Why are Americans so angry? Politicians launch preemptive strikes against their opponents; journalists pursue vendettas against public figures; talking heads spit venom at each other on wrathful radio and television shows. In the past, we disagreed with others, sometimes strongly, but we heard them out. Now we want to obliterate their opinions. Our public life seems more and more dominated by expressions of ungoverned rage.
America has gotten into ugly moods before, but never like this. Red states versus blue, right versus left, conservative versus liberal–we live in a society of irritated division. Popular culture licenses the righteousness of anger by displaying images of men and women pushed too far, and by encouraging people to believe that some ideas are actually “lies” and conspiracies in disguise. Even more disturbing, says anthropologist Peter Wood, many people accept the fury that now governs our public life as something wholesome. Many Americans have come to believe that self-restraint is destructive and that expressing anger is therapeutic.
In taking us on a guided tour of American acrimony, Peter Wood traces the roots of anger’s triumph in our social and political world. He examines the “liberating” bromides of psychotherapists, the bellicosity of the war between the sexes, the broadsides of the ethnic separatists, and the jeremiads of fundamentalists of all stripes. A provocative dissection of an alarming phenomenon, A Bee in the Mouth is also a call for Americans to reject the transitory satisfactions of anger and instead summon the older traditions of tolerance and moderation that have always kept us one nation.