Slow To Outrage

From time to time I find it worthwhile to reflect upon contemporary outrage culture.  For the last few days, I have been treated to a massive degree of outrage about the conservatism of some pro-life Catholic teens.  It does seem as if social media, whatever its intended purposes, has been the means by which people become subjected either to that which outrages them or becomes a means by which they can express their outrage with some aspect of contemporary society about which they improve.  I do not happen to own any MAGA hats in my own collection, and admittedly I am not someone who often wears hats at all, but a school that cannot stand up for those who are soon to be adults who show no particularly terrible taste in political standards and those who believe it to be an outrage that someone would support the idea of making America great again by supporting a moderate populist of the kind of our current president are not the sort of people I want to be associated with.  Indeed, it can be easy to be outraged that someone is outraged by something that is pretty ordinary and not blameworthy in the least.

Indeed, I would like to comment on the way that this outrage spreads.  I know quite a few people who have drastically curtailed if not eliminated their social media presence for a variety of reasons.  It is likely that at least one of those reasons is the problem of outrage that so much of social media encourages.  When I was still active, I managed to spend enough time culling what appeared on my social media feeds that I was able to greatly reduce the sort of material that would outrage me.  We must consider social media, at best, to be a garden filled with spreading plants that one must ruthlessly prune in order to keep them from being unruly.  There are positive aspects to it, especially for those of us with far-flung family and associates who we want to keep in touch with, but social media can easily get out of hand.  We can believe ourselves to be having a positive effect on the world by sharing the outraged views of others and by participating in ferocious online conflict, when our outrage is having a far more negative effect on ourselves as well as how we are seen by others.  As someone who is quite susceptible to expressing my own spleen at the outrageous actions and words of others, I am certainly aware that outrage culture is something that it can be difficult to avoid being a part of.

For a variety of reasons, though, it is best to be slow to outrage.  For one, a great deal of outrage comes about because of false narratives being promoted by those who wish to gain popularity as a result of stirring up discontent.  Perhaps someone wishes to gain or maintain political power in a church through falsely accusing someone of sabbath breaking or falsely accusing others of wishing for heretical changes.  Perhaps someone wishes to deny the confirmation of a principled man because they are afraid he might interfere with their murderous hostility to the unborn.  Perhaps they cannot believe that anyone would want to advertise political beliefs that they view abhorrent despite their being fairly ordinary, and they are so bent out of shape by the idea that someone could think differently from themselves that they accuse those people of the worst sorts of evil.  And it is easy to repay others in kind.  The use of false narratives against those who are relative innocents makes it easy to view those who spread along such false narratives as being forces of evil, whether they are merely deceived or whether they are responsible for the false narratives themselves.  And when someone has in earnest accused someone else of that which they believe to be outrageous, and have been found out to have made false accusations and been castigated and reviled in turn, it is hard to step back and admit that one was wrong, because it would seem to be admitting that one’s behavior was worth savage denunciations in turn.

What happens after the outrage is over?  I have known friendships of mine to be disrupted because of the spread of mutual recrimination and hostility.  No one has ever apologized to me in such cases for having come to false conclusions and acted on them.  They assume that their good faith will protect them from having uttered falsehoods.  Not so.  And even when I have sought to apologize myself [1] for my tendency to be rather quick to ferocious discourse, it is not always clear what one is apologizing for.  I do not feel bad for having exposed evil or for having defended my own honor and dignity, but I do regret things getting out of hand.  And yet it was not my fault entirely that things got out of hand.  Right and wrong are often commingled.  And nowhere is this more obvious than in outrage culture, where we are encouraged to be hostile to certain people because of certain sins that may or may not be present.  How can I be upset at some Kentucky conservative young people for speaking out about political beliefs that I generally share with them?  Does the fact that their views are considered to be outrageous mean that I too am a potential target of these hatemongers and character assassins?  Does my mistrust of those who pass on false narratives make it more difficult for me to behave towards them as charitably as I ought to?  Does it hinder their own goals of being authoritative sources of information and insight?  In a few days or weeks the outrage will go somewhere else, but people will remain whose friendships and relationships and trust has been broken.  A school that cowardly refused to defend the proper views of its students may face the anger of those who were betrayed by its cowardice.  People will find their friendships and other relationships harmed by the poison of activist political discourse.  A group of people will be further convinced that to support Trump or conservatism in general is to be a hateful fascist, as ridiculous as that is.  And none of us will be the better for it in this case or any other one like it.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Slow To Outrage

  1. Catharine Martin says:

    We have to follow God’s example of being slow to anger and quick to show mercy… regardless. It’s a high standard. The anger has to be a righteous one and the sun cannot go down upon our wrath. Even when we are angry for the right reason, we cannot stay that way. Our society is filled with outraged people. They preach tolerance, but are highly intolerant of those who disagree with them. We are engaged in a war of identity; and an un-civil one at that. It is outrageous, but we cannot and must not engage. This is not our world.

  2. Catharine Martin says:

    Our natural core of pride tempts us to get involved and to join the voices of the outraged. God wants us to show mercy; to “sigh and cry” over this wanton world and the society that inhabits it, but we must do so as observers, not as participants. We acknowledge God as ultimate Ruler by doing this. If we give in to the temptation of joining the culture of outrage, we actionize this society as the epitome of what can be achieved and that we have the power to perfect it. This would make God irrelevant. Even though our sense of fairness is sorely tempted, we must always remember who we are. This is the only way for us to be part of His government to come and the peaceful society it will engender.

    • Yes, those are good things to remember. It is very easy for us to get caught up in the continual resentment and outrage and discontent of our present world and to forget whose responsibility it is to fix it.

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