The Cathartic Power of Outrage

I recently witnessed a young child, say three or four, having a vein-popping meltdown at the grocery store.   (One of those high-end grocery stores where one can sense unspoken judgment upon being caught in the salty-carb aisle.) Myself and the other shoppers did our best to ignore the tantrum, but our collective awkward sidesteps left little doubt we would all be sharing details of the spectacle when we returned home. For toddlers, they can be forgiven. And this mother, to her great credit, barely reacted at all.  Not wanting to assign merit to bad behavior. But for adults in this current age, the temper tantrum is alive and well. Alive and well rewarded.

We live in a time where people appear to derive a genuine high from being outraged.  There must be some chemical buzz, a release of endorphins, that is generated when we see or hear something that can justify a social media blast.  And in turn, many are rewarded by who can feign the most outrage with the most hyperbolic language.  Everything is a crisis.  Everything will result in certain doom.  Everyone needs to be “slammed” and confronted with an ALL CAPS digital take-down followed by an exclamation point. Everyone with whom we disagree is the worst person in the history of the Universe.  

This is not a positive development either for the individual or the society. 

For the society, its natural path is to make trivial that which used to matter and to make important that which used to be trivial.  Ask a friend or colleague about Cecil the Lion and they will likely be able to tell all about how the regal beast was slain by a heartless dentist.  Then ask the same individual about the Girls of Rotherham and you will likely receive a blank stare.  You can tell a lot about a society by what causes it to tweet profanity in hysterical fits and receive praise in the forms of red hearts and thumbs up icons.  You can also tell a lot about a society that sees scores (over a thousand) of young girls forced into rape gangs and suffer mock executions; and responded first with denial, then with cover up, and finally with a yawn.  It is not a society on the ascent.

For the individual, it makes them weak.  Strong, confident, independent people are not easily offended.  The perpetually outraged do not have a greater empathy for the world’s suffering. And no, they are not better informed either.  What they do have is a high approval of themselves.  It is profoundly cathartic to string some cuss words together and get some likes. They have made the calculation that there is more to be gained, in terms of societal acceptance certainly, and financial benefit occasionally, by being as mad as possible.  All the time.

On a weekly basis one could pull dozens of news headlines which would imply the end times are imminent.  When religious figures speak of Armageddon on the horizon they are mocked.   When editorial writers speak of it they are given highly paid columns and cable news appearances.  For the record, I don’t think either is correct.  Civilization will not come to end due to man-made carbon emissions or dwindling church attendance.   What will happen and what is happening is a mass inversion as to what a society values.  And what it deems outrage-worthy.

Only those who live a life of true comfort can behave this way.  That is, those who all have all of their basic needs met; food, clothing, shelter. Add to that the relatively recent phenomenon of binge watching and what you get is a uniquely bored society. A well-educated, well paid population that is so desperate to be offended they had to invent the micro-aggression as a way of staying agitated.

 In modern times we seem to be connected far more as a community by what brings us rage than what brings us joy.  Perhaps we would do well to react as this mother did with her child. Ignore the trivial and do not reward the tantrums. 


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