You don’t have to watch an entire episode of Jerry Springer or Judge Judy to understand that the expression of anger in American culture has become more important than logic. People don’t care if they make sense, they just want to FEEL right. And, of course, the easiest way to feel like you’re on the right side of the fence is to be angrier than the other person. The ultimate strategy in the art of American debate is: “Look how angry I am; I must be right.”
Winning an argument by anger employs the strategy of something I like to call “emotional currency.” I’ve coined this term to explain the value of emotional expression in an argument as it applies to the outcome. In the context of anger as an emotional currency, the angriest person can win the argument by default rather than the true integrity of their point. If you know anything about poker, this is the equivalent of someone going “all-in” with a lot of chips, effectively BUYING the round despite whether or not their hand is any good. Simply put, it doesn’t matter whether or not someone has a truly valid point; if they become angry enough, their anger becomes their validation.
How We Got Here
The idea that other must bend to the will of our anger is rooted in crappy parenting. I once wrote an article entitled, “Scary Children, which depicted the pervasive issue of cowering parents who fear the anger of their own children. The fear in this case becomes, “I don’t want my child to hate me”, and so they simply submit to whatever the child’s wishes are. In that scenario, from a young age, people learn how powerful emotions can be when it comes to manipulating others; we’ve learned how to make others fear our anger. And so we use it to win disagreements with a whole fancy bag of emotional trickery. Adults who have a greater fear of anger are more likely to submit to those who display it well.
1.) Huff and Puff.
Nothing says “I’m right” like the ostentatious huffing and puffing of an angry person. When they can’t convince you of their point, they’ll simply convince you that the conversation should end before their anger makes a scene. People who engage in this kind of display use body language to showcase their huffing and puffing by pacing, violent sighing, waving their arms, and pointing a lot. The goal is to intimidate the other party into giving up the fight completely before logic proves them wrong.
2.) Outside Voices.
Ever notice how loud people can get? Me too. People get REALLY loud. One of the most efficient ways of buying an argument with emotional currency is raising your voice to absurd volumes. You might be standing right next to an angry person, but they end up screaming at you anyway. This tactic accomplishes two things: it intimidates and it drowns out the opposing party’s message so that only the angry person’s voice can be clearly heard.
3.) Dehumanize The Opposing Party.
Dehumanizing someone in an argument is a really subtle, but brilliant tactic that appeals to our sense of justice. Invoking the justice aspect people’s judgement is about forcing them to choose the winner of an argument based on what’s morally fair rather than what’s factually accurate. By successfully labeling themselves a victim of unfair treatment, of being unheard, the angry person can then create valid grounds for being “very offended”. Essentially what this strategy does is create a little PR smear campaign against the other party. Turning your opposition into a cold-hearted snake and defending one’s right to be heard can make for a very compelling reason to be crowned the victor on charges of morality. The victory call becomes: “They can’t possibly be right; look how mean they are”. Onlookers then have to choose between backing the offended party (the little guy), or the “mean” party (the bully).
4.) Dogma Reigns Supreme
The easiest way to suede people with anger is to argue issues based on dogma principals rather than facts. For example “Trickle-Down Economics” embodies a brand of financial ideals which, mathematically, are wrong and will never create a truly strong economy. This school of thinking spawned out of Reaganamonics and proposes that tax breaks and more money for the rich will prompt them to make more jobs and income for the lower classes. Basically: give to the rich, not the poor, because the rich make jobs. It turns out though that the rich don’t make jobs. Actually, it’s the middle class that create jobs, as 200 million middle class citizens can spend more in the free-market economy than 100 rich people. This logic is brought to you by the folks of 6th grade “Mathematics”.
So if rich people don’t make jobs, why do we give them so many tax breaks and financial incentives? How can the elite class defend against logic? The answer is dogma.
The conservative narrative is that it’s “not fair” to ask rich people to pay more in taxes to fund programs for the poor. Then there comes a long drawn out bowing of a violin: “Rich people shouldn’t be punished for being rich, they’ve worked hard to be rich.” Yes, I’m sure most of the American public would agree that Kim Kardashian has worked very hard to get where she is. Sigh. But you can see how that anecdote utilizes the “dehumanizing” strategy to make rich people the “victims”.
Despite the numbers never adding up, conservatives push forth their views based on dogma—a belief system—rather than fact. People who aim to buy an argument with emotional currency will almost always argue issues based on grounds of dogma. Because when it comes to dogma you don’t have to be right to win a debate, you just have to be angry.