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. 


6 thoughts on “The Cathartic Power of Outrage

  1. I agree with you 100%, however I think that there is more to this topic that needs to be addressed. None of this outrage seems organic. Your part regarding “Cecil the lion” and the Rotherham girls is a perfect example of this.

    The media cycle has become the director of all of this outrage. Ever since I was young, I believed that everything that was on the news was accurate and factual. Now, we have opinion pieces masquerading as news.

    If you think back to Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing, there were no less than 3 women lined up to swear before Congress that Kavanaugh was a serial rapist. Ms. Blase-Ford had a kickstarter whose funding soared through the roof based on people donating to her because of her testimony. As soon as Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed, all of these accusers disappeared into thin air and the media stopped reporting on them. Why?

    It no longer served their narrative.

    To me, it seems as though the media is using these tragedies, either real or manufactured, to provoke division within our nation. They are using our natural response to evil to curate and foment a divide between the American people.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

  2. “What will happen and what is happening is a mass inversion as to what a society values.” That is it in a nutshell. Well said, James. We’ve been almost too successful with our needs met so easily that so many of us have nothing to strive for, something our human nature needs. We tend to value what we work for and have earned, but with so much given to us so easily, what we value becomes skewed. I’m not sure how to turn the ship around, although I continue to pray that we can.

    Russ, I agree with your comment about the media trying to divide the nation. Unfortunately, they are achieving their goal of driving a wedge between us that I am not sure we’ll recover from.

    Thanks for the blog posts, James. Please keep them coming. 🙂

  3. When you watch the nightly news, its all doom and gloom. What is the new virus count, how many have died, how many in line just to get some toilet paper… At the end of the nightly news, there is usually a 3-5 minute segment with some feel-good story, how someone is giving back to the community, getting groceries for the elderly, etc… but at that point, how many people have changed the channel by then? Feel-good stories are not the narrative anymore and the great toilet paper shortage of 2020 is helping fuel the fire of pandemonium.

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