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Containing the Anger Virus

Barring a possible sudden second wave of COVID-19, many countries may now be past the peak of the pandemic in public-health terms. But the peak of social, economic, and political anger is most likely still to come – and, in this sense, some countries, such as France, are more vulnerable than others.

PARIS – The small landlocked Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which lies between China and India, is not only a tourist mecca. The country has also long pioneered the concept of “gross national happiness” (GNH), which its architects regard as far more comprehensive and accurate than the conventional measure of an economy, gross national product, or GNP.

But with the COVID-19 pandemic triggering unemployment alarm bells almost everywhere, it may be time to consider establishing a third indicator: gross national anger, or GNA. Why should we not measure the stirrings of the human soul as we do the Earth’s entrails, using a Richter scale of emotions? Such an approach might help governments to act before popular anger boils over. As the nineteenth-century Italian statesman Camillo Cavour argued, “reforms made in time weaken the revolutionary spirit.”

The “Age of Anger” – the title of a 2017 book by the Indian essayist Pankaj Mishra – may well be upon us. Anger is no longer largely the preserve of the peoples of the Global South. It has become truly universal, as amply demonstrated in the United States by the large-scale protests that have erupted over the killing of George Floyd – an unarmed, subdued black man – by a police officer while three others kept appalled onlookers at bay. For the furious crowds gathering in all 50 states, the days of tolerating such abuses of power – and the systemic racism that encourages and facilitates them – are over.