In watching Al Jeezera, I have noticed that the protests always began with young men, who have given an extraordinary example of what the Greeks called thumos, spiritedness. The Arabs peoples feel themselves oppressed, and the spark that set everything off was the self-immolation of a young man whose fruit stand was confiscated by the police.
Susan M. Purviance has eamined the classical political idea of thumos.
I examine the Greek notion of the spirited part of the soul which resents injury and resists injustice.
Thumos has several effects:
—A. Thumos invigorates: Thumos energizes civic life as a spirited pursuit of honor in any competition that is regulated to produce a social good.
—B . Thumos detonates: Thumos causes civic life to explode, as in riot, revolution, factionalism, or stasis, a stalemate of factions in government, making its victims incapable of self-governance.
— C. Thumos disrupts: Thumos disrupt civic life positively in civil disobedience and direct protest designed to reveal conditions of injustice.
By invigorating citizens thumos bolsters civil life, leading to economic, cultural, and political vitality. By detonating or igniting passions for self-respect and good reputation, thumos can lead to actions that destroy civic life, since the agent loses all fear of the sanctions which authorities would impose. Thirdly, thumos disrupts ordinary civic order, but does not destroy it, becoming another form of the public’s way of doing political business with its rulers.
Thumos is an emotion or leads to the manifestation of emotions. But emotion is not self-justifying.
Yet emotions alone cannot sanction action. For us, thumos cannot function as an independentfaculty of truth. There must be a rational element which validates, or consolidates the feeling of injustice with the standard by which one knows what is just or injust.
That is, reason must govern emotions, and anger is the proper emotion to feel to injustice, but an injustice that is rationally discerned, not simply felt (remember Al Capp’s SWINE, Students Wildly Indignant about Nearly Everything?)
Anger gives energy to fortitude in combating evil.
To endure being insulted and to put up with insult to one’s friends is slavish, so anger has a part in courage.
What has been largely lacking in modern Christianity is a recognition of the role of thumos. Church authorities, like civil authorities, like a docile subject population which will obey, or at least not oppose, the authorities. I have been deeply disturbed in my reach on the sexual abuse crisis in the Church by the lack of righteous anger on the part of both Church authorities and the laity. The Church lacks thumos and has been unable and unwilling to confront the profound injustice of letting children be abused in the name of God.