October 18, 2015

The Age of Outrage

The dominant mode of expression in the Internet Age seems to be outrage. This isn’t an original observation, I’m sure, but it’s always striking how social media (taking their cues from precursors like Usenet) encourage a sort of self-righteous outrage to take over individuals, groups, discussions, and forums. Many people seem willingly-defined (and even self-defined) by their particular outrage triggers (e.g. cultural appropriation, meat-eating, and big game hunting, to name just three I’ve already seen today at first hand), and by the way they express that outrage.

Judging just by my Twitter and Facebook feeds, there seems to be something deeply pleasurable in feeling outraged (I suspect it’s a species of the pleasure people feel in self-righteousness); and the sort of technology underlying so much modern interaction seems to be unusually congenial to expressing that outrage — and to making that outrage and its effects felt. Never before has it been so easy to channel or broadcast your outrage so widely and publicly, and to have it turn into the sort of satisfying mob justice-at-a-distance that so many seem to crave. Never before has an individual’s sense of outrage been so powerful — and so easily and effectively deployed against mostly-innocent people and in the name of mostly-trivial causes (that line itself will cause outrage).

If you define yourself by — and / or get high on — outrage, you don’t want it to stop, you need a constant source of outrage to get through life, to keep you standing out from others, to give you a purpose in life.

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