The phone-hacking reaction is no temper tantrum. But the moral deployment of anger takes effort and honesty.
The first day of August announces the end of a month of emotions. July brought disgust and grim vindication, disbelief and horror; but the top note was surely anger. One kind manifested itself in the actions of a gunman murderously scapegoating Islam, feminism and the left. A very different kind led to the Westminster tableaus in which a powerful media empire for once found itself accountable. After months of being dismissed, ordinary people's anger finally returned to British political discourse as a response to be taken seriously.
This momentary transformation of anger from a dirty word into the very currency of political exchange must not recede from collective memory. Let not "public anger" dwindle into inane psychobabble alongside "happiness indices" and "wellbeing surveys". Watching the powerful unmasked was cathartic and encouraging for a citizenry long disenfranchised by the impunity of unbridled wealth and privilege. Recalling this must strengthen our collective hand as resistance to the coalition government's savaging of the public good gathers momentum this autumn.
A clear distinction exists between the widespread moral indignation that forced politicians out of their customary genuflection to media barons and the manufactured righteousness ventilated by the Norwegian terrorist. Real indignation is born not of hatred but of empathy and solidarity with others. It seeks to move beyond the particulars of one's self and community to something more universally human. Our shared anger at Murdoch drew on a humane sense that the sufferings of other people matter and the further exploitation of the already vulnerable is not to be tolerated.
The vicious hatreds of Breivik and his fellow ideologues in Britain and beyond are best defeated by expanding the scope of our own indignation. Hatred is lazy; the moral deployment of anger takes work. It requires the honesty shown by an astonishing recent polemic entitled "I'm starting to the think the left might actually be right", in which the conservative commentator Charles Moore acknowledges: "The rich run a global system that allows them to accumulate capital and pay the lowest possible price for labour. The freedom that results applies only to them. The many simply have to work harder, in conditions that grow ever more insecure, to enrich the few."
It really is that simple. Hacking was one symptom of a more widespread infliction of misery for profit. So in preparation for an autumn of indignation, it is time to cultivate an intelligent anger that refuses the sacrifice of all that matters to gross profiteering. Denounce the shameless erosion of care for disabled, sick and elderly people. Contest working longer for falling real wages and worse pensions – and being told to volunteer unpaid labour for the travesty of "big society".
As fickle pundits warn against "too much outrage" or, like Niall Ferguson, dismiss popular protests as "global temper tantrums", we can turn instead to Stéphane Hessel's recent French bestseller Indignez-vous! (Get Angry), where the 93-year-old former resistance fighter reminds us that indignation motivated him and that "the faculty of outrage" humanises us. Like Los Indignados of Spain, we must become The Indignant, refusing to be dismissed as irresponsible profligates and disorderly rioters because of our rightful outrage at the destruction of education, jobs, benefits and public services. As we finally overcome the indignation deficit, we will repudiate both hateful nihilism and stoical passivity.