Opining on The Origin of Outrage Culture

My friend Carl Carter posed an interesting notion on Facebook, that I share here:

I’m not a big scripture quoter, but reflecting on our instant collective condemnations of distant people and things we’d never hear of but for Facebook, “Matthew 7:3 comes to mind: Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”

What’ll today’s viral outrage be? A tacky note left on a car? (I suspect half those are faked clickbait anyway.) Yet another police shooting video?

Whatever it takes to escape our own little reality…

That prompted my thought:

escher-crystal-ballWe have always been connected to a smaller sphere of immediate proximity. Now we are connected to the world at large, and we seek some sort of commonality to make the proximity less awkward.

So we share outrageous outrages, that are of little importance to any of our lives, but serve to give us a sense of belonging and communal head-nodding and finger-wagging.

It makes the Big Empty less scary.


There are many other forces at work in determining what we share and why. Have you identified your own triggers? Share in the comments.

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  1. Hey there mate,

    I’d disagree that we wouldn’t know about things – the news has always been around us, big and small. It’s up to us to be aware of it.

    As many others have said on various channels (not just Facebook) who defines what outrages us? Who defines what upsets us? Who defines what makes us sad for the human race?

    There’s no “either or”, as Olivier Blanchard mentioned over on a Facebook discussion about why people were upset about a lion being killed by a US “hunter”, and not kids getting shot in the streets.

    The truth is, people can (and DO) care about both, and more. So why do we feel the need to opine about what’s important?

    By saying something others are sad or angry over is less important than something else counters the whole “outrageous outraged” thinking, and simply adds to the whole finger-waving rhetoric that’s being complained about to start with.


    • Well, I can’t speak to the comments of people who deliberately blocked me…

      But I can agree with you that outrage has always existed. However, what has changed is the distance. 100 years ago, when people did shocking things, the people who wanted to punch them in the nose were close enough to make that happen. And they were close enough to friends and relatives of the jerk that there would be consequences. There were mobs clamoring for mob justice, but there was something visceral about it.

      Once you get more than a certain distance away, all you have is your outrage. And everyone outside of that gate is in the same predicament – we can care, but we can’t do much else but signal how much we do care.

      Ah… but now we can do more than that. We can doxx the guy, or we can SWAT him, or we can slam his Yelp page… small little actions, but which can be multiplied tens of thousands of times over. It’s death by paper-cut, and permanent search-engine assassination. Maybe the jerk deserves it. But maybe he doesn’t. None of the individual paper cuts is the cause of death, but the collective slicing leaves one in painful tatters.

      I don’t have the answers. Not by a long shot. This is about making sure that we don’t establish collective responses and cultural actions without asking the right questions.

      Good on you, Mate.

  2. Brad Fisher says:

    Our friend Carl’s post also resonated with me. I don’t think people think that these zeros and ones they sling around on SM are real. The people aren’t real. The events aren’t real. So you can say anything, and it doesn’t matter. I hope that these ranters wouldn’t be as vitrolic in person. Or maybe I’m just kidding myself.

    • Glad I touched a nerve (in a gentle, and non-painful manner.)

      See above – the distances involved between the outraged and the outrageous make real visceral punishment impossible. And you’re right – sticks and stones may break bones, but it turns out words can hurt you.

      God forbid we crucify someone online, and later find them to be innocent. Back to the death-by-paper-cut meme, there are many executions that are carried out by three people flipping a switch, such that each is unsure they had the live trigger, and a greater than not chance it was someone else. Now if that is spread out among 10,000 people, how easy it is to make your cut and walk away vindicated, and blameless.

  3. Dave Dix says:

    Astute thinking.