Oxford dictionary has the following definitions for “outrage”
· An extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation – noun
· Arouse fierce anger, shock, or indignation in (someone) – verb
These ring true, but Oxford could serve to update the definition with a third.
· A tool used for political gain by politicians, media outlets, and the general public alike – noun
We live in a culture consumed by outrage. The verb is used to create the noun, which leads to more of the verb, then consequently more of the noun. A continuous feedback loop.
Outrage has grown to be its own currency. We give and receive it in larger and larger doses every passing day and unlike any of its counterparts in a debate—facts, data, analysis—we never run out of outrage, there is always more. Always louder, always angrier, always feeling victimized.
This culture did not develop this way by accident. It is we, the people that have asked for it. We ask for it every day. You may think you don’t want it, but it will be what your eyes drift to watch, to read, what your ears tune in to listen to. It entertains us, and boy, do we want to be entertained in 2017.
Since we respond mostly to outrage, it is no surprise that it is exactly what we experience in our everyday lives; garbage in, garbage out. Those outlets we formally turned to for news, facts, research, and analysis only intermittently touch on these things. Instead, they dish out larger and larger quantities of outrage. If they stray from that, we stop paying attention. Unknowingly, we have subconsciously created the expectation that all content should be fed to us in this manner.
Politicians understand this too. While outrage has always been a tool in their belt, they seem to wield it more and more these days. Publicity, especially on the national level matters a lot in deciding who gets re-elected and who gets replaced. As a result of this, politicians have to use outrage more and more since we, the consumers keep demanding for more, looking seemingly insatiable. Now, following the rise of Donald Trump, who utilizes outrage like no one before him, we can expect even more politicians to head in the same direction.
The allure of outrage makes sense; it combines so many behaviors and mental traits that humans commonly fall back on.
To be outraged means we are right and they are wrong. We like to be right.
To be outraged means we are morally superior. We love to feel morally superior.
To be outraged is to play the victim. We all yearn for sympathy.
To be outraged is to vent, to get it off our chests. That is a good feeling.
To be outraged is to demand attention. We love attention more than just about anything else.
All of these feelings and emotions are wrapped up in outrage. It’s catnip for humans. We love it when we get it, and we lose interest without it.
Do not get me wrong; outrage absolutely has a place in our culture, as well as our political arena (observed in chapter 9). However, it shouldn’t be all encompassing, and the fact that this is the reality of things poses a significant threat to our political system.
Outrage is the weapon that drills into the middle of our political spectrum. Slowly spinning downward, driving our two sides apart, and leaving an ever widening divide between us. The middle of our spectrum is where we used to be able to meet, engage, discuss, and compromise. Now, outrage has caused such a mammoth divide; we can’t even speak about our ideas amicably amongst each other, we are all out of earshot.
This problem of outrage is what I am here to discuss. What it is, what it affects, where it leads, and how we can possibly fix it.
How This Book Will Work
We’ve broken everything down into six sections; we will be following a cycle, tending to each problem one step at a time and proffering solutions to these problems. Here is a summary of how it will play out.
Part One - A Culture of Outrage
What does “culture of outrage” mean? We define it and look at where it has led us. Loss of meaning of words is examined; why things like “best,” “worst,” “great,” “horrible,” and others no longer represent their real definitions. Examples abound as the necessity of outrage is deconstructed, as well as the use of marginal groups to explain the majority.
Part Two - The New Media Bias
Outrage influences all, but its greatest victim is the news media. Bias has always played a role within the news media, although its influence constantly fluctuates in size. However, today’s outrage culture has driven the bias to new heights and new formats. We will look at the history of bias, where the team lines are drawn across the industry, and of course President Trump’s favorite term, “fake news.”
Part Three - Politicians React
Politicians have had to react in new ways to our new culture. We argue that these changes have been detrimental to our system, leaving us in a place where little gets done, and compromise has become the dirtiest word in Washington. In need of attention, outrage has been honed as a tool by those in power and has led to a strong “team” mentality that appears unbreakable for now.
