Where to angle anger?

First off, I use anger here in the sense of outrage, see Stéphane Hessel’s infamous Indignez-vous, translated into english as Time for Outrage. Anger as such is then a productive feeling. Anger feels and notices inequalities and injustices and it is an emotion that is active, that seeks to find explanations and solutions. Once you have found your anger… what to do with it, where to angle your anger, is a relevant question to ask.

model101_06I have had various instances of anger, some small, some bigger. The rather larger one resulted in co-founding newcycling.org, Newcastle’s cycling campaign. Finding or founding a group so that you can discuss, categorise and solve (or at least alleviate and lessen) your grievances (angers) has been key for my overall healthy state of mind. Talking about the experiences I had along this winding path will be part of my PhD thesis.

One personal journey was becoming a campaigner and activist. I underwent various stages of activation. I knew my anger and outrage, and I had to locate an outlet. It seemed that I had found a crowbar, and I was asking where best to position it – to open doors, airing cupboards, closets, gated communities and ghettos, mechanisms to draw bridges into ivory towers.

In the early days I was often confronted with the dilemma: so I cycle DESPITE the disobliging urban design. I cycle, does that mean others can, and should, too? Why don’t others cycle? It took a couple of years or so, before I was confident enough to step up and pan out. We cannot ignore society: we are all living amongst other humans, there are fairly natural pressures and constraints imposed on us. And rather simultaneously with stepping up from the individual to the societal level came another panning out: it’s the infrastructure, stupid.

I discovered the socio-ecological model. Yes, I like diagrams and frameworks, perhaps a bit too much. Be that as it may, this particular model made a lot of sense to me as it felt wholesome, holistic – it took into account various influences that we are exposed to – where urban design and infrastructure can have a place. It spatial. It’s also contested. It is hence political. I started thinking about politics and that we confidently must include the environment in our campaigning communications, learning to speak longer sentences. Checking our own breath, getting a fresh bike bubble gum.

Yes. In other words, oh my, it took another few years that I started doing some reading in the field of political sciences. And there a concept of political angles and worldviews opened my eyes. Here was a handy connection to explain campaigning angles too. And a way to explain others reaction to cyclists. The distinction between conservative, liberal and radical angles was described in Deborah Stone’s book Policy Paradox, and it came to me as a revelation. This made sense. And it fitted snugly into the socio-ecological model too. And it is ok to have views – it’s a moral and a political proposition, you have to take sides (as Steven Lukes explains).

So, here is the thing. When you are face to face with a problem (you might be angry about something) look at the sketch below, and ask yourself: what is the nature of the problem, where is its solution? Pan in, pan out. Naturally we start at the individual level. But it’s good to stop and think, slow yourself down (Kahneman & Tversky approve, Ariely too). As for “getting more people cycling (more often)” the solution is adjusting the urban spaces to invite a broader cross-section of society.

It’s radical, yes. It’s political, and a moral choice. I totally understand, that this is hard to swallow for people of a more liberal or conservative worldview. That something outside humans, outside our heads, even outside society should have such an influence over us, compels us even, is not a comforting thought when you hold a more anthropocentricly angled worldview. For you liberals and conservatives, I leave you with this thought: we are still in charge! We make the environment that in turn shapes us. Let’s make environments that shape us well. The human yardstick, our wellbeing, is the basic unit. The circle closes. Back to our own roots (radices, radix, aka radical).

The question for campaigners, people who want change of some sort, is to ask questions about the environment, how it is built, how it is constructed, who constructed it and why. I am glad to see that cycle campaigning has reached that point (talking about urban design, its effects on society and individuals, and holding the decision-makers to exactly that account).



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