By Dr Billy “the dog” McGraw, senior psychologist, University College Hospital of the North Circular Road.
I have long been fascinated by the anger and aggression that is expressed on Untold – not so much the anger that you will read in the comment columns, but the anger, aggression and threats that Untold chooses not to publish.
Fortunately for the sanity of those charged with sifting through the comments that arrive here each day, no one actually has to work through the whole collection of them. Certain key words and phrases, as well as comments coming from specific locations are automatically removed.
My fascination and bemusement comes not just from my professional background, but also from recently watching Werner Herzog’s movie, “Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World” part of which deals with the pain and suffering caused by the anger and aggression of internet users against a bereaved family.
Of course such appalling actions via the internet do not mean that the internet caused such behaviour but they do mean that for some people the internet is a chance to express feelings and emotions that were previously expressed only within the family.
In some ways this may be a good thing, in that unpleasant though it is for the moderator of a blog to receive such virulence in an email, it is probably better that the sender expresses his or her (and it is mostly his) anger in writing to a person unknown than takes it out on those with whom he shares a home.
But whoever this anger is expressed against this sort of anger at all is in essence illogical. For example, writing to Untold Arsenal, which proclaims on its masthead that it supports the manager, to state that the manager is a useless idiot, is perhaps one of the most nonsensical things that one can do. Even more bizarre is the action of some who express dismay that such comments are then not published.
Such a reaction seems to me to be akin to writing to a magazine for bee keepers claiming that bee keeping is harmful to the environment. The writer might be correct (although I rather think not) but expecting a magazine geared up to the opposite point of view to spend its time debating such views (especially when put forward with little or no evidence) is not just plain silly but shows an incredible lack of both intellectual and emotional maturity.
But emotions are, of course, not based on logic. Anger/pleasure, along with worry/happiness, fear/anticipation, joy/sadness and guilt/jealousy are the prime emotions, and each except Guilt/jealousy are opposites. Guilt and jealousy are both negative and generally debilitating. With the other emotions one of each pair is generally considered to be enabling and life-enhancing, the other (the negative one) is a counter balance to be experienced less, but (so some argue) with the purpose of helping us appreciate the positive side even more.
By and large it appears that the more we are able to have and express all the emotions in a manner that is socially acceptable, as well as being able to withhold them in circumstances where they are not appropriate, the better.
But this isn’t what happens for some people on blogs or on places like Facebook or Twitter. In such places many people express one of the negative emotions full-on without any balance or analysis. And this can never be good for an individual since it leads to that individual living in a world of endless expression of negative emotions.
But why? From the point of view of the angry correspondent, the answer that the writer is simply wrong and needs to be put right, is surely false because we all know that abuse in response to an internet article doesn’t actually achieve anything – other than making the writer of the abuse (rather than the writer of the original article) look rather foolish.
Indeed this is the odd point – most writers of abuse generally fail to realise that for every person who gets angry in response to a situation, there’s usually another who simply laughs at the originator, and a couple more who just ignore the whole thing. It is very, very rare indeed for anyone to have their opinions changed upon the receipt of abuse.
The reason that people are often unaffected by abuse seems to relate to the quality of life that non-abusers have. To bring it into the context of Arsenal, those of us who support (as it says on the masthead of Untold), the manager, the players and the team, seem get a lot more out of their interaction with Arsenal than those who express negative emotions all the time. Largely it seems, because it is more pleasant and more life-enhancing being positive, rather than being negative.
We know that supporting a club in the way we do, can bring a great bond, and great joy. Yes we get an extra bonus by being there on the final day of the unbeaten season, at the cup finals, at the winning of the doubles. But those who are generally positive know that like all emotions, to be truly meaningful we have to be able to express the flip side of the emotions: the sorrow and despair. Experiencing those, without attendant anger, allows us to experience the joy of winning even more intensely.
As we have seen, people who are dominated by negative emotions are readily open to exploitation by unscrupulous media outlets who seek to boost audiences by encouraging such expressions of behaviour. Deliberately seeking to encourage people who are angry about Mr Wenger’s presence at Arsenal, for example, does enhance their audiences, and I know that in so doing the producers of such programming argue that they provide an outlet for the negative emotions of such people.
It is however a false argument, I believe, not least because there is no evidence that expressing such anger ever changes anything. It doesn’t make the person expressing the anger feel better over anything other than a short period of time, and doesn’t make the recipient of the anger change their mind. It doesn’t even stop the person who expressed the anger from doing it again. Rather the reverse is true: the individual expresses the anger, but it changes nothing. So they do it again, only a bit more.
It is in fact the most ineffectual way of doing anything, and if anything we should feel sorry for the people who utilise it.