It is by now cliche to note that we live in an “outrage culture.”
And there are obvious drivers:
- partisan politics,
- social media (see here),
- the satisfaction I receive from virtue signaling,
- And (of course) the financial incentives that some have to keep us in a constant state of amygdala agitation.
On that last point, see below for a
humorous look at how Facebook in particular makes a fortune this way (warning: some profanity).
In light of all this, I’m considering drafting an illustrated children’s book in which tiny, anthropomorphized logos of Twitter, CNN, and Fox News hold a frenzied footrace to the bottom of the brainstem.
Working titles include: “3, 2, 1… Civil War” and “The fast and the furious-er.”
(It will be a sequel to my classic children’s tale on bias: “Everybody skews” [see here].)
THE RIGHT KIND OF OUTRAGE
But there is also another reason for outrage, and we must not forget it.
That is, some things are genuinely outrageous.
Some things are simply wrong.
And if those things fail to bother us, then the problem is not an “outrage culture” or “the social media mob,” but our own callousness, and the fact that our allegiances have been coopted by rival kings and rival kingdoms.
THE PHOTO BY THE WINDOW
Perhaps the ultimate example of such callous compartmentalization is relayed by the British spy, John Weitz (here), who helped liberate the Nazi death camp at Dachau.
Upon approaching the gas chamber where countless families had been slaughtered, Weitz noticed a photograph of young German children taped next to the window that looked in upon the death room.
A Nazi father had apparently taped the photo there, by his “work station,” so he could gaze fondly on his own children while remaining unmoved by the wanton evil being done to “theirs.”
He was a loving dad – no outrage here.
THIS PAST WEEK
So this past week, I added my own voice to thousands of others (Republicans, Democrats, Independents) calling for a halt to using kids as pawns in a dispute regarding immigration—especially by way of out-of-context Bible verses.
Then, to my surprise, something happened: it worked. Kind of.
Public outcry brought a change (Thank God!), albeit an incomplete one since many children remain separated from their parents and there is some question over if and when they will ever be reunited. Apparently the whole process was pretty chaotic [*resists further comment and keeps moving].
Nonetheless, this good change raises an important question:
What comes after an initial spike in outrage achieves a portion of its goal?
My interest here is not just with this particular issue (though it is important), but with a “meta-phenomenon” — that is, what outrage does well and what it does more poorly.
Here then is my tentative conclusion:
In some cases, the same traits that are needed in a crisis can be counterproductive to crafting long-term solutions.
I say this because long-term solutions require compromise, listening, and the ability to ratchet down the rhetoric in search of common ground.
Hence the problem is not that outrage is unwarranted, but that it is incomplete on its own. We need more. In the aftermath of crisis, we need to transfer some energy from the amygdala to the other parts of the brain.
We all know this in other areas, I think.
- The person you want next to you in the Zombie apocalypse may not be the one you want running your company, chairing the school board, or leading your marriage counseling.
- The skills needed to facedown Hitler may not be the ones that make for a successful peacetime leader (Read a Churchill biography; or a Stalin one).
- And the recipe for alerting the masses (amygdala!) may not be the same as that required to solve complex problems with the prefrontal cortex.
My fear, however, is that we are far better at the former than the latter — I know I am.
So here’s to wisdom on how to translate righteous zeal into Christian justice, and on how to going beyond outrage to thoughtful long-term solutions.
On the subject of immigration reform and border security in particular, I am particularly thankful for the statement set forth recently by my own denomination, The Wesleyan Church (see here).
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