Features Australia

Addicted to outrage

2 February 2017

3:00 PM

2 February 2017

3:00 PM

Outrage is the new normal. Sparking outrage − for whatever reason − is the new sin. The number of lazy subeditors who pull out the ‘…sparks outrage’ headline has increased exponentially since Donald Trump became POTUS.

What does it all mean? Simply that the liberal media and the elite culture have at least four years to work themselves up into a lather over just about anything Trump does, says, signs or rescinds. And that will be a tiring exercise akin to listening to death metal songs on high rotation. Where’s the colour? Where’s the nuance? Where’s the sotto voce?

Colour, nuance and sotto voce have all been defenestrated in this cowardly new world. Especially sotto voce. Gone is the idea of having a considered or reasoned debate with your opponent.

The method now is to either shout them down, or shove a soon-to-be-discarded-on-the-verge placard in their face containing all of the subtlety and grammatical error of a Year 9 humanities essay from an all girls’ private school on Sydney’s North Shore.

And will this outrage exhaust the outraged? Not on your nelly. If you’re not breaking your back at a labouring job, or holding down two minimum wage positions on the opposite side of town, then there’s only so much energy a daily gym session, three lattes and an interior design appointment can expend. You need an outlet. You need a focus. You need a song to yourself; you need ‘to sound [your] barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world’ as Whitman put it in a poem entitled, strangely enough, Song of Myself.

For that is what so much of this outrage is. Songs, love songs, ballads to oneself shouted over the roof tops of the social media world. Gone are the days of outrage towards our own failings and flaws. Vanished in the mist are the self-correcting disciplines of the old spirituality.

The new spirituality is all peace and light and love. Oh, and outrage at others who do not quite see peace and light and love in the manner in which you do.


Humility and self-reflection have given way to hubris and self-promotion. Whitman’s poem begins with the all too modern ‘I Celebrate myself, and sing myself.’ That’s capital C celebration, a long congo-line of self-congratulatory backslapping all the way down to the barricades. I guess we could all just stick it out. Stick it out for four years or eight years or whenever it is that the progressives get their agenda out of the ditch and back onto the utopian road. Perhaps just giving them their toys back might get us some peace and quiet around here, even if it does involve the silencing of dissenting voices on all manner of ethical, social and religious perspectives.

But here’s the rub. Blanket coverage levels of outrage, all consuming, all pervading amounts of indignation at everything, doesn’t wear one’s opponents down as much as it wears oneself down. And maybe there’s something in that. Maybe, just like a second-rate pugilist shadow-boxing his way into a pre-fight frenzy before being KO-ed in the first round, that is what needs to happen. Get on with life, I say. Get on with living with meaning and purpose and let the outraged rage themselves out.

For that is what will happen. That is the way of all addictions, and trust me, outrage is an addiction.

And like all addictions − porn, booze, ice, shopping − what did it for you then no longer does it for you now.

Then? It was all soft-focus shots of sexy girls in negligees. Now? If it’s not cross-species, don’t even bother googling it.

Then? It was a pair of K-Mart slip ons. Now? It’s five inch Manolo Blahnik heels at twenty tottering paces.

So, too, outrage. Once it was really bad stuff, like hundreds of thousands of Tutsis being slaughtered by a Hutu-led government. Or a Balkanesque pogrom in which a toothless United Nations peacekeeping force stands peacefully by and permits.

Now? It’s anything. And everything. It’s especially a democratically-elected bloke who many don’t like, who kept their candidate from delivering their agenda. He’s no angel, that’s for sure, but now he’s the bogeyman for every potentially outraged liberal on the planet. For everything. All of the time. Whatever the Trump does there’s an outrage in there somewhere that must be outed and sparked and commented on.

I guess when something truly outrageous does happen like, say, the wholesale slaughter and persecution of Christian minorities across the Middle East, there won’t be any rage to put out, it will all be used up.

At least that’s what I’m hoping is responsible for the shameful silence over this once-in-two-millennia event by the liberal media, with a few honourable exceptions.

It’s all rather reminiscent of Syndrome, the evil character in The Incredibles. His jealousy at being so ordinary leads him down a path to create super powers for everyone. Mr Incredible dashed his dreams all those years ago, so Syndrome is hell bent on revenge. But what is his goal? It’s not a world full of supers. In fact it’s quite the opposite. ‘When everyone is super, no one will be,’ he sneers. Make super the new normal and see what happens then. See what can top it.

And outrage? Here’s the worry. When everyone is outraged, no one will be. When everyone is outraged, outrage will have become the new normal. It will become the permanent revolution. It will become the way in which the courts and the congresses conduct their affairs.

It will be key to shutting down any debate, any true diversity, any truly safe place for alternative, ethical communities to practice and pray and perform. Why argue with an opponent when you can rage against them and justify it?

And if that doesn’t spark outrage in you, then good. It probably shows you have a philosophical and emotional maturity about you that is not dependent on the daily wisdom of an internet meme.

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