I am trying to make sense of an impression that Thais are becoming angrier, and with more violent results than a quarter of a century ago. Stories in the news, from first hand observations and from friends can distort reality. What I have confidence in is the idea that levels of anger correlate with crime. Anger rarely brings out the best in us; quite the opposite, it is likely to lead to a rash, irrational response against the object or person responsible for triggering this emotional state. Laws are part of the security shield the state provides to protect us against the violence ignited by anger.
The union of anger with crime makes for an unhappy marriage right around the world. Every week there are reported cases where some became angry and punched, slashed, shot, kicked or shoved another person. Parker, the criminal in Richard Stark’s series drew an audience, in part, because the character had no discernible sense of fear. If Parker had been fearful but lacked a sense of anger, we would have a quite different criminal personality. It is likely that emotionally wired Parker would never throw a punch. Such a character would be more like Mr. Bean than Parker–an object of amusement. We laugh with our heroes, not at them.
When reading a crime novel it is an interesting exercise to ask how the author handles emotions such as anger, how anger has explanatory power, and whether anger satisfies the reader’s sense of fairness, justice, and equality.
A lot of criminal novels are built on characters who are angry and that emotion feeds and motivates their actions.
Anger is the opposite of fear.
Anger is the subjective experience of mind. It is pure emotion and short cuts off access to rational thinking. It’s physiological and neural. Insults, threats as well as physical violence are common reactions anticipated from an angry person. Frustration, resentment, cheating are three examples of events that trigger anger.
Looking at the building blocks of anger, one that stands out is scarcity. Most of life is a competition for mates, examination marks, jobs, promotions, honors, reputation, and status. Such resources are scarce and unevenly distributed among a community. Excluding or denying someone what they believe is their entitlement, or removing something they already have can lead to anger. And anger leads to revenge and reprisal.
I started the essay with an assertion that I thought Thais are angrier today than they were in the late 1980s. It is not based on good statistics so the observation is subject to being modified if not rejected with solid statistical evidence. That caveat stated, my impression is with the vast increase in cars, trucks, motorcycles, and the relatively slow building of additional modes of transportation alternatives, road space has become more scarce. Drivers are no better trained or skilled than before but there are more of them, and they compete for the same lanes on jammed roads. Nam jai or ‘water heart’ is a Thai expression used when someone gives way as a courtesy to another, a small act such as waiting and allowing someone else caught in a blocked lane of traffic to enter the moving lane in front of you. I still find acts that qualify as nam jai when driving but like a rare form of wildlife, it is becoming rarer and on the road to extinction.
A couple of cases—one from December 2012 to February 2013 illustrate circumstances where anger leads to physical confrontation.
“Man killed for jumping queue” – A Shan-Burmese man and his wife went to a temple in Chiang Mai for free food. The food he had gone to obtain for his child. The Burmese man saw a queue. Rather than join the queue, he cut in front, causing two teenagers to blow up with anger. One of the pair used a broken beer bottle to slash the man’s throat. The man died at hospital. The police are gathering more evidence before seeking arrest warrants, according to the Bangkok Post.
Anger flaring in road rage has been more commonly reported in the Thai press. A couple of recent cases serve to make the point that the emotion of anger is a dangerous thing, an instrument looking to inflict violence to dissipate the emotional rage. This kind of anger leaves the person without self-control and thrust him into fight mode.
A YouTube video circulated in Thai social media caught a 48-year-old man claiming to be a law lecturer beating up on a small young woman after their cars were stuck in a small soi. Frustration erupted as neither would give way. A Thai newspaper Thai Rath reported graphic (with pictures and the video which was taken by a bystander) that the young woman had picked up her girlfriend and was driving out of the small soi when a black Mercedes Benz came in.
She could neither pass nor go back. The young woman felt that the Benz driver might have a bit of nam jai as she saw he had a bit of room to move, so she asked him to squeeze in the lane and let her pass. He refused and insisted that it was she who had to move. She said she couldn’t and he threw the car key at her face and stalked off to his friend’s house. The young woman returned to her car and called her relatives for consultation as to what to do. In the middle of the phone consultation the Benz driver returned in rage, shouting, ordering her to reverse her car, while slapping, pushing and shoving her. The young woman’s girlfriend came out to intervene and was shoved. Now fearing the escalation, the two women ran back to their car and started driving in a long reverse to let the Benz go to its destination. The confrontation captured on video has been circulated for days in Thai social media.
Recent reports are the lecturer was fined Baht 1,000 for the assault and he apologized to the woman he assaulted. End of case.
