Rage! Rabidity! Was that a werewolf, a vampire? A dog or human infected with the lethal rabies virus? Or a human exhibiting intermittent explosive behavior? The goal of this set of posts is to explore how and why these questions intertwine. We will search through various conceptions and images of rage and find that our understanding is still severely constrained by a lack of information regarding its natural biology. Presently we find solace and therapeutic release from unbidden rampages via tales of vampires and werewolves, or by placing blame on (untreatable) psychiatric disorders. In either case, we are relegating commonplace feelings and actions to an abyss beyond our comprehension, into the realm of supernatural forces or the dark recesses of the human mind.
In order to realize what rage is, we must search for its biological underpinnings, even if we find our present knowledge can only partially explain it. Rage must not continue as a haven for supernatural and mystical forces beyond our power to direct. It cannot continue as part of a laundry list of psychiatric terms that describe unconsciously directed antisocial behavior but give us no avenue to treat it when it becomes uncontrollable. And it cannot carry on without a model with which we can study it, able to control when it begins and ends. Our investigation will compel us to view rage and rabidity, through its primary advocate, the rabies virus, as critical questions for understanding our own most basic behavior and some of our most enjoyed myths and legends.
Rage is an essential part of life. Defensive rage protects animals and their young from imminent predation. It can bring out a strength and ferocity that seem, well, superhuman. Rage, as excessive force, is often directed less at a specific target than at the world in general. It is gauged to deter the worst possible threat before the true severity of the threat can be determined. Tantrums that can include hitting and biting are common in toddlers. However, these overt behaviors are strenuously drummed out of standard human behavior. They can be dangerous to life and to civil interactions, and they abrogate rational, civilized discussion and compromise. If we did not conquer our rage, it would lead to untold fighting — even more than the world endures already. And yet, feelings and actions of rage frequently try to break out from our bonds of civility, forcing us to fight back their overt expression. And then we wonder where they came from, how they so easily overpower us without warning. It’s as if we’ve been taken over by…