Living in a State of Constant Outrage is Going to Kill Us
Back in the fall, I wrote about how I worried that we were living in an age of outrage. Oh how I look back on those halcyon days of October and think to myself, how is it possible that it could have gotten worse. But amazingly, it did. We have taken outrage to the level of an Olympic endurance sport.
Back in October, I was mostly concerned with people, especially the elderly, getting their outrage buttons pushed over things that really did not matter. But now, I am personally in a daily state of outrage over a million and one things and they all seem to matter. Because they just confound common sense and human compassion.
Consumer protections being rolled back. Environmental protections being rolled back. Gun regulations allowing severely mentally ill people to purchase firearms. Unqualified people running the government. Sloppiness and poor grammar everywhere. Jews getting omitted from Holocaust Remembrance Day!
I’ve talked about how we do ourselves an injustice by allowing outrage to become a cheap and quickly consumed commodity. Because outrage is precious. Like love, it is a limited resource. Most of us, naturally, are not capable of loving everyone with the intensity that we love our own family. Outrage is similar. We cannot have outrage for everything. Otherwise we would not be able to get through the day or accomplish anything at all.
The Atlantic just did a story about how people are so infected by outrage, they can’t get any work done. This is true for me – both at work and on my blog. Other stories offer tips for helping people disconnect from the outrage. It’s an epidemic that we cannot escape from, but whose underlying cause we must not ignore.
We can only endure so much outrage.
Outrage is like the insulin that shoots through our body every time we eat sugar. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at that jolting moment, but the cumulative effect leads to big problems. Constant and severe outrage manifests itself as stress. And when the body remains in a constant high state of alert, the physical and mental impacts are real.
Even worse, this deluge of outrage is so beyond the pale that we risk becoming numb to it all. It’s too overwhelming. Which leads to cynicism, despair and paralysis. But we cannot become numb, or paralyzed. We need to be able to understand what is happening in the world and respond appropriately.
We need to allocate our outrage where it is most needed.
As a nation, we are terrible at this. Once upon a time, the news was a public service, telling us the information that we needed to know, however complicated or unexciting it may have been. Today, the news is entertainment. So instead of concentrating on the problems where humanity is literally laid bare, or where the threat to our health, safety, happiness and well-being actually exists, we are all tied up in hearing about what the president thought of SNL.
The press is trying to figure out how to operate in a world where so many stories are blowing up each day. But they are still doing their best impression of a dog chasing a ball, not really able to figure out (or care) what merits more focus, or what should be ignored. And it sucks because they are the ones who get to ask the questions. So we are stuck reading about nonsensical tweets instead of, has anyone heard a plan for healthcare yet? (And I’m sorry, why can’t they use quotations instead of showing it in tweet form? It would blow everyone’s mind if we looked at illiterate tweets as actual quotes instead of as a screen grab.)
Time to edit your outrage diet.
There are traps for lazy minds everywhere. Instead of taking for granted that every news story is equally important, thoughtful people need to start making some judgements, or we are going to collectively lose our minds. This means that we need to look at things that are genuinely galling, gather our coldest dispassion and say “hmm, ok, that’s ludicrous” and move the frak on. Watch:
Hmm, ok, the President said that a store not carrying his daughter’s products was an attack on him, ok, that’s ludicrous. But probably not going to bring down civilization as we know it. Wait, what was that, Congress wants to kill the rule that limits overdraft fees and do away with the fiduciary rule that protects investors – what the freaking goddam hell is that about?!
We need to look away from the grotesque shiny bait and focus instead on those smaller, possibly less exciting headlines because that’s where all the news that will actually affect our life is quietly happening.
I have the easiest trick for figuring out what to pay attention to.
It’s not the president. It’s Congress. The president is a flash grenade throwing outrage factory. But contrary to his recent spectacles, there is little he can do on his own. Congress is the name of the game in this country. It’s where all the action is. Congress writes the laws. Congress allocates the funds. Congress declares war. Congress bestows powers to the Executive. And Congress is as quiet as a mouse right now, stealthily setting policies in motion that will appease large corporate donors while doing harm a lot of ordinary people and the environment. Business as usual.
So let’s keep our eye on the ball. Tune out every tweet and asinine quote from the president and listen very closely to what is happening in the halls of Congress. Direct your actions there, if you are so inclined.
And if you are one of the good people who have faith that Congress and the president are going to enact policies that will improve the country and help the little guy, as opposed to Goldman Sachs and Exxon, I pray you are correct and I envy your sound sleep.
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