In another incident, the Bangkok Post reported two women were in a car accident. A Thai man between 30 to 35 years in the other car got out and repeatedly struck the 36-year-old woman who appears to have been the driver of the first car. One car hits another. The occupants of each car apparently got out to inspect the damage and became angry at each other. In this case the anger boiled over into physical violence—the Thai man knocked out the other driver. He left her unconscious on the scene. And in the time-honored tradition of people who do bad, he fled the scene.
Anger and rage in crime becomes more interesting when someone in uniform spits the dummy (Australian for blowing one’s stack, eruption of Anger with a capital “A”).
The Bangkok Post reported a story involving a military officer was unhappy with the driving of the car in front of his, saying later that the car was straddling two lanes, so he couldn’t pass. He flashed his high beams at the car ahead to move into the slower lane. But the car stubbornly refused to move into the slower lane. Finally the officer seized an opportunity passed the car, and then apparently positioned his car so as to stop the car he’d passed. When he saw three people inside, he took out his gun and fired three shots. Self-defense. He was outnumbered and felt threatened.
The event in this case was also captured on video and later uploaded on the internet, and that caused the person uploading the video to receive a number of threatening and hateful comments. It seems a video was viewed as twisting the truth. That’s the problem with a netizen videos, they capture a moment of anger, snatch from the jaws of reality, and those involved have little room for the usual defense of ‘misunderstanding’ or ‘it didn’t happen that way, they pulled a gun first’ or ‘who me, someone else in another car fired a gun.’
A day ago in Phuket, the driver of a mini-bus followed a car driven by a woman. She had made an illegal turn. She had braked suddenly, causing the mini-bus driver to brake as well. He became angry and raced after her in his bus. After he caught up (the traffic was moving slowly) he jumped out of the bus and ran up to her car and pointed a handgun at her. He returned the mini-bus, drove on, phoned his office to say he has other pressing business, and they should send another driver. The driver left the bus and disappeared. The police said, “We have a warrant for his arrest and he faces multiple charges relating to attempted murder, criminal damage, carrying a gun in a public place, and issuing threats. We believe we will catch him soon.” The police are continuing to look for him.
Such stories are appearing more frequently in the Thai news. Road rage has been imported into street and highway system in Thailand. The physical confrontations are pretty much recognizable to someone from another culture. It seems that anger—while its triggers and reactions have a cultural component—has a common, universal aspect that is transcends cultural difference. In Thailand, like elsewhere, the road rage cases are increasing and if you were to substitute Bangkok, Phuket or other cities appearing in datelines for news stories and inserted either Chicago, Toronto, or London, little else would need to be changed to localize it.
You can draw your own conclusion on what cultural biases make it permissible for men in the heat of rage to physically attack a woman. Beating up women deserves a closer examination as an extension of dysfunctional behavior in the land of anger. I’d start with the theory that in any political/social system which provides extensive impunity for members of the elite class, those deemed inferior in that society such as women, immigrants, handicapped, or peasant class are the object of violence because their failure to acknowledge another entitlement means the other person must automatically yield.
The insults, threats, and violence attributed to the angry person create a universal brotherhood/sisterhood—road rage, domestic violence, pub brawls, or that moment when your computer hangs and you lose a week of work that should have been backed up but wasn’t. We’ve all experienced such moments.
There is a correlation between anger and criminal conduct. Acts of violence are outlawed. The criminal and civil laws patrol the emotional borders to deal with angry people whose emotional fuel motivates them to commit acts of violence.
Anger is the father that begets much violence. When the flash of anger leads to a squeeze of the trigger. Each culture tries to control that space. To diffuse the anger, to teach self-control, and to provide substantial punishments and other disincentives for the angry whose emotion causes them to harm others.
The lack of capacity to control anger is a major reason to carefully restrict gun ownership. Anger, alcohol and guns are a lethal combination. In big mega cities as resources become scarcer be prepared for more violence generated by angry people.
Emotions like anger are human behavioral stuff that will ensure that crime writers in material for several life times. It is one thing to write about anger, it is another to experience anger whether exploding inside your own head or inside the head of a person charging at you with a handgun because you stepped on his foot and caused him to lose face in front of his face.
If you think that escaping into the digital world you can avoid anger, think again.
Hate is an offspring of anger. You can find him in many places on the Internet. Online expressions of hatred are the digital equivalent of a handgun waved in your face. Next time you want to know if someone is angry with you on line, check out emoticons.
The digital world has emoticons for anger: :- | | :@
Phnom Penh Noir is available as ebook version.