Chuck Wendig posted a thing about Internet Outrage today which has been getting some sharing about the authorly and fan circles I’m a part of. I find this a little amusing because me and Mr Dig had something of a falling out – over outrage. I think his post is a welcome, moderating step in the oppressive cloud of outrage culture, but there are some problems with it.
Read the original article alongside this one.
For me, outrage fatigue is not the tiredness that comes with seeing yet another fuss over (usually) nothing or very little, but rather the weapon that the outrage mob uses to try and enforce its will. It is not dissimilar to aggressive trolling, trying to wear someone down into ragequitting or an overly emotional response. Outrage mobs use the same tactic in order to wear people down into self-censorship, silence them or make them or their work persona non grata. Fatigue is, in this instance, induced by endless hatemail (from true believers, distinguished from simple trolling) or knowing that anything you do or say will be put under the microscope. Social censure has its place as a punishment tool but a large part of the reason outrage mobs get pushback on censorship is because of the pressure they exert, not just condemning but trying to destroy.
Not that Wendig’s version doesn’t also exist. In charity terms it’s called ‘compassion fatigue’ where you get desensitised to suffering and no longer reach for your wallet to help because it no longer stirs you. Outrage takes a lot of energy and it may not be a wallet, but it’s a limited supply anyway.
Assume that outrage is authentic
This seems, to me, to be a crazily generous assumption. While there are always whackos with extreme opinions outrage tends to get hysterical (I know, I know you don’t like that word) and exaggerated beyond belief. ‘Professional victim’ gets tossed around a little too loosely but it’s hard to look at the travails of Skepchick or Criado-Perez and not think they’re – to some degree – deliberately being outraged for the sake of publicity.
The other problem here is that while someone’s outrage may be authentic that doesn’t mean that it is sane, rational, justified or should be treated with any respect or consideration whatsoever. Just because someone genuinely believes something stupid does not make it immune to mockery. Someone’s deeply held Mormon beliefs about the planet Kolob should be free to be mocked just as someone’s belief that a hanging tabard sexualises an image should be roundly mocked.
Authentic or not, outrage alone isn’t a reason to be taken seriously or treated with kid gloves.
Silencing outrage is for arseholes
Is it fuck. See above. A great deal of outrage is overstated, comical and frankly stupid. Given the fact that outrage is, typically, itself a silencing tactic there’s no reason to show those people any more deference and accord than they show you. They’ll give you no quarter, so offer none in return.
They will dismiss and silence your outrage against them for their negative impact on free expression, representation of men or whatever it is they’re interfering with. Respect has to be earned, not given freely.
Don’t compare causes
Agreed, to a point. Victim Olympics are tiresome.
Engage diplomatically with outrage
Nice sentiment. In reality nothing short of total capitulation satisfies the outrage crowd. Penny Arcade’s ‘do not engage’ new mantra would seem to be the safest bet but the temptation is always to argue back.
Block and unfollow
Yes, but, don’t be too trigger happy. Very rarely useful exchanges can happen and without them everyone just divides into dangerous echo-chambers.
Outrage mobs, generally, aren’t interested in solutions and particularly not from the people they’re attacking. Indeed, providing solutions can be seen as a way of invalidating their anger. While following solutions: “You don’t like it? Make your own,” would be great it seems that people find outrage easier than making positive change themselves.
Embrace outrage in areas you influence
This reads as ‘enforce the will of the mob where you can’. Even in spheres where we exert influence there should be room for different takes. Why extend it beyond your own work, onto others?
Try to be informed
Agreed. Outrage mobs too.
Be a Fountain not a drain
Yes, but again, not easy and nice things are less noticeable.
You’re allowed an outrage vacation
You certainly are. Please take one.