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Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment,…
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Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice (original 2016; edition 2018)

by Martha C. Nussbaum (Author)

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1593150,975 (3.55)5
"Anger is not just ubiquitous, it is also popular. Many people think it is impossible to care sufficiently for justice without anger at injustice. Many believe that it is impossible for individuals to vindicate their own self-respect or to move beyond an injury without anger. To not feel anger in those cases would be considered suspect. Is this how we should think about anger, or is anger above all a disease, deforming both the personal and the political? In this wide-ranging book, Martha C. Nussbaum, one of our leading public intellectuals, argues that anger is conceptually confused and normatively pernicious. It assumes that the suffering of the wrongdoer restores the thing that was damaged, and it betrays an all-too-lively interest in relative status and humiliation. Studying anger in intimate relationships, casual daily interactions, the workplace, the criminal justice system, and movements for social transformation, Nussbaum shows that anger's core ideas are both infantile and harmful. Is forgiveness the best way of transcending anger? Nussbaum examines different conceptions of this much-sentimentalized notion, both in the Jewish and Christian traditions and in secular morality. Some forms of forgiveness are ethically promising, she claims, but others are subtle allies of retribution: those that exact a performance of contrition and abasement as a condition of waiving angry feelings. In general, she argues, a spirit of generosity (combined, in some cases, with a reliance on impartial welfare-oriented legal institutions) is the best way to respond to injury. Applied to the personal and the political realms, Nussbaum's profoundly insightful and erudite view of anger and forgiveness puts both in a startling new light."--Provided by publisher.… (more)
Member:howison
Title:Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice
Authors:Martha C. Nussbaum (Author)
Info:Oxford University Press (2018), Edition: Reprint, 336 pages
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Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice by Martha C. Nussbaum (2016)

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Page numbers are from the Oxford University Press hardcover edition, 2016.

In the words of blurber C. Daniel Batson, Nussbaum calls upon us “to become strange sorts of people, part Stoic and part creatures of love.” Strange indeed, and I am not sure even possible. The Stoics advised against forming attachments, and therefore being able to take losses without distress. Can one form strong attachments, as Nussbaum wants us to do, and not take their loss with anger? I have had a number of people make similar arguments to me, but I have never seen anyone actually live by their own advice. I have tried to train myself not to get angry over small things, and I find it worthwhile. Nevertheless, I believe that anger can be very useful, if carefully controlled, and, like other social skills, exercised with an eye on the consequences. Even Nussbaum is forced to back off a bit with her discussion of Transition-anger, well-grounded anger, and anger as motivation,

There are two major problems with Nussbaum's arguments. She asserts that all problems fall into either the category of things so trivial that they can be ignored, or so serious that the authorities will deal with them with no further input from the victim. False on both counts.

In her section on the Middle Realm, “realm of the multitude of daily transactions we have with people and social groups who are not our close friends and are also not our political institutions or their official agents” (p. 7) she counsels us to ignore slights and other trivia. She recommends turning to the law for “well-being damage.” (p. 164) Alas, the law does not cover all such cases. It is within my own lifetime that protection has been extended to cases involving race, ethnicity, sex, and sexual orientation. It does not cover bullying bosses such as I had at one point. He lied, he publicly attacked people, he tried to arrange to take all the credit while pushing the blame off on other people. One member of our office did file an EEO complaint, but it was denied on the grounds that while he definitely treated her badly, he treated everyone badly, and therefore could not be said to be discriminating. The people above him in the chain of command either explicitly said that they didn't care, or it wasn't their responsibility. Our reputations, our resources, and our jobs were on the line. When I am angry, I think faster, I am bolder, and more focused. I don't think we could have dealt with him without controlled anger, and a unity in sharing ways to outmaneuver him. A man who was hired by the agency to teach us to take our boss more stoically. The teacher told us that he didn't care if we listened or not, he didn't take things personally and he would be paid either way. He threw a temper-tantrum partway through the class.

If it does go to the law, Nussbaum talks as if all trouble and responsibility have been taken off the victim. In fact, the victim is generally just beginning an ordeal; they have to gather information; show up as a witness; show up repeatedly as a witness if the court happens not to get to them in a timely fashion. As a parole officer I know said, no-one cares about the victims. If they have a choice between showing up (again) after another delay, and losing their job, that's their problem. An excellent temporary co-worker, who was trying to get a restraining order against an abusive spouse, and was required to make court appearances on short notice, was almost fired until we persuaded our boss (a different boss from above) that she really, really needed to be granted some slack. The victims / witnesses may face a very long delay until the authorities get around to the case. They may have to discuss deep hurts in public. The defense lawyer may attack them, the perpetrator may taunt them. A television debate was arranged with the mother of a man who had been shot dead by a stranger in front of his family. Although he had been tried and convicted three times, the family was facing a possible fourth trial on mental and technical grounds. How, she asked, was the family to get over his death when the state required them to keep reliving it? At this point, the family wasn't just angry with the murderer.

Martha Nussbaum ends her book with: “I hesitate to end with a slogan that surely betrays my age: but, after so many centuries of folly orchestrated by the retributive spirits, it finally does seem time to 'give peace a chance.' ” I had her dated in the early parts of her book. Her ideas remind me of Karl Menninger and Hugo Bedau and others of that ilk. I think that these kind of ideas and the high crime rate in the 1960s explains the subsequent rise in the popularity of the death sentence, and the institution of victim impact statements, although that was certainly not the intention.

