I’ve been concerned about outrage culture for quite a while, because I recognize that it makes it almost impossible to actually resolve social problems. The many, many people who perpetuate outrage culture generally don’t think that they’re doing anything wrong. They’re just expressing a perfectly natural feeling, and that ought to be respected.
I completely agree that we don’t need to disrespect people for expressing their feelings of outrage. What I do find problematic is that those feelings are often left unprocessed and unresolved. Or worse, that they also pile up for years with no resolution. It’s easy for this to happen, given how many things there are to be outraged about, things both legitimate and trivial.
Global sex trafficking, for example, is one thing that I feel outraged about. How can I expect to successfully process my emotions and come to a resolution about a problem I can barely make any progress toward solving? How can I keep the self-righteous anger from rolling on and on, waves of outrage crashing against the shore of my heart for the rest of my life?
Well, I can pick a course of action that eventually leads me to being able to contribute effectively to a solution, or at least a mitigation of the problem. I can work hard for years, build up the resources and the networks that can help to address the problem, and then create a non-profit organization to accomplish the goal. Or I can volunteer for a non-profit that’s already doing it. Or I can donate what I can to such a non-profit.
These are all good things, and they can reduce or eliminate an individual’s outrage, but not all individuals are willing to reduce their outrage. To those who think that to be authentic is to follow one’s feelings wherever they may lead, to reduce one’s outrage, to abandon the tidal wave of emotion locking us into our behavioral orbit, is to be dishonest, disingenuous, lacking integrity.
And so they cannot, in good conscience, give up their outrage. They will cling to it as if it were their very self, because to them it is indeed their very self. This makes them particularly vulnerable to what I call outrage mills, publications that produce content designed to generate and continue outrage against the bad people, against the members of the other tribe whose evil cannot be tolerated.
And so it’s a zero-sum game in which there is only victory against the evil tribe; defeat is not an option. Thus it becomes a war of outrage, a contest of righteous indignation. Both tribes enter the battle at full tilt in the war of worlds, putting as much spin as they can on their own goodness and the evil of the other tribe.
It may seem hopeless, but sometimes people are willing to tilt at the outrage windmill, and there are some who like to use the weapon of outrage against them. There are some who like to hoist the outrage warriors on their own petard. Which is especially easy to do with those who claim to be interested in wide-ranging dialogue and then shut it down when a gay man doesn’t share their views and pokes them so as to get them to show their lack of integrity.
His tactic is to shatter their illusion of their own righteousness, to throw their own arguments in their faces, to use their own progressive analytical approaches to tear down their claims. It might work, but I think it’s more likely to just increase their outrage and continue the cycle of being offended.
It takes the healing of the human heart to stifle the power of outrage, and no matter how good your offense, it may not be a defense against the power of the broken heart to rage against all that is aggravating its wounds.