Why We’re Addicted to Online Outrage

How does outrage serve us? How does it serve you? Share your thoughts disinfonauts.

Zola aux outrages

Zola aux outrages (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

via The Week

When faced citizen to citizen in real-life social situations — with the notable exception of mass political demonstrations — the instincts that outrage porn tries to awaken in us are mostly suppressed or barely felt at all. Imagine treating the person sitting next to you at a bar with the touchy insolence of an internet flame war, or re-interpreting his colloquial impressions about the world according to the tendentious and aggrieved norms of the combox. It’s almost impossible. A guy could get his ass kicked trying. We usually tolerate the bar-stool ingrate, seek points of understanding (and often find a few), or dismiss him as deluded and mostly harmless.

But bathed in the glow of our computers, we imagine that we are in a battle of titanic scale. And it’s either us, spotless and infallible, or them, dastardly and shameless.

On one level, “outrage porn” at least promises to stimulate an internet grazer who is bored at work, or perhaps even bored with life. It makes him feel like an actor in a great moral struggle, either as victim or as triumphant voice of justice. Indeed, savvy media organizations train their headline writers to find the “stakes” that matter to readers, and one way to do that is to generate anxiety about being in the unfairly hated or the righteously hating parts of American life.

But I’d suggest tentatively that there may be deeper trends at work. The desire for this kind of participation in the drama of public life may be exacerbated by the decline of civic participation, and a quiet despair that our precious franchise amounts to a mere 1-in–100 million say in the affairs of the nation. Constantly minded by others above us (managers, landlords, creditors) and feeling rather powerless as political actors in the real world, the virtual mob seems attractive.

Another reason for our outrage addiction may be found in the way the norms of traditional liberalism are dissolving before a more moralized politics. In a perceptive 2001 essay for National Affairs, Thomas Powers argued that traditional liberalism sought “to lower the stakes of politics by removing contentious moral (and religious) opinion to the private sphere. Political life thereby becomes a less morally charged matter of presiding over competing ‘interest groups,’ whose squabbling is amenable to compromise.”

Powers went on to argue that when fundamental justice and morality are reintroduced into politics, and when the beliefs and attitudes of citizens become the potential subject of state action (through amelioration, re-education, or official stigma), people are more likely to fight — and to fight with dread in their eyes.

 

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  • BuzzCoastin

    tbe precursors of the internet
    telegraph, telephone, radio, television
    turned humans into disembodied ghosts
    (we’re on the air)
    a complete different existence from our pre-electric daze
    humans are now trying to establish a connection to physical reality
    violence, vitriol and vengeance
    are attempts to reconnect with physical reality

  • Thurlow Weed

    Online I am relatively anonymous and at least a few steps away from physical attack. This makes any forum the island in the film “Lord of the Flies”. I can be the good boys or the bad, depending on how I feel at any particular moment. I blame my parents for everything else.

    • echar

      Are you ever Piggy?

      • kowalityjesus

        sucks to your ass-mar.

  • Juan

    I was pretty well outraged by this recent piece on Disinfo.

    http://disinfo.com/2014/03/cia-rape-iraqi-children-front-parents/

    It’s kinda hard not being outraged when faced with some of this stuff. What are you supposed to do when confronted by the fact the military and various “intelligence” agencies are raping children In front of their mothers, FFS!? Besides that, they are also perpetrating a shitload of other atrocities.

    • Anarchy Pony

      Smash the deep state.

    • InfvoCuernos

      What outrages me about our government’s conduct overseas is the fact that, while they are doing all this heinous abuse, their telling us that regime change is important for the poor people of those nations so they don’t get abused by their own government. We are looking at the actions of generations of institutionalized psychopathy with all the most advanced technology and the world’s most powerful military at their beck and call.

      • Juan

        I think psychopathy is key here.
        I posted somewhere else on here that our world is run by super villians. Psychopaths=super villians.
        They are sick. Unfortunately, they run this circus, right now.
        They can’t all be psychopaths though, can they?

  • Gjallarbru

    In my experience the phone can offer the same phenomena.

