Welcome to the Age of Outrage - a time where indignation is seemingly the only fuel available to us. An endlessly renewable resource, outrage is the product of a simple chemical reaction. A small bit of your attention (A) smashed against a carefully worded description of “the evil of others” (E) generates a slight bit of outrage (O). Here’s that formula:
A1 + E1 → O1
And outrage is an amazing fuel. If you only get it in tiny doses, you can turn it into a small amount of action. As long as you live a privileged (P) enough life to have the necessary free time, community and technology, you may tweet something sarcastic or depressing (T). You might turn to your neighbor and issue a credulous query (“Can you believe this shit?”). You might go as far as calling your representative and leaving a stern message on their ever-more-full voicemail. And then the outrage subsides, and the fuel is spent, and life returns to the normal mode of turning calories into hours.
So, in the presence of outrage, you get:
O1 + P3 → T1
The previous age (the Age of the Internet) was a time of rapid change, of technological progress, of social upheaval. It also begat one of the most stunning advances in modern history, the perfection of the ability to carefully craft notions of few characters designed to elicit a specfic reaction. By and large, this awesome power was used for mundane purposes: convincing us to buy things we didn’t need. Mindless consumerism has many long-term detrimental affects on society and the planet, but none of them could be readily described as “acute”.
But that age tipped into this one; when we discovered that those carefully crafted, short-form stories could be used to trigger outrage. Like rats with shiny buttons, we will consume as much outrage as can be produced, and we catalyze the reaction. It is a runaway process - all we do, all day, is produce outrage.
An + En TWITTER→ O∞
And now here we are, in the Age of Outrage. As the amount of fuel available to us is nigh infinite, our mode of operation is changed utterly. We wait for the next example of The Evil of Others, we respond indignantly, we curse our circumstances to our neighbors constantly, we are about the business of letting the world know just how outrageous it all is. And a lot of it is good, and useful. Calling your representative (possibly) works. Marching at least demonstrates the size of the outrage. Tweeting …. well, that probably doesn’t do much.
This is all a natural reaction, a chemical one, even. But the motion that comes from burning outrage is often Brownian. A lot of agitation, without much direction. Movement, without destination. It is our central challenge in this Age of Outrage to channel some of that fuel into a positive plan, to achieve something rather than to only resist. Resistance is not futile, but it is not all. Resistance must come with the achievement of some lasting alternative. Certainly, it is my personal challenge to find a way to be both proactive AND reactive, and not settle for shouting into the wind, however satisfying I may find the shouting.