Its growing worse, this problem of understanding, this violence of ignorance. Surprisingly, though this is not just a matter of pointing fingers at the common offenders: the social outliers, those full of hate, riddled by fear and motivated by sociopathic greed. This has become an issue too of the righteous, the indignant, the outraged who, quite rightly, identify and attempt to address injustice. The problem isn’t their outrage per se, the problem is that their outrage has become the objective over justice. Anger has become an end rather than a means to motivation. After all, there’s only so much one can do from the confines of a smartphone. Welcome to the internet. Welcome to the Global Outrage Machine.
First context. Most importantly, context. Context, after all, is the problem. Its difficult to establish and process context. Its difficult to relate and absorb context character by character, during lunch break, at a stop light, while waiting for a hamburger. Its easier to be outraged, to allow anger wash through you. But it is not more productive. There are, of course, plenty of things well deserving of outrage: racism and police violence recently, but also economic inequality both domestic and abroad, political inequality, corruption both sanctioned and illegal, various shades of moral turpitude, the list goes on. The constant stream of information provided by our 24 hour news cycle provides an endless font of outrage material. But here’s the thing: there’s never any context to it, never any explanation of why.
Not that knowing why racism is a problem in America makes it any way excusable, but knowing why its exists makes the consequences of racism less surprising to those of us who think such discrimination is patently ridiculous. Knowing context makes things understandable and less, if you will, outrageous, more real, and hopefully more addressable. The temptation to dismiss behavior as “insane” or the actions of a “lone wolf” disappears with context. To stick with the issue of racism, the realization that ALL of the discriminatory positions taken by people regarding other races are the result of over 600 years of social actions and reactions not only helps to understand why racism exists, but more importantly, holds the key to actually addressing it. The solution is to fight specifically against the lessons taught by that history using that history itself: we aren’t in the business of slavery any more, everyone agrees slavery is wrong, so why then maintain the racial power structure that enabled slavery? This racial power structure that so many adhere to, even to this day, IS STILL A PART OF SLAVERY. The same process applies for a couple centuries of varied influences on the use of police force, there’s history there too. Not to mention that we can only hope to address any of our myriad economic and political issues by understanding what mistakes or imbalances inspired them.
The old adage about how “those who don’t study history are doomed to repeat it” is true, and not just on the level of stopping the next Hitler. This saying is true on the level of knowing better than to engage in the kind of scapegoating and rationalized hatred that gave rise to Hitler. But outrage doesn’t dig that deep: outrage concerns itself only with present injustice. The old injustices which, piled upon each other, create the modern inequalities that we wring our hands over are just as important as the most recent shooting victims we so nobly commemorate with our outrage. Likewise what we demand should happen to the killer-du-jour, which may be cathartic, is not necessarily constructive. Better to commemorate the victims of injustice through justice rather than knee-jerk reactions and calls for further injustice.
The Outrage Machine is essentially a passive, ethereal mob, because (thankfully) most of us can’t be bothered to actually pick up a pitchfork or light a torch anymore. Philosophically its the same behavior. When we express our outrage we are just adding our voice to the noise of the mob. Outrage doesn’t pick a direction, it doesn’t call for reasoned action and it doesn’t organize. That’s not to say that you can’t do all of this using the internet, but we aren’t. Instead of using our connectivity to build a Global Change Machine, we default to mob mentality, to furthering our own voices on the Global Outrage Machine. We fall all over ourselves to be the most indignant, to be the most on the right side of history. But the sad thing is that none of us are on the right side of history; we all benefit from and suffer for past outrages, and only by understanding and discussing the reasons and results of that past can we hope to eliminate future outrage. To channel our indignance into productive change we must disassemble the Global Outrage Machine, we must learn our history and question the decisions of past generations. It takes more work than swearing on the internet, but it is a whole lot more hopeful.