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The enraged and the powerless

Maria Alnæs
Maria Alnæs
Author. Literature reviewer in MODERN TIMES.
RAGE / In this essay, Maria Alnæs considers some of what the 'difference society' does to people's emotional lives. Rage and powerlessness are a natural result of tightening social security schemes, crushing trade unions, poor schooling and failing support schemes. And even though many people are far better off today than they might have been a few decades ago, there is an embittered feeling that it is possible to be better off, but that someone has cheated you out of it.


Harold gets into an old Saab and drives from Vestlandet towards Stockholm. After IKEA has established itself in the local area, it becomes hopeless to keep the venerable furniture store going, and Harold eventually has to close its doors. He is furious and determined to kidnap Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA's founder, as a form of revenge. This is the starting point for Frode Grytten's tragicomic novel Tomorrow is Monday (Saganatt, October, 2011).

Fiction often depicts people who feel overrun, and shows how abuse or a lack of understanding from the superior can create a rage. In powerlessness, one can commit unwise or downright idiotic actions, which is also the case with the main character in Brit The car islands Three roads to the sea (Samlaget, 2018) does. After being kicked out of the adoption queue, she breaks into the house of the heartless caseworker. In Olaug Nilssen's Heavy talk of time (Samlaget, 2017) the authorities are an important secondary figure. Lack of action and understanding worsens an already desperate situation.


Fiction reflects a desperation that also exists in reality. The supreme power or supreme authority holds the key to your freedom, life expression and survival, but does not give it up!

In recent years, for example, the frustration is over NAV built up, topped by the NAV scandal, where social security recipients were wrongly judged as social security abusers. NAV, which is the welfare society's, yes hub, struggles with trust. 86 people were wrongly convicted of having stayed abroad while receiving financial support from NAV.

In addition, there are too many testimonies of people in vulnerable situations who are distrusted and who give up in meetings with NAV or other state or municipal agencies. A tighter welfare system has increased demands on the so-called the users, which creates stress and uncertainty, at the same time as the authorities themselves operate with sometimes pathological correctness. And the food queues in the cities are growing, which tells us that the benefits people get from the state are not enough to get by.

Many experience suspicion from an impersonal and increasingly robotic and alienated system.

There are people in vulnerable situations who need welfare schemes. But many experience suspicion from an impersonal and increasingly robotic and alienated system. Frustrations build up, and with them strong emotions. And apathy, powerlessness and a sense of helplessness are just as common a reaction as the more visible rage. "- Why on earth can't the politicians understand that the benefits do not cover the current expenses? That the indicative rates are too small? This is a system that breaks people," says Elisabeth Thoresen, leader of the AAP action (A non-profit organization that works to ensure uninterrupted income security for the sick and disabled, Dagsavisen 25.02.23).

Basically, being out of working life can cause psychological challenges, such as e.g. low self-esteem. Many of the users to NAV is thus already in a demanding psychological situation when they encounter a difficult and bureaucratic apparatus. Mental disorders since 2010 is increasingly the cause of work disability.


Ebba Wergeland ("Why does LO fail the disabled?" Klassekampen, 10.03.22) explains how Norwegian social policy made a complete turnaround in the early 1990s. In the past, the disabled state was explained by the fact that there had been an exclusion from working life – this could e.g. mean lack of facilitation. It was assumed that most people actually wanted to be in work. The previous explanatory model therefore took factors outside the individual as a point of departure. From the 90s, and still today, attention has turned to the individual and his motivation. By giving poor disability benefits, one should 'stimulate' the disabled to take up work (Wergeland 10.03.22).

By giving poor disability benefits, one should 'stimulate' the disabled to take up work.

One effect of this way of thinking is that the individual is not simply entrusted with a greater part of the responsibility. The message in the device itself, the system's message, is that the individual also bears much of the blame for the state of things. What this does to people's self-respect, self image and mental state, does not seem to be a factor that is given attention. Nor is it that many are not in a physical condition where they can be 'motivated' back into working life.

The rage

Anger occurs when something threatens what is important to you. It can be awakened when important needs and values ​​are at stake. According to psychology can ragea cover over emotions such as shame, fear, sadness and bitterness. IN The Age of Rage – A History of the Present (translated by Agnete Øye, Solum Bokvennen, 2018) sees Pankaj Mishra parallels between effectmovements in different parts of the world. Mishra reads today's movements, which are not only found in Europe and the USA, but also in India and the Middle East, as an expression that the sense of expectation has gone off the hinges.

