Despite the inflammatory times we live in, I don’t do outrage. It’s pointless. That being said, if I see something outrageous, I will call it out.
I don’t do outrage. I find it unproductive, exhausting and self-defeating. This does not mean that I don’t do disagreement, criticism – both scathing and measured, occasionally anger and (often) scorn but I don’t do outrage. For me, outrage spills too easily into self-righteousness and I have long believed that self-righteousness will destroy the world.
Feminists like me are often portrayed as being easy to outrage but I think that is a projection on the part of those to whom feminism is an outrage. Frankly, if feminists were that easy to wind up we’d spend our lives in a perpetual state of frothing fury given the routine indignities, prejudices and blithe assumptions women must put up with. Watch any feminist in any public forum; nine times out of ten they will be calm, dignified and firm. Most of us have learnt to control whatever anger we feel. We are only too aware that any flash of it – however justified – will be used to dismiss us as “outraged” and so someone not to be taken seriously.
In fact, I think that outrage is far less common than we currently believe. It has become media shorthand for describing the emotions of anyone who expresses disapproval of bad behaviour – particularly bad behaviour on the part of those with power or celebrity. Like “political correctness” it has become a put-down, a way of dismissing a point of view without actually engaging with the substance.
To be outraged is to feel that some truth, authority or hierarchy you hold dear has been questioned and confronted. Outrage is a defensive response, generally accompanied by a great deal of huffing, puffing and injured pride. People commonly get outraged about any hint of criticism of Anzac Day, particularly by women and even more particularly by women of colour. They get outraged about Australia Day, attacks on religious institutions, the armed forces and not respecting the flag. To my eyes, outrage is a more common response from those who defend the status quo than those who question it.
Nevertheless, I do find Donald Trump outrageous but – and this is an important distinction – I am not outraged by him. That’s what he wants me to be. He feeds on outrage and self-righteousness. They are his stock in trade. He’s like a mythical creature that grows bigger the more negative energy he creates in others. Trump frightens, depresses and embarrasses me (and I am not even an American), I cannot imagine just how toe-curlingly humiliating it must be to be a US citizen these days.
Roseanne Barr’s racist tweet that caused her show to be cancelled may have been outrageous but I doubt many of the people objecting felt actual outrage. More likely those who fight racism felt a weary inevitability at the need, yet again, to stand up to bigotry and prejudice because to let it pass unnoticed and without consequences is to make it easier for the next publicity-seeking damaged soul to use hatred of others for their own ends.
Also on The Big Smoke
- Lessons of the very public (twitter) trial of Roseanne Barr
- In the age of information, our ignorance is a choice
- Google it: How outrage culture is changing the corporate world
I am all for free speech, but being granted the right of free speech does not free you, as Barr discovered, from the consequences of what you say. All it means is you will not be arrested or “disappeared”, or worse (hello, Kim Jong Un) executed for your words. It does not mean you can be racist, sexist, hateful and abusive or peddle falsehoods and insults with impunity. Just as you are free to say whatever you like – however obnoxious – so others are equally free to say they no longer want to employ you, work with you or spend time with you. Nastiness, feeding on stirring up negative emotions like hatred, fear and self-righteousness (“I work hard – that group different from me over there do not”), still has consequences, thank goodness. The day it doesn’t is the day we are really in trouble.
I don’t much care what you think but if you say something stupid to me I will call you on it, not because I am outraged, but because it is my duty. You see, you are not entitled to your opinion unless you have at least a few plausible facts to back it up. Racism is stupid. Sexism is stupid. Ageism is stupid. Climate change denial is stupid. Anti-vaxx paranoia is stupid. We need to point that out, not because facts will convert those who cling to their prejudices or ignorance regardless, but because they are rarely the only people who are listening.
What was it the wonderful David Morrison, ex-head of the Australian army said? “The standard you walk past is the standard you accept.” He’s right. As stupidity begins to define itself as a virtue, as evidence, education and “knowing stuff”is condemned as elitism, as lies are justified as “alternative facts”, it has never been more important to call out bullshit when you see it – firmly, even emphatically. By doing so you are not expressing outrage, but if you do it convincingly enough I can almost guarantee you will stir up outrage in response. It’s what people do when they have no actual case.