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The Alchemy of Angst

In a world smothered by information but lacking wisdom, anger, born of pain, has become the defining emotion. The false promise of twenty-first-century digital technologies has been laid bare, leaving people desperate for meaningful human connection and a sense of political agency.

LONDON – Ours is the Age of Angst. It is an era of anger, apprehension, fear, confusion, division, polarization, and an increasing distrust in and disdain for institutions. Thanks to the proliferation of digital technologies, we are both spectators and gladiators. We can switch roles in the blink of an eye, whizzing back and forth between the audience seats and the dry, dusty arena.

Social media platforms have become the Colosseum of the twenty-first century. In these digital arenas – small and large, local and international – a new fight is staged almost every day, and though the contenders tend to change often, the language of loathing and mistrust remains constant. But whereas the ancient Romans were entertained by their brutal and bloody spectacles, we moderns are only made angrier by ours.

The etymology of the word is important. Anger comes from the Old Norse angr, which connotes distress, affliction, sorrow, agony, hurt. Anger is directly related to pain of a kind that so many of us, East and West, now feel, though we might not express it in those terms. Underlying the shouting matches and pervasive silences, driving them, is the simple truth that we are hurting.

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