Many are far better off than their great-grandparents, who in turn were better off than the people before them. Nevertheless, you sit with an embittered feeling that it is possible to be better off, but that someone has cheated you out of it. Mishra believes that in a world of flickering and incessantly intrusive success stories, a feeling is close: that luck and success passed you by.

Certain male-dominated movements take out their rage against minorities, women and homosexuals. They seek out charismatic demagogues and gather in racial hatred and conspiracy theoryare cultivated in pools of disinformation. The storming of the US Congress in January 2021 stands as the most telling example of this.

One can safely call some of this an unjustified and misplaced rage, in contrast to the first-mentioned examples. At the same time, it is difficult in this context to disregard the ever-increasing economic inequalities and the differences in opportunities for life development and education. Western European countries also seem, in a sense, to be heading back towards the class society they flattered themselves for so long with having abolished in favor of freedom, equality and fraternity.

In Great Britain, David Cameron went to "The War on Welfare" from 2010, but now it is British welfareone driven completely into the ditch, with increasing poverty and social problems. The cuts in benefits were made possible through an increasing stigmatization of those in need of social security, where the message that was conveyed was that they were lazy and inept, and that through the social security schemes a bad culture had been created.

In France

I Who killed my father? (translated by Egil Halmøy, Aschehoug, 2019) says the French author Édouard Louis his father's story. On the one hand, the father is let down by the state – at the same time, he believed for a long time that France's problems were due to homosexuals and Muslims.

Louis thinks that his father's life has been a life of denial: “You had for money, you had for the opportunity to study, for the opportunity to travel, for the opportunity to realize your dreams.” After his father's back has been badly treated in a work accident, he experiences that one president and government after another cuts support for vital medicines, disability benefits and support schemes – at the same time as ministers and heads of government launch into verbal tirades against social security recipients. In 2017, Macron says to two union workers on the street: "You don't scare me with those t-shirts of yours. The best way to afford a suit is to work” (from the book).

When the arrogance has reached that level, one might think that there is not much hope. On the other hand, a hope in many people is kindled when they experience that there are politicians who have an eye for their despair. In France, the wind has been blowing strongly from the right for a while. "If you want to create a strong left after the Yellow Vests, you have to invent a language that can steal the fury from the far right," says Édouard Louis (Skovgaard Nielsen, "A kind of happy ending", Klassekampen, 23.03.22).

And the rage is evident on the streets of France in connection with the hated pension reform – where the French police are responding with violence. If there were an election today, Marine Le Pen would beat Macron with 55 to 45 percent of the vote. Ahead of the 2022 election, right-wing radical Éric Zemmour captivated many French people with his tirades against, among other things, Muslims and gay activists.

Irresponsible politicians?

Trade union busting, dismissals, poor school attendance and failing support schemes provide fertile ground for social problems, frustration and rage. And the millennia on the steppes have probably predisposed us more strongly to hatred of visible and easily identifiable out-groups than to analytical criticism of large and complex systems. The legitimate frustrations can often result in misplaced anger.

"There is a limit to how far you can push people before they start pushing back," writes the British economist Grace Blakeley (Klassekampen 18.10.22). She argues that while the British people have endured countless crises, such as the financial crisis, the housing crisis, the mishandled pandemic and now the cost of living crisis, politicians deserve no trust: "Our corrupt and irresponsible political class is not going to deliver the changes we need on their own. Workers must force them forward.” And it would probably be the best if, through demonstrations, influence, elections and democratic means, one could force through a larger one fairness, reduce unemployment, strengthen workers' rights and treat the insured with decency.

Different Norway

So far, there is cause for concern. There is a coldness that grows in step with the growing differences, where people are drifting apart not only in an economic sense, but also in terms of attitudes. In Norway, wine can see that the poor and those on disability benefits are incited in social media for laziness and high demands: "With Forskjells-Norge, the rottenness has only increased", says Elisabeth Thoresen. And even though velferdthe arrangements in Norway are still far better than in both France and England, we must oppose derogatory language and a dehumanizing system.

The poor and people with disabilities are harassed in social media for laziness and high demands.

One must ask whether in the depths of the welfare cuts lies a psychological understanding of man that is both outdated and authoritarian. Where the privileged feel they deserve their good life, and that the underprivileged must be disciplined. Contempt for those in need can slowly and imperceptibly be psychologically integrated into today's mental and emotional apparatus, and then there is hardly any going back.

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