Implicit and sometimes explicit in many of their ideas was the assumption that the victim was a privileged person with every resource at hand for dealing with the impact of crimes, whereas the perpetrator was assumed to be a disadvantaged person unable to control his or her behavior. Nussbaum seems to share in this attitude, demanding that the victim abandon their “narcissistic anger” and focusing heavily on the need to maintain the dignity of the criminal. How then to explain middle- and upper-class white men behaving badly?

I certainly support Nussbaum in fighting crime by social welfare measures; I believe that we owe it to all our children to get them to adulthood in the best health and with the best education that we can manage. Talking about rehabilitation in dealing with the remaining crime is a nice slogan, but I have not seen evidence that we are able to rehabilitate someone without their cooperation. People sometimes accomplish amazing acts of self-reformation, but even that can be very hard.

I find Nussbaum's writing somewhat “stiff”; I had the mental image of trying to walk through a field of mature corn without a machete. I was particularly taken by the phrase “linguistically formulable proposition.” (p.253) Furthermore, her contempt and lack of compassion for the victims of crime thoroughly alienated me. I am also not taking relationship advice from someone who thinks that love is never having to say you're sorry. (Talk about dating one's self.) She also attempted the “we” trick, i.e., she switches from the first person to the second as if this will make the reader think that she has convinced us: “'we' have rejected payback” (p.192), or “'our' ideas of the 'transition'.” She can speak for herself.

Believe it or not, this is only part of what I would have liked to have said, but I'll cut it off here without getting to the subjects of forgiveness or payback. I was going to read Nussbaum's Political Emotions in connection with this book, as recommended by another reviewer, but I have lost interest. ( )
  PuddinTame | Jan 22, 2017 |
Anger and Forgiveness is Martha Nussbaum's exploration of anger, which she has addressed in previous work. In this volume she addresses forgiveness as a way to somewhat counter anger (though that is an extremely oversimplified statement).

While Nussbaum uses classical texts as part of her foundation don't get confused into thinking she is offering a complete and thorough interpretation of any of those texts. She uses what needs for her argument, and her use s are quite legitimate and valid. Don't get confused by reviewers who criticize her for not doing what she never set out to do, namely give a full explication of specific classical texts. She chooses and explains the portions of texts she uses then goes on to develop her own views on anger and forgiveness. To get bogged down in minutiae rather than assess her thesis in the book is a freshman mistake.

This is not, for me, her strongest work, partly because I view her ideas on and uses of forgiveness as problematic. That said I found much of the argument persuasive with only a few sticking points with which I am unsure I agree. As is usually a sign of a good book, her ideas warrant further thought and reading on my part. If you enjoy being challenged about concepts we often take for granted, I believe you will find much to appreciate in this book.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley. ( )
  pomo58 | Aug 25, 2016 |
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Epigraph
I agree to share a home with Pallas Athena . . .
For the city I make my prayer,
prophesying with a gentle-temper,
that the sun's radiant beam may cause
blessings that make life flourish
to spring up in plenty from the earth.

-- Aeschylus, Eumenides 916-26
The gentle-tempered person is not vengeful, but inclined to sympathetic understanding.

-- Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1126a1-3
We must look the world in the face with calm and clear eyes even though the eyes of the world are bloodshot today.

-- Mohandas Gandhi, August 8, 1942, reported in Jawaharlal Nehru, The Discovery of India, ch.1, p. 38
Dedication
To the memory of Bernard Williams (1929-2003)
First words
At the end of Aeschylus' Oresteia, two transformations take place in the archaic world of the characters, transformations that the fifth century BCE Athenian audience would recognize as fundamentally structuring their own world. (Introduction "Furies into Eumenides")
Anger has a two-fold reputation.
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"Anger is not just ubiquitous, it is also popular. Many people think it is impossible to care sufficiently for justice without anger at injustice. Many believe that it is impossible for individuals to vindicate their own self-respect or to move beyond an injury without anger. To not feel anger in those cases would be considered suspect. Is this how we should think about anger, or is anger above all a disease, deforming both the personal and the political? In this wide-ranging book, Martha C. Nussbaum, one of our leading public intellectuals, argues that anger is conceptually confused and normatively pernicious. It assumes that the suffering of the wrongdoer restores the thing that was damaged, and it betrays an all-too-lively interest in relative status and humiliation. Studying anger in intimate relationships, casual daily interactions, the workplace, the criminal justice system, and movements for social transformation, Nussbaum shows that anger's core ideas are both infantile and harmful. Is forgiveness the best way of transcending anger? Nussbaum examines different conceptions of this much-sentimentalized notion, both in the Jewish and Christian traditions and in secular morality. Some forms of forgiveness are ethically promising, she claims, but others are subtle allies of retribution: those that exact a performance of contrition and abasement as a condition of waiving angry feelings. In general, she argues, a spirit of generosity (combined, in some cases, with a reliance on impartial welfare-oriented legal institutions) is the best way to respond to injury. Applied to the personal and the political realms, Nussbaum's profoundly insightful and erudite view of anger and forgiveness puts both in a startling new light."--Provided by publisher.

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