Outrage has become ‘all the rage’
The editor of a small weekly newspaper, angry about several congressional bills that had recently been passed, published a scathing editorial under the headline: “HALF OUR LEGISLATORS ARE CROOKS.” Many prominent local politicians were outraged and tremendous pressure was exerted on the editor to retract the statement. He finally succumbed to the pressure and ran an apology with the headline: “HALF OUR LEGISLATORS ARE NOT CROOKS.” I couldn’t help snicker as I read that joke, but it also caused me to consider how “outrage” has become “all the rage” in our hyper-connected society. Unfortunately, people, in an effort to identify with a particular movement, interest group, or political party (or to be perceived in opposition to another) almost instantaneously become “outraged” at anything with which they disagree. They “congeal” through social media with other like-minded amoebic beings (perhaps misinformed, uninformed, or willfully ignorant) who proceed to reinforce the “outrage,” resulting in more ignorance, prejudice, hatred, and bigotry. Often, people seem to express “outrage” not when witnessing truly unspeakable things, but when they are simply confronted with uncomfortable facts, challenged by viewpoints not their own, or caught in hypocrisy. In the opening anecdote, the politicians were confronted with facts that made them feel uncomfortable. They felt exposed and, to reference Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the politicians “doth protest too much, methinks.” As a matter of observation, I believe the root of much of today’s “outrage” is hypocrisy-fueled, propaganda-driven, social-media reinforced misinformation or half-truths. George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Beware of false knowledge; it is more dangerous than ignorance.” Sadly, it has become “outrageous” to suggest compromise or diplomacy or statesmanship or understanding or cooperation or humility or mercy; as if doing so will signal to others that we have grown soft. I tend to think of these character traits as mature, adult qualities severely lacking in our government, our social structure, our justice system, our day-to-day communication, and our personal lives. Whatever happened to genuine tolerance? Tolerance, by its very nature, means I can still speak with civility to someone of a persuasion with which I do not agree. Outrage is defined as “an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation” and true, heartfelt outrage does, of course, have its place. We should be outraged, for example, when a child is abused. We should be outraged when a people group is suffering starvation because of an evil, tyrannical government. We should be outraged when someone is brutally killed because of the color of their skin or because they are of a different faith. We should be outraged when an elderly person is cheated out of their limited income by some con-man. We should be outraged when humanitarian aid is cut off from its intended recipients. That sort of righteous indignation captures the moment when outrage can motivate people to take action to thwart evil and stand for goodness. The pathetic “outrage” that is “all the rage” these days and perpetrated by internet trolls with nothing better to do but to sit around and “comment” on others’ social media posts, “tweeting” their outrage and fanning the flames of incivility, is not worthy of acknowledgment. We need more people like that editor who speak truth in an age of deception and counter the “outrage” with authenticity.