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The cycle of outrage

Hamster wheel (from Wikimedia Commons)Do you feel like you’re stuck in a hamster wheel of never-ending political news? No matter what bad or outrageous thing happens, something comes along to top it. There is no respite and no place to avoid it. It occupies your mind, hijacks your conversations, and shades your relationships.

We are stuck in a cycle of outrage. Let’s look at how it works.

The cycle of outrage follows these steps:

  1. A person commits an outrage.
  2. People express outrage over the outrage.
  3. The person who committed the outrage tries to justify it, which leads to more outrage.
  4. That person’s supporters defend the outrage and express outrage over the outrage about the outrage.
  5. In the course of expressing outrage, someone commits a bigger outrage.
  6. The outrage is now focused on that bigger outrage, and the original outrage is forgotten. The cycle begins again.

If you try to break the cycle by not being outraged, people get outraged that you’re not outraged enough. There is always something to be outraged about, and the outrage intensifies each time the cycle repeats. Outrage becomes a permanent part of your outlook. You find yourself looking for outrage so that you have a reason to stay outraged. Outrage takes over your life. It becomes normal. So normal that when something really terrible happens, you are too outraged to notice.

Which is what they hope you do.

This is why we have to be careful what we get outraged about. We have to get outraged about the right things. Overcooked steak and ketchup isn’t worth the outrage. Deep cuts to food stamp programs for impoverished communities is. Shoving a prime minister is a scumbag move, but it isn’t worth the outrage. Undermining our critical trans-Atlantic alliances is. A tweet with a weird typo isn’t worth the outrage. Not tweeting about the racially motivated murders by a white supremacist until days later is.

Outrage shouldn’t become a habit. It should become a tactic to fight for the things that matter. Outrage shouldn’t be an endless cycle of anger. It should move us forward towards the America our ancestors built and what we want our children to inherit. Outrage shouldn’t fuel escalating fury. It should be built on the hope we can make American civil, decent, and united once again. It’s time to get off the hamster wheel and find a way out of the cage of outrage we are in.