The value of outrage

Noah Berlatsky published a piece in The Atlantic on the pernicious (and recurring) trend of policing strong emotions — primarily “outrage” — as “unserious” in favor of “respectability” and “civility.” He looks at some historical examples of amped-up political and cultural outrage from well before the internet age and muses on its role in moving democracy forward. Here’s just a tiny taste:

The Ferguson and Eric Garner protests have been heavily promoted, organized, and in some cases funded on social media. Setting online outrage against “real” organizing neatly sidesteps the knottier truth—which is that outrage and organizing, online and off, are intertwined. The challenge is not to separate out the outrage, but to figure out a way to harness it to meaningful causes.
Outrage will never create perfect justice, because nothing will create perfect justice. It has undoubtedly been and is still used for trivialities, and not infrequently for evil. But the difficult truth of democracy is that without the logic of outrage, it’s hard to strive for a better world.

It’s also a bit frustrating to watch people try to curb or dismiss outrage that comes from a very real place and life experience. What if there aren’t two sides to be heard? (Or at least not two legitimate sides.) What if it’s actually valid to have and express strong emotions? What if being calm, cool, and collected is actually the inappropriate response? The cool cucumbers don’t seem to consider those possibilities.

Which isn’t to say everyone should be outraged, or has reason to be outraged, or should be outraged all the time. But it is to say that it has its place and isn’t automatically unjustified. It also doesn’t make someone automatically less intelligent or less qualified to speak. The content of people’s complaints is probably far more important than the tone.

Bill Humphrey

About Bill Humphrey

Bill Humphrey is the primary host of WVUD's Arsenal For Democracy talk radio show and a local elected official.
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