage is really a mild sort of anger; in a more advanced stage it robs us of the ability to talk. We are literally so angry we are speechless; the corporal disturbance set up by anger so hinders the use of the external members of the body that the tongue simply will not function, and so impedes the use of reason that we could not find words even if our tongue would function. In fact the organic changes induced by anger are most manifest in the powers which usually mirror the activities of the soul — the eyes, the face, and the tongue.
Conclusion: Champions of concupiscence
There are only two possible goals for all the activities of sense appetite, the goals of sorrow and of pleasure. To these all the others, and so, of course, the emergency passions, are ordained. Hope or fear, daring or desperation or anger are not stopping places for a man, they are means to the great final passions of the concupiscible appetite, sorrow and pleasure. They are the fighters or the quitters whose whole purpose is to rush to the aid of the mild passions or betray them by surrender. These emergency passions are the appetite’s response to danger, to difficulty; an answer of victory or defeat.
The twentieth century and the emergency passions: Passions of victory
What part do the emergency passions play in twentieth century life? What is the height and depth, the fire and coldness of these passions today, together with their corresponding intellectual emotions? Our last chapter gives us the answer; let us compare it with the conclusions of this present chapter. We are definitely dedicated to the cultivation of the mild passions, to the constant creation of new desires, new necessities, to a coddling of our sensitive nature, to sensible pleasure. What does this do to the emergency passions of victory? Certainly our hope, daring, and anger will not be the high, bravely enduring, burning emotions proper to the spirit; for this insistence on the sensible attractions pushes the goods of the spirit farther and farther back into the dim recesses of our lives. There will be more of passion in our hope, daring and anger and less and less of intellectual emotion; which means that they will be scattered about on the million and one things that attract our animal natures. We will have many more hopes, many trivial hopes, hopes at the mercy of every passing circumstance; our daring will be of the rushing, passionate type which dies out as quickly as it flares up, which is easily disappointed, discouraged by difficulty, downcast by defeat; our anger will be more and more of the blind, brutal, unreasoning type with little regard for justice, but as our hopes spread wider and thinner, as they become more shallow and less enduring, we will have less and less to be thoroughly angry about.
Passions of defeat: The multiplication of fear
And the passions of defeat? Here we really reap the fruit of a dedication to the mild or concupiscible passions rather than to their corresponding emotions in the will. We have said that our modern multiplication of pleasure automatically multiplies the possibilities of sorrow. It pushes farther out of reach the joy of the will which is the supreme antidote for sensible sorrow, the joy which is an integral part of the sacrifices of love and the death of martyrs. The spreading of hope in a shallow layer over the wide expanse of modern pleasures multiplies our objects of fear; there is so much more that can be taken away from us. And all down the line our power of command, of control over our own actions, is persistently weakened as, plunging further and further into the things of sense, we get further and further from that control-room of human actions which is our reason. Possibilities of sorrow multiplied, objects of fear constantly haunting us on every side, power of command and consequently of resistance steadily weakened — what is left for the creature that is man but the passions of defeat? Is it true that we are more and more haunted by fear? Look at the advertisements in the magazines and newspapers; study the tactics of almost any political power or political party; look at the methods of propaganda for almost any cause; look at the modern attitude towards the natural difficulties of life — towards marriage, childbirth, religion, work, thought, responsibility.
The surrender of despair
Is it true that we are more and more given to despair, that more and more we are willing to give up the fight in abject surrender? There are several signs of despair by which this question can be tested and answered; man can run away from the fight of human life in several different ways. He can plunge into a vortex of pleasure calculated to kill the operations of his mind; he can immerse himself in activities calculated to keep his mind from turning to the ultimate human problems; he can set himself seriously to forget these problems or can set out in the name of philosophy to attack their very existence; he can solve them all by deifying himself; or he can put a bullet in his brain and end the farce of being human without the courage to live humanly.
Man the Victim of the Universe or its Master
Actually man was equipped by nature for quite a different role. He was given an inner sanctuary inviolable to all attacks from all creatures; a source of joy, of hope, of love and all the rest, that could and should lord it over the sensible world, using it, as it was meant to be used, as a servant for his high ends. These champing steeds of human activity in the sensible order which we call passions, could and should be a mighty force under the intelligent control of well drawn reins. There is no comfortable middle way for man in this universe; he must be on top of it or at the very bottom. He is either master of the universe, of his passions, of himself; or he is the miserable cowering victim of all three. And it is only the individual himself who can effectively say whether he win be the victim or the master.