Existential crisis

Below is a chapter from my upcoming book Humanity Is Beautiful: A New Story For A World On Fire. Paying members can follow along and watch the book emerge and evolve as I write it. View the Table of Contents of this “living draft” here.

The outrage, despair, and hatred many of us feel today are not simply everyday anger, sadness, and disgust. They are something deeper and more core to who we are.

Anger is the negative, combative emotion we feel when we believe someone has wronged us. Outrage is that wild, unhinged anger we feel when someone has threatened our very identity or core values. We’re not outraged when someone cuts us off on the road. Very angry, maybe. But we save our outrage for moments when our fundamental rights or beliefs of what it means to be decent or even human are threatened.

Sadness is the negative, deflating emotion we feel when we’ve lost something dear to us. Despair is that impossibly deep sadness we feel when we believe we have or will lose something essential to our being. In the grips of despair, the world no longer makes sense. Life is no longer worth living. Most of us won’t feel despair when our 90-year-old parent dies. Their death fits into our model of how our life will and must unfold, however difficult. But if our child dies, most of us will fall into a deep despair. Our whole conception of how life is supposed to work is obliterated in an instant.

Disgust is the negative, repulsing emotion we feel when we consider something to be physically or morally sickening, Hatred is the profound disgust we feel when something is so morally repugnant that we become identified with our aversion to it. We are disgusted by that moldy cheese in the fridge. We are disgusted by the person who refuses to maintain their physical hygiene. But we don’t hate them. We only hate those who are so utterly repulsive to us that we cannot actually turn our attention away from them. Actively wishing them harm becomes part of our very identity.

Anger, sadness, and disgust curdle into outrage, despair, and hatred only when they trigger an existential crisis, only when we are convinced our very identity is at stake.

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