Quantum of Outrage

With the polarization of politics today and the rising number of divisive challenges we face there seems to be no shortage of outrage today. Sometimes it’s social policy changing too fast for you, or maybe not fast enough. Sometimes it’s the tension between facts and opinions, especially when religion gets involved. Outrage seems to be the most common currency of policy today.

It is hard to be outraged all the time. It’s both exhausting emotionally and self-defeating as constant outrage prevents the bigger issues from pulling away from the smaller issues. If you are equally upset about all issues, where should your energy go? In any human society you cannot have everything the way you want it when you want it, so attempting to invest in every issue no matter how large or small is self defeating.

At the same time, lack of outrage risks normalizing things that should not be normalized. Just because there are too many things going on to focus your outrage on does not mean any of them should be accepted. You have but a finite amount of outrage you can sustain, but what happens when it’s not enough?

Politicians have started to use the fact that the opposition has a finite amount of outrage to distract them, making them exhaust their outrage on smaller issues to make it easier to pursue larger agendas. This kind of emotional distraction is a weapon of misdirection that is easy to use against large heterogenous groups of people, especially when they lack clear leadership as most groups of humans do. It’s much easier to attack or appeal to the emotions of a larger group than their logic.

I have no suggestion on how to combat the use of outrage as a political weapon, other than that we all need to be mindful of how we are being manipulated on topics we care about. True change takes time, but the emotions of outrage burn brightly for a short time. Consider how to sustain your commitment beyond the short term outrage as there will always be another issue around the corner designed to enrage you anew to distract you once again.

Manipulating populations using emotional triggers is not new to politics, it has simply gotten easier with tools like Facebook and Twitter which have become, essentially, weapons of mass distraction. Those same tools can become weapons against these attacks if we understand what is happening and resist that same manipulation.

I have always had great faith in my fellow citizens, and still have optimism that they are smarter than politicians give them credit. This new wave of attacks will test that faith, and I am hopeful that it leads to a stronger society.