The phenomenon of outrage has overtaken critical thinking.
The loudest voices are no longer the ones that have the most valuable thing to say, but rather the ones that wrote the rulebook on what views are right and which ones are wrong. Those that are considered right transform into values; those that are considered wrong become bigotry.
But there are fundamental differences between wrong, misplaced and bigotry. Those who instruct who we should hate and why do so with such intimidating, confronting ferocity that many feel obligated to agree without question to avoid causing offense or ensure self-preservation, lest they are labelled negatively in the world of social justice.
Refusing to distinguish between different viewpoints, to listen to someone else’s perspectives, is less about actual bigotry and more about dismissing a view someone disagrees with. And in an emotionally charged narrative that upholds a narrative of harm, that which is different or exploratory, becomes a motivation for feeling outraged. It completely eliminates the natural human instinct for empathy and understanding, which are the root of social transformation.
This perceived harm is met with a full force of intentionally directed aggression, disregarding alternative perspectives. A new line is drawn: if someone feels something negative, then an aggressive act must have happened to them. There is no possibility of misunderstanding, of misinterpretation, of, frankly, relative sensitivity.
This is owed in part to the prevalent concept of micro-aggression, which intends to enlarge smaller grievances in order to draw attention a larger social issue. Whether or not the minor instances are unconscious or intentional doesn’t matter — perception is the only defining factor, and that in itself is subjective, and ultimately relative to the emotional disposition of the aggrieved. The same sentence or event will likely impact two people completely differently.
So it is necessary to remember that while an emotion can be validated, this does not make the perception of intent correct by default. If anything, emotional reactionism actually warps understanding by detracting from a definable chain of cause and effect. But that is impossible to discover when the only perspective that needs to be changed is the one of the offender, and the only opinion that matters is the one of the aggrieved.
A different opinion is not a means of aggression. Nor is considering a different perspective advocating for social injustice. Both are challenges outside the realm of safety where one is only ever validated and never challenged. This protective resistance to being challenged actually leads to a heightened propensity for being upset, shaken, angered.
The problem with living in this unrelenting state of anger is that we unconsciously begin to look for things to be outraged by in places where they do not exist. Some even tell others to be outraged by things that don’t naturally bother them. Supposedly, the louder one shouts, the more morally centred one must be. And as someone with a greater spectrum of anger commands that we feel outrage, so it shall be.
Reflexive outrage has become a social preoccupation, with the angriest determining when and how much one ought to feel anger towards something and motivating the need for en masse agreement and expression. In turn, rather than standing by something because one feels genuinely offended or hurt, one succumbs to social pressure, not social cause, lest they be seen as fighting for the other team. There is no middle ground of reason and query, only anger and division, for or against.
But there are worlds that exist outside the safety of those we have constructed for ourselves where we are always right and forever a victim. In these worlds, people exist with different backgrounds, viewpoints, affinities, and more often than not, a need and desire to learn. It is only within these spaces of conversation that we can truly reach understanding and acceptance together.
Rather than looking for things to be angry at, perhaps it would be wiser to not only look at reasons why people may be misplaced in their expression or perspective, but listen to the perspective itself. And yet outrage brings with it a passive entitlement — my anger must be heard and respected, and yet not necessarily understood. And it is definitely not my responsibility to explain it.
Except it is. Outsourcing responsibility to society at large weakens the potential for progressive understanding.
Perspectives are shaped by experience, influence, the ideas and media we are both surrounded by and intentionally consume. To be shown that there is another path, a different perspective, a different set of experiences and interpretations of the world and our different places within it, requires guidance. The expectation that individuals must somehow be able to have shared the same experiences and cultures as everyone else to enable them to see things from our point of view by default is both unreasonable and shuts down the necessary conversation for development. Demanding change without showing how it can come about deliberately keeps people locked in increasingly confined realms of anger. It leaves the responsibility for change entirely on everyone outside of this realm, where people scramble to figure out what and why and ask those still inside if this time, they got it right (often to no avail).
If we all interacted with one another without explanation for why things make us feel a certain way or we believe a certain narrative, we would all be operating under assumption, coerced into agreement out of fear, and devalued for either a different set of experiences or perspectives.
And yet the social narrative now demands a uniformity so confrontational that it’s easier to repeat what we are told than figure out progress through contradiction. Entire swathes of society now exist perpetually seeking slights and attack without ever verifying meaning or intent, operating only on their emotive interpretation of social views. The rest exist in silence, the questioners dare not ask, and the ones that do are abstractly exploited as emblems of everything wrong with society.
Living with an intense degree of personal outrage is now a marker of virtuosity. Scathing denouncements of differing opinions have come to imitate morality.
To be a good person, one must now be outraged.