Neighbors Divided by Outrage

who really benefits when each news story splits us into two arguing camps?

Walter Rhein

Why is it that every news story is prepackaged with an assigned category of outrage? You don’t read about a notable advertisement from Gillette, you read about how a notable advertisement from Gillette has made a certain group of people furious. Nobody even thinks to question whether the conflict was staged. Advertisers are well aware outrage creates better engagement than any paid advertising. Consumers instantly divide themselves into groups and defend their chosen side of the story without ever doing any independent research. The media loves the conflict because hot-headed, outraged engagement leads to a lot of views, advertising revenue, and influence. However, I’m left to question: Is this constant outrage conflict good for our society?

These days, Facebook threads are largely populated by tedious battles between friends and family where nothing is accomplished but the creation of spite.

Of course it isn’t!

These days, Facebook threads are largely populated by tedious battles between friends and family where nothing is accomplished but the creation of spite. There used to be a time when we refrained from discussing politics at dinner, and maybe it’s time to start implementing that rule on social media. Then again, a universal gag order that allows absurd comments and beliefs to go unchallenged is also problematic and would lead to negative long-term consequences. We are at an impasse, and the current outrage discourse model has us all spinning our wheels in the mud with no solution in sight.

But what if this state of useless, impudent, divided fury is the goal?

I’ll give you a hint: IT IS!

One of the big mistakes of allowing yourself to make your choices based on outrage rather than reason is that it puts you in a place where you can’t recognize the merits of the other side. These days conservatives call liberals “socialists” and liberals call conservatives “fascists,” and there is zero exchange of ideas, not among the general public anyway. Make no mistake, when the time comes for so called “liberals” and “conservatives” in politics to get together and gang up on the people who elected them, they’re only too happy to do so.

Take, for example, the McCarran-Ferguson Act which gives the insurance industry an anti-trust exemption. Ever notice how insurance companies never go bankrupt? Ever notice how premiums are always obscenely high with no competition? Well, the anti-trust exemption is in part to thank. The act is named for its sponsors Pat McCarran (Democrat) and Homer Ferguson (Republican) and it’s been allowed to stand unchallenged since 1945. For another example have a look at how often our “politically divided” representatives have managed to heroically come together over the years and agree that they should give themselves a raise.

People get so aligned with their political “team” that they dismiss nuanced discussion if they infer the author might be a member of the opposition. For example, I tend to be very liberal in my views, yet I’m certain that there will be a response that this article is promoting the “fake news” narrative. I don’t believe in the rallying cry of the right that the news is “fake.” However, I’m willing to meet them halfway and freely admit that the news does manipulate us.

Of course it does!

Misleading, click-bait headlines are a fundamental staple of journalism. So is outrage. Outrage leads to engagement and engagement leads to an article going viral. I use outrage myself in my own writing. Until now I’ve thought that was simply the way it has to be and I’m fairly certain I’ll continue to use it in articles in the future.

However, it’s important to recognize that a consequence of outrage journalism is that we are left divided. We fight on Facebook and seethe in our homes at our neighbors or cousins who live across the street. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C., they’re plotting to fleece us of our Social Security money, they’re raising tuition for our kids, they’re cutting our insurance, and we’re so angry about some irrelevant social media feud, that we’re rendered powerless to organize to rise up and stop them.

See how that works?

No matter how vitriolic a social media fight becomes, agreement can be reached when somebody states, “Both political parties are out to get us.” The next time you find yourself getting pulled into some artificially created outrage melee, make an attempt to steer your ire away from your relatives and neighbors and divert it, instead, onto our elected representatives who put personal enrichment ahead of the growth, harmony, and prosperity of our nation. I’m not saying vote for the other party, I’m saying hold your party to a higher standard and don’t hesitate to criticize when they fail to serve you. Concede, occasionally, that the person you voted for can and should do better. Adopting this attitude allows you to have a friendly beer with your friends, relatives and neighbors again.

Unite with your neighbors.

Save the outrage for those who deserve it.

Please send me your comments, I will be happy to debate you on the online version of this article. Or, I can also be reached at WalterRhein@gmail.com.

Thinkpieces are reader-submitted reflective essays. A wide variety of ideas, analyses, and notions are welcome. Submit your essay for consideration to giffey@volumeone.org.