Part Four - Isolation of the People
The new media landscape, the rise of social media and other technologies, coupled with our desire to be right, has all culminated to a time in history where we are becoming incredibly isolated. Confirmation bias runs rampant in our culture of outrage, leading to unchallenged ideas becoming the mantra of each side of the political aisle.
Part Five - Cycle Repeats, Downward We Go
Putting it all together, this section takes the previous four parts and summarizes them into the downward cycle we are currently witnessing, with outrage at the very center. We’ll delve into how all these things are connected, and the consequences of other outside influences which enhance the speed of our spiral.
Part Six – Taking Action
We finish up the book on a hopeful note. We take a look at the positive side of outrage, as well as some solutions for all the negatives. I’m not here to advocate for the complete elimination of outrage. It has proven to be pivotal in many positive movements recently and throughout history. We will always need some outrage, just in more targeted, worthwhile areas.
Change needs to take place, and it all begins with the people. Hopefully, you will leave this section with applicable tools to help correct this downward cycle, flip it on its head, and start moving upwards as a society once again.
Context on Me
You the reader deserve some background on the person presenting this argument, so let me lay it on the line.
I’m a registered Democrat. I don’t love the two party system (my ear will always tune into an argument for change in this area), but I respect that it is what we have, and therefore, I’ll acknowledge where I fall on that spectrum. I’m center left, but I’m a lot further right compared to where I was only a few months ago. My experience getting to this position helped open my eyes to what is now the crux of this book. You see, I didn’t know a thing about politics until maybe two years ago, early 2015.
I grew up in the small town of Bryan, Ohio. (If you have ever sucked on the delicious delicacy that is a Dum Dum sucker, you’re welcome). National politics didn’t really come up much there; at least they didn’t while I was growing up. The only politics we were concerned with was the kind that led to so and so making the baseball team because of his last name. Pretty low-level stuff.
My family didn’t influence my political position either; they weren’t politically inclined. The only time I remember anything coming up was every couple of years when a new school levy would be on the ballot. My wonderful mother, having a long career in education as both a teacher and an administrator, was heavily involved in getting those passed. Outside of this local issue, I was oblivious to anything going on.
I remained politically dormant throughout most of my college years; I was more invested in the latest sports gist. I watched SportsCenter, not the evening news. For the first time, however, I did notice my peers caring. I had roommates, friends, and professors, a number of whom were heavily involved. For the duration of the time I spent attending Miami University (Ohio), I was in a bit of a political hotbed. During campaign season for the 2012 election, my campus hosted rallies featuring speakers like First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as the Republican VP Candidate and Miami Alum Paul Ryan. Seeing the passion that oozed from my peers during those events only served to pique my curiosity and I began to realize how ignorant I was about our nation’s political affairs. I wasn’t quite ready to dive in myself, but movements in that direction had begun.
After graduating, I ended up living in Chicago for three years; that was the period when I fully began to wade out into the waters of politics. This was 2013 to 2016, Chicago was then, and still is today, a tumultuous place. So much is going on within that city alone, that not paying attention would take a level of ignorance that even my fortified self couldn’t produce. The local stories plus the (horrifyingly early) beginning of the 2016 presidential campaigns was enough to get me hooked.
The decision to get informed was made. Getting informed was where the problem lay though. Unbeknownst to me, I was joining in the downward cycle that I now point to as needing to be reversed. You see, to get informed, I had to pick outlets to do the informing, and those first choices were key. My first viewings and readings were of liberally biased content. This spiraled quickly. I ended up rather far left in my views or at least, I thought that’s where I was, I didn’t really know any better. As a result of my early viewing choices, I was led to more and more liberally biased sources and content. I heard one side of things and it was presented to me mainly through outrageous content.
Luckily for me, some of my best friends are steady Republicans. As the election loomed, many told me they would be voting for Donald Trump. I wondered how that could be possible. I respected the hell out of these friends. I know them to be incredibly good people; they were caring, smart, and all around stand up citizens. I knew there was no way I could vehemently disagree with them on everything. One side couldn’t always be right. Something was wrong; there must be a piece of the puzzle I was missing.
