Psychologists love to say that anger is morally neutral.
That’s convenient for psychologists, who often envy the subjectivity and empiricism of the “hard sciences.”
If anger is morally neutral then it shares that quality with hydrogen, gravity, entropy, and quartz.
Anger might average out to be morally neutral, but anger always exists within the context of a person acting, or refraining from acting, with anger. Those actions have a moral disposition.
Anger is always coming from somewhere and going to somewhere.
Anger is morally good when it suffocates fear and pain in defense of self or other, when it excites and energizes for action, when it reveals buried troves of affection and alloys with character to create and re-create.
Anger is morally wrong when it is displaced from its true target to one perceived as safer, as the weapon of a coward, when it initiates and aggravates and prolongs conflict.
What is the line between anger and hatred?
The short and easy, and potentially-correct, pop psychology answer is that if you are wondering if this is hate then it probably is.
However, what about the following guidelines?
• Anger is rational, a response to real external event, and even if the feeling is rooted in a misperception of that event, the perception can be explained and the mistake corrected. In contrast, hatred is irrational and actively defies clarification and correction.
• Anger seeks a defined response or remedy, begins with an end in mind and once achieved, by intent or by accident, has no further purpose and disappears. Hatred takes on a life of its own, feeds itself, seeks to perpetuate itself, wants disproportionate harm of or even the destruction of the hated.
• Anger wants to solve the conflict and move on. Hatred wants to preserve the conflict.
• Anger targets only the source of the pain or fear that provoked the anger. Hatred targets innocents who are thought to resemble or otherwise be connected to the source of the fear or pain, wants to inflict what is now called, in an intellectualized manner, “collateral damage.”
• Anger is hot and passionate and linked to the physiological defense system, comes with elevated pulse and respiration and perspiration. Hatred is cold and rigidly intellectual despite its irrationality, even though it comes with thoughts that can refresh the anger at its base.
Anger probably averages out to be morally neutral but anger habitualized within a person or routinized within a system becomes hatred. Hate, though a common human condition, is always morally slanted toward the wrong.