On Anger and Community

Written by Natalie Luhrs

I'm a lifelong geek with a passion for books and social justice.

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October 31, 2014

Just a handful of links today because I feel like I have things I want to say about them. They are both quite long but very much worth reading in their entirety.

I’ve been thinking about what these articles are saying a lot. A lot a lot. A lot.

And then I read my friend Melissa’s post about Jian Ghomeshi which describes a whisper network (among many other things). And I thought about my own post about whisper networks.

Yesterday I tweeted about whisper networks and how they serve a necessary purpose but they are, by their nature, fundamentally flawed. One of their flaws is that they help keep abuse confined to the shadows and the corners. They can, in some ways, serve to further isolate people already vulnerable to abuse.  I don’t know how to fix this. I don’t know if it can be fixed.

I would like to see community action come from these networks–a chorus of voices is stronger and louder than just a single voice. But even that comes with risks.

I have spent a lot of time the last two years angry.

I’m tired of being angry. If I keep on being angry, I’ll be no use to anyone–not myself, not my family, not my community.

This isn’t any sort of high-minded pledge that I’ll never be angry again. That would be foolish. But it is, perhaps, a reminder to myself to remember that anger is a tool. It’s a tool best wielded carefully and with precision.

banner-always angry

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  1. Laughingrat

    As a perpetually angry person who has also become somewhat weary of always *communicating* that anger, I think I might understand what you mean. And yet, I think your choice of gif would open up more possibilities for having anger and discussing how anger works…Banner really IS always angry, that’s the reality of that character. That’s why that moment was such an important one (and a very emotional one for me) in the film: his acknowledgment of that constant rage simmering inside him, something he has to sit with and be aware of constantly. When he pivots in the next moment and becomes the Hulk, it’s effortless–it’s a revelation of his true self, or at least, another part of his true self.

    I don’t know if other readers will get what I mean, but I’m trusting your having chatted with me online for several years to help my remarks above make sense! Emotions are really hard to talk about, they’re both personal and complicated.

    My point is that no matter how many years I’ve spent reviling my own anger, or how many times I’ve said to myself “Stop reading about social justice, it just makes you angry,” the fact is that it is intrinsic to my nature to care about social justice issues, just as, apparently, it is intrinsic to my nature to be angry. Repressing either one is exquisitely painful and ultimately extremely unhealthy for me. I believe what may cause us angry people so much pain is not our anger, but our reactivity–our reflexive need to lash out, to attack the threat or defend ourselves or our communities. There’s a lot of energy in reactivity, but when it’s one’s primary mode of response, it can become exhausting, disrupt our jobs, friendships, families, and support networks, and ultimately become a source of deep personal shame.

    In the Avengers film, Banner presents as someone who lives constantly with a terrifying, destructive force within himself, something that is not really “under control,” exactly, but which he, through that constant self-awareness, manages to choose not to foreground with most of the time. If he were constantly soft-spoken, this would read almost as fakey, as irritatingly saintly, but his momentary flash of aggression during his initial interview with Black Widow adds complexity to the way we see him cope with high emotion. He is the voice of reason throughout the entire film, which is why his mildly-expressed “I’m always angry” is such a revelation. (As an aside, in that moment, I was overwhelmed by the realization that finally, here was a character in a movie who was *just like me*.) Banner’s fluid transition into the Hulk, and his precise assault on the onrushing alien vessel reads, in that context, as skillful expression of that anger.

    In retrospect, I doubt we actually differ much on this at all. 🙂 I’m probably (wait for it) just reacting, as usual, rather than really thinking before I respond. Anger is so often spoken of as a tool to only bring out occasionally, and as something to be suppressed the rest of the time, that I tend to overcompensate when advocating for those of us who live with it always! I hope you don’t mind my nattering–your post really prompted me to think about why Ruffalo’s portrayal of Banner was so important to me.

    • Natalie Luhrs


      We don’t differ at all–I have no intention of never being angry again. I can’t NOT be angry about things I care so much about. But–much like Bruce Banner–I want to work to be smarter in how I deploy that anger.

      Does that make sense?

  2. Cerulean Spork

    “tone policing” has unf become a way to tone police others in SJ circles – & a way for those in power or w ambitions to power to wield it against those of lower status ***in-group***

    that this wld happen is no surprising thing given the history of left political movements in the 20th c

    the term “circular firing squad” had lots of reasons

    which brings us to the other problem – the whisper networks form bc of the threat of ostracized for ‘letting the side down” – actually sa w several ppl saying the ghomeshi thing must be a harper plot early on bc No True Liberal etc!!

  3. Jon C

    Thank you for this insight–I was unaware of your posts until Kate Elliott (a friend and a great fantasy writer) shared this post earlier today. I’m quite glad to see that there are others out there who feel the same way.

    Interestingly enough, I’m coming from the opposite end of Laughingrat. Over the course of the last ten years I went from obliviously apolitical to *very* political and finally to “aware but distanced.” Long story short, those five or six years where I seemed to have some daily rage about some social injustice started to wear on me. I mean, to the point where I realized I was taking it a little *too* personally. To the point where it was actually affecting my blood pressure and my health. I’ve always known my reactions are often emotional and deeply felt at that, and I let that get way from me. I had to, as I like to say, “detox” for a while.

    Does this mean I’m against online justice and rage and indignation? Not really. I’m just not a part of it anymore. Personally I believe in balance–there’s a time where loud voices will win the day, and there’s a time when civilized conversation wins, and it really depends on the situation. Thankfully, I’ve seen both. Plus, I have to remind myself that whatever I see online is only a fraction of the sounds out there–I’ve been confident that there are those with much better voices and words than mine who are pushing social change better than I ever could.

  4. Jaime Lee Moyer (@jaimeleemoyer)

    I’ve been thinking about this since I read it last night, trying to come up with a way to comment that expresses what I mean–yet doesn’t come across as an emotional mess.

    The truth is that over the last year I find myself increasingly angry, specifically over how women involved in genre, in anyway or level of involvement, are treated, what women writers put up with–and all the help they don’t get. We won’t even talk about gaming, con harassment, or any of a thousand other things I could come up with.

    And honestly? I don’t have time for all this anger. So I swallow it. I write blog posts and essays I never finish, I encourage women writers/friends with books coming out next year, and I dream of a support network made up of other women authors.

    Something on the scale of SFWA, but just women, promoting and marketing and supporting other women novelists. (Yes, I know about Broad Universe. Not what I mean and not what is half-formed in my head.)

    And while driving home from work today I realized the source of all this anger for me.

    It’s helplessness; the inability to change ANYTHING about this business, or how totally and utterly the deck is stacked against women writers.

    This is my own personal windmill to tilt at and demon to vanquish. But damn it, nothing in life makes me angrier than feeling helpless.


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