This led to the realization of the bubble I had created for myself. My liberal tendencies were constantly provoked with no information from the other side of the aisle breaking through. I saw the problem and looked to correct it. I began consuming any conservative commentary I could, ranging from the newspapers and blogs I would read, to the news programs and podcasts I would watch and listen to. A funny thing happened when I did this; I started changing my mind on some things, not everything, maybe not even a lot, but definitely a significant portion. Even areas where my position wasn’t changed, it was at least softened as I felt like I could empathize with the other side of the equation.
This experience led to the vision of the book you are reading now. I stepped back, hoping to examine the whole political arena from an overhead view. What I saw, and what I had been wrapped up in was problematic. I still firmly declare myself a Democrat; I don’t shy away from that. However, with every passing day of research for this book, I found myself closer and closer to the middle. No matter where I lie on the spectrum, I hope to provide with this book an objective overview of a problem that plagues both sides of the aisle. I’m not here to exalt one side over the other because the truth is that at the moment, we could all use some improvements.
One other trait to note is my age. You may have put it together by the above timeline, but just in case you haven’t I’ll help you out. I was born in 1990, which has an impact on the way I think about some issues that come up in this book. My age puts me exactly in the small age range that can remember how mind-blowing the original PlayStation and iPod were. That era; when a large majority of people didn’t have cell phones until high school and even then, they were archaic compared to the pocket-sized computers of 2017. I grew up with our modern technology, so I understand and use most of it. However, I also just got exposed enough to life without all these technological gadgets, so I understand how much our society has evolved in the last couple of decades.
Mostly though, I’m just a normal guy. One who has discovered that caring about this stuff matter. The term silent majority is used often in politics. I put myself in that group, but I disagree that it is always silent. I simply don’t think anyone listens to rational arguments anymore. That “silent majority” is saying something; we (including those in that group) just don’t pay attention. The outer edges make more noise and entertain us more.
One final thought before we get started. The last thing I want to do is come off pretentious like I know better than everyone else because let’s be clear, I do not. As previously stated, I very much was, and certainly still am a part of the problem. This book is a journey for me to be able to say I am less so, possibly to even reach the point where I can confidently declare that I am no longer a part of the problem. This book will aim to look at the problem—one that tens of millions of us help perpetuate every single day—examine its scope and influence, and offer some solutions to escape it. That is what I seek to do here. It takes self-awareness from us all to correct the problems that plague our system.
Sickness envelopes our political landscape. Partisan, divided, fractured, angry; none of these adjectives do justice to how our system really looks right now. Things are falling apart. The consequences of this horrid landscape are starting to show themselves more and more, and they are disturbing. There is no clearer example of this than the shooting that took place in Alexandria, Virginia the morning of June 14, 2017. That day, a gunman motivated by hate filled politics opened fire on a baseball field full of Republican congress members, who were there to practice for a yearly charity event. Four people were shot, including Representative Steve Scalise who was in and out of Intensive Care for weeks following the event. This was an attempt to take the lives of as many leaders of one specific party as possible. If not for the swift and heroic actions by security personnel on the field and the responding police units, the shooter would have accomplished his goal.
The shooting brought our two political parties together for a brief moment, as the game was still played the following day and those on both sides spoke about the need for change in our discourse. Those feelings of togetherness quickly dissipated, as things got back to outrage, anger, and hate within a few days.
If events like the Alexandria shooting are a possibility, then we must grapple with what that means as far as the culture around our politics is concerned. Things don’t have to be the way that they are. We have gotten here due to a culture of outrage that drives us downward, reversing this trend is up to us, the people.
We have greatly underestimated the power of the people. Day to day, we typically cede that power to the government officials, both the ones we elected and the ones appointed by the elected, to corporations and the endless stream of selling. However, the government, the corporations, the wealthy, and the decision makers—whatever group you would like to classify as those in power—they succumb to the people when the people speak up.
Our behaviors, our habits, our actions, all constitute the basis for the actions of those in power. Let’s not forget that.