Image by Morgan Basham
Everyone on the internet is outraged. We’re outraged about Donald Trump, rightfully furious about the Las Vegas shooter, irate that the United States can’t deal with its gun problem, fuming over that stupid celebrity or regular person who said that insensitive thing. We head over to our favorite social media site, mash together the keys in a blithering rage, and suddenly there’s a torrent of outrage.
People have always been angry, there’s no doubt about that. Wars, battles, and petty grievances have been around as long as there have been humans, and it’s not about to stop now, especially when we access to the outrage machine right in our fingertips.
In a world of fast news and even faster fingertips and opinions, we can have a wealth of opinions right in front of us mere moments after a major event—or even minor faux pas—happens. In the hours after the Las Vegas Shooting was announced, people on all sides of the political spectrum were already writing pieces accusing the as-yet-unnamed shooter of white supremacy, Nazism, connections to Islamic State, being an immigrant, and being a militant feminist. The outrage machine has no political preference. Right-wingers like Paul Joseph Watson and his buddies at InfoWars thrive on outrage, constantly screeching about how furious he is about even the most minor contrivances from those on the Left. You have Laura Loomer, who actually claimed social justice warriors slashed her car’s tires. On the Left, you most notably have Clementine Ford, who rages and damages the livelihoods of anyone who criticizes her in even the most minor way. For all the actual disgusting harassers, she flew into a rage and had a man fired who simply called her “Slut”. Despite her irrelevancy, Brianna Wu can’t get by a couple of days without ranting about her nemesis Gamergate.
The simple answer: We are addicted to outrage. The aforementioned people, and many more, receive attention when they fly into furious rages. They are able to send harassment mobs onto relatively innocent people, ruin livelihoods and even send people to the brink of suicide. That’s a lot of power to hold, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Many people are furious at incredibly relevant topics. You’re allowed to be angry at injustices that occur every day: forced genital mutilation, genocide, perceived rape culture, the rise of white nationalism and communism in the United States. But is it really healthy to be primed for outrage at even the most minor events? When a man who’s just landed a spacecraft on a comet is instead attacked by outrage warriors for the design on his shirt, is that important? What about a professor with opinions you disagree with—like Jordan Peterson or Giraffe Man Michael Isaacson—should they be fired simply because you disagree with their beliefs?
You may respond to this by saying people like Dr. Matt Taylor, and controversial college professors, are actually harming innocent people. Words are dangerous! Yes, words can be dangerous. Anyone who thinks “sticks and stones” has never heard “Arbeit macht frei” or “die cis scum”. However, there is a very distinct line between a minor slip of the tongue, and actual genocide. It’s quite concerning that many people cannot tell the difference between healthy debate and tyranny.
There is a downside to constant negativity. Studies suggest perpetually angry people are poor communicators, worse with empathy than the average person, and less likely to be able to put themselves in the shoes of those with differing points of view. They are also more likely to have health issues, and surely people who wish to deal with society’s injustices don’t want to be spending more time in the ER than helping those they deem marginalized.
It is incredibly easy to feel outrage when you see something you disagree with on the internet or in real life. It’s much harder to be the better person and put the fury you feel to a constructive use. That involves actual effort, and an Outrage Economy rarely rewards positive effort.