    One of my clients decide he would berate me over the phone in very “colourful” terms. My reaction was to somewhat forcefully, yet calmly, remind him that at some point he would have to physically be in front of me. I also told him I doubted he could or would hold the same speach if he could but see the look on my face. He suddenly realised he wasn’t going to have the privilege of berating me at a distance for ever. His “outrage” dissipated at the contemplation of being in front of me. Yes, I am gifted with an imposing stature.

    Outrage is relative, a construct based on a set of moral values. The internet, the phones, or in person, what determines the “outrage” is artificial. Outrage is always fake. Outrage is not an act, it is a statement, with no inherent value. Only when you are moved to act is there inherent value to be found.

    So I don’t care for outrage much, no matter the circumstances. I do care for what is done about the outrage.

    • kowalityjesus

      Cool story, bro.

      Some people have a demoniac power to elicit outrage. If you aren’t at a certain [spiritual] maturity you are susceptible to it. I’ve experienced it before and it’s weird. Then there’s totally inexplicable feelings of ecstasy, like I had a couple months ago for the duration of a church service. It was like I was in love, but without an object of desire.

      • Gjallarbru

        Yes, some people seem particularly talented at outrage. Either generating it or having it. It is bizarre anyone would want to live like that.

        Ecstasy is that opposite of outrage so few ever experience (with ot without drugs). Oddly, I often have that feeling of ecstasy in a forest, if left to myself. I tell you, I can feel the divine much more among trees than in any temple. Being alone in a forest often elicit the feeling my soul stretching enough to engulf the Universe. It is way more interesting than feeling outrage to say the least.

        • Thurlow Weed

          Outrage is a source of motivation to right the wrong that elicits the reaction in you if you choose to channel it that way. Soul-stretching among the trees never led to the emancipation from oppression of millions of people. Many philisophies purporting to be about liberating one’s inner self leads people to deactivate their will to resist the external oppression that first interrupted their waltz through the forest.

          • Gjallarbru

            An emotional response is not necessary for action. Reason should be enough. But if you need that personnally to act, that’s fine by me.

          • Thurlow Weed

            Enough for who, Ideal people in a story book? What about real people in the world as it is now? We need motivation. The response isn’t necessarily emotional just because an emotion played a part in helping us to focus on a task that needs to be done. Reason should be enough, yes, but it ain’t.

          • Gjallarbru

            The problem here is that you imagine that your perspective should apply without reserve, even to me.

            So I will tell you this. Too many times have I acted upon an emotion, to later see that I should have tought some more, a lot more. I am not prone to wild emotions, yet they have gotten in the way much too often. So after a while, I decided emotion was to be a second class citizen in what motivates me. This of course, includes the emotion of outrage.

            From this perspective, I have seen that “outrage” is pretty much fake. I have learned to look only at what is done, not the over the top emotion that is outrage. The same level on conviction can be achieved, in a more stable manor, by other means than outrage. Outrage, like passion, tends to die out rather quickly.

            And to be clear, I will tolerate “outrage” in others, so long as they don’t disrespect me. It is fairly clear that such emotion is necessary for some if not most people. I also understand that my perspective might not apply to you, or even the majority of the world.

            And yes, most of my decision are purely rational. I avoid decision based on my emotions like a plague. I function well, and none who know me would say I am idle in any way. I also don’t think I am a story book character! ;)

            I would add that intuition will, on occasion, instruct the exploration of new paths. But, even then, reason will make the final decision. Emotions, on the other hand, have usually lead to nothing but less than optimal situations.

            Shall we agree to disagree?

          • Andrew

            Don’t tell Buzz Coastin that.

        • kowalityjesus

          Yeah I have read that ecstasy is the aurelium of the spirit. Rare and precious in the universe. You go with your forest dwelling thing. That sounds profound.

  • InfvoCuernos

    I’m always surprised at the things that make me feel “internet outrage”. I think its partially due to desensitization, but the idea that there are people that can read and reason out there that actually believe that we did NOT go to the Moon bugs me like sand in my butt crack. Never mind all the hundreds of youtube videos of cop abuse, or stories about our Orwellian Government in general.

    • echar

      It’s starting to bother me that everything is a conspiracy these days. It saddened me that people were calling the Collin birthday deal a conspiracy. That could have undermined the loving intention a mother showing her child who has difficulties making friends, that he has friends. Little dude has 2.1 million of them now. Yet some douchers want to piss in the well with their nonsense.

