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