Can We Just Ban Outrage?

Can We Just Ban Outrage?

Outrage is everywhere, lurking behind every news development around the world. Now it also includes my red Starbucks cup, and no, not because Starbucks serves a pumpkin spice latte (an absolutely outrageous drink). I didn't even notice the red cup yesterday until I learned there was something to be outraged about (and then was completely outraged once I discovered that I wasn't outraged about this outrageous event and had completely wasted my time).

Of all the emotions that have been heightened by the internet, outrage has to be the one that is most ... outrageous. It is the glue that holds so many stories together – political or not. It drives the press cycle, since first you have to have an event, then the outrage to the event, and then the outrage about the outrage, finally ending with me meta-complaining about the concept of outrage itself.

I am really sick of it. Outraged, really.

Maybe I am not like other people, but I just don't have enough bandwidth to be outraged all day. I find outrage to be tiring, and so I just let things slide. When the Green Line failed this weekend on the T, I didn't become outraged, but rather conducted the appropriate response by complaining bitterly on Twitter:

You can "Heart" that all day my friends.

The problem with outrage is that it is among the least useful emotions. It goads people to anger and frustration, and allows us to avoid the underlying problems with a situation. What was once reserved for the largest scandals has now become so commonplace as to lose all meaning and substance.

This is particularly true with writing. I can't tell you the number of times on Facebook I have read "this article is so outrageous" (conveniently, always with a link to the article in question, ensuring the profits of the publisher). Few commentators seem willing to go beyond their cries of outrage to describe the actual problems they have with a piece, or how they might go about solving what they see as the problem. It's just outrage, full stop.

If you can't read a piece by a Tea Party supporter and an Occupy Wall Street supporter without feeling outrage, I would suggest that you haven't learned how to consume media analytically. We should all be able to read widely, even pieces that we strongly disagree with or that question some of our fundamental values. These sorts of pieces are critical to a well-functioning democracy and a marketplace of ideas, and ensure that we can have dialogue in society.

If I have one suggestion, it is to take more of the emotion out of our daily reading. Just cool down! Except if it is a pumpkin spice latte, in which case, OUTRAGE.

Image by TheGiantVermin used under Creative Commons.