      • kowalityjesus

        they’re called disinfo agents. mercenaries of anarchy. or idiots. but it’s hard to determine from text which is which.

        • echar

          Most like the latter two.

        • Andrew

          Astrofoil?

          • Jonas Planck

            Sockturfers.

      • Andrew

        It seems to me most things are conspiracies of one sort or another, but a plethora of tiny conspiracies rather than one huge conspiracy. However I admittedly had a rather extreme childhood, overflowing with deceit among other things, so that undoubtedly affects my perceptions. Much of it can be put down to cognitive baises.

        • echar

          I understand. I had a challenging experience growing up as well. I feel that things just happen, or we do it to ourselves. Especially if we are looking for the those things to happen.

    • kowalityjesus

      Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble,
      whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is
      admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such
      things. Philippians 4:8

      Think about Opti and I before you give in to rage. The Castanedan “flyers” feed off your emotional fervor. LISTEN TO THIS: https://vimeo.com/58395458

      • echar

        Bill Evans is the cat’s ass! He worked with Miles Davis… Do you know Eumir Deodato? If this doesn’t raise spirits, nothing will.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SYS9OTNrd-4

        His version of Also sprach Zarathustra is magical. It’s from the movie Being There. If you haven’t seen that one, you must. It’s Peter Seller’s last film.

        • Juan

          “I like to watch.”

          • echar

            That part, no matter how comical and awkward, is such a waste of fine older pussy.

  • echar

    What I find strange is that being outraged is a choice, and I commonly feel stupid for choosing to be outrage. I am not my feelings, yet sometimes they can influences my choices in negative ways. People that defend the Koch brothers tend to bother me.

    I think to myself, how can you be so stupid to think they are great Americans. Ones that create jobs and shit out societal panacea like golden eggs. Or whatever other argument they tend to use. Different strokes, I suppose.

    • Andrew

      Don’t be so hard on yourself. Emotional reactions are limbic level choices, not rational level choices. It’s a matter of training yourself over a period of time, not a simple, momentary decision.

      • echar

        Thank you. I am getting a better at it.

        • Andrew

          It helps me to scream obscenities at the computer screen before I try to type something reasonable while grinding my teeth.

          • echar

            It can be good anger management.

          • kowalityjesus

            If I had to respond with the first thing I thought all the time, I would have been ostracized as a fool and cretin long ago.

          • Andrew

            I’d be dead.

          • Juan

            I hear ya, brother.
            My problem is my reactions show up all over my face. So even though, I may be able to keep my mouth in check, I have no idea how to hide my facial expressions.
            I have no poker face. Oh well . . .

      • Juan

        Yes, I am just starting to figure that out. It is not simply a matter of deciding I will not react emotionally to whatever and that’s that. Oh noooo, we’re talking about work, training, discipline and perseverance to make it actually stick.
        Some things are simpler and will yield to just deciding to not be upset in the moment, others require struggle.

  • kowalityjesus

    There is SO MUCH to be said about this, I am so glad that we are finally becoming meta-cognizant of the situation we face in online advocacy and activism. The outrage monkey has grown so fat with injustice exposed.

    Alan Watts, The Game of Good and Evil runtime 2:34
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAeNTZk8wtE

  • Jonas Planck

    Dopamine addiction. How many times do I have to say it? Outrage is a drug more powerful than crack, more debilitating than heroin. People don’t argue online to express their opinions or convince others that they’re right… they argue to get a fix of those sweet, sweet endorphins. It’s why nobody ever stays on subject… discussions are boring, and can’t trigger enough chemical release to satisfy the monkey on our backs. We have to WIN the discussion to get that fix. This is why you see all these people pretending they know everything who can’t extrapolate their alleged “knowledge” any farther than “HAH! You said something that was wrong and/or stupid! Now ADMIT IT! ADMIT YOU ARE INFERIOR TO ME!!!” …sure, it appears immature and silly on the surface, but there’s a good solid, logical reason for it. We’re junkies, and withdrawal makes us loopy.

    • Andrew

      > How many times do I have to say it?

      Twenty to thirty times per person you wish to convince.

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