We dread tempers for three reasons. The first has to do with the primacy of psychiatry in our national life, and the insidious potential danger it poses to us all. In a story about the reaction of the people of Utah to Senator Orrin Hatch's part in the Thomas-Hill hearings, Washington Times reporter Valerie Richardson quotes an anti-Hatch letter sent to the State Democratic Party by an Anita Hill partisan: "As Mr. Hatch's temper flared, his eyes glared, and his voice rose, he himself demonstrated he was the one mentally and emotionally disturbed."
There you have it. Don't get mad because "out of control" has joined the long list of American euphemisms. It means crazy, and if enough armchair psychiatrists pin the rose on you, people will believe it. The blood libel is out and the Rorschach libel is in.
The second reason is more fun than a barrel. Losing one's temper is undemocratic — really, it is. Think of sword fights and dueling oaks, think of the Southern hothead known as the "beau sabreur," think of the Southern belle. These people are not peasants because peasants don't have the kind of nostrils that "flare," nor do they carry the riding crops and walking sticks that help get things started.
Getting mad, really mad, is aristocratic, which is elitist, which is verboten. The American object of your un-American explosion will become what is now known as "shaken," because getting mad, really mad, is like using "whom" in an offhand remark in the supermarket. When egalitarian American eyes are not smiling they are flashing inchoate and inarticulate alarm like heat lightning. A nostril-flaring explosion probably wouldn't help a victim of sexual harassment in today's political climate. A Southern-belle tantrum, properly thrown, used to bring a man to his knees, but it was class, not gender, that did the trick. Today, class is more of a damsel in distress than women ever were.
The third reason Americans dread loss of temper is simple. Hey, the country's on the brink of a civil war, and we're trying to delay it as long as possible. The Day the Niceness Stopped is fast approaching, but look on the bright side: At last I shall have been avant garde.