Thursday, April 16, 2020

Extra Notes: Doing What I Can to Let Go of Outrage Culture


So let's get something crystal clear from the get-go: if you, hopefully sentient, mature, self-aware human being that you are, one with an IQ above 70, are not in a state of continual outrage given the multitudinous arrays of ills and evils being visited every single day upon this world, upon less fortunate humans, the climate, the oceans, and the life we share this world with, then 1) you are a demonstrably active participant in the ills and evils raining down; 2) are demonstrably immoral, regardless of your personal circumstances; and 3) are someone who, should we ever meet, I would gladly and gleefully beat to death with a rusty crowbar.

Just so we're clear.

This is not a white-lighty missive about "letting go" of "my anger" and, like Master Yoda, the poster-alien of white-lighty suburban "enlightenment" if there ever was one, sigh all enlightened-like and say something utterly idiotic such as, "Anger leads to hate; and hate leads to the Dark Side!"

No, you wrinkled, pudgy, green ass tumor. Anger doesn't lead to hate anymore than joy or bliss does. Anger oftentimes leads to love, as a matter of fact. Anger oftentimes leads to righteous action and justice. Anger oftentimes leads to positive, life-affirming solutions. Anger oftentimes leads to peace. Just ... dissolve somewhere, won't you, and take George Lucas with you. And be sure to tell him to fuck right off. Thanks.

This isn't a post about letting go of outrage, no. This is a post about letting go of the culture of outrage, which is, by itself, its own ill, its own evil.

No easy matter, that. But I think it's important that I try; and I think it's important that you try, too.

~~*~~

I don't know if it can be done, quite honestly. To stay aware, you need to keep up, at least minimally, with events. To do that requires reading or watching or listening to the news.

There's the rub. Because what passes for "news" these days, even from mainstream sources like the New York Times or the Chicago Tribune or ABC News or USA Today or any of a hundred other similar sources isn't news anymore. It's carefully worded clickbait. It's outrage culture.

You start by looking at one headline. Then another. You don't know it, but you're shaking your head with disbelief, with outrage. You glance up. Half an hour has passed--snap!--just like that. More outrages from the utterly illegitimate Trump administration, or from the Orange Ass Boil himself. More outrages from ExxonMobile or some government that just gave them a huge new oil lease, even though it is now imperative that we get off the oil teet, and permanently. More outrages from MAGAts, who have outrageously burned another church down or harassed more Asians or Jews or Latinx. More outrages from your Congressional representatives, who refuse to stand up to Trump or to corporations. More outrages from Big Pharma, Big Food, Big Medicine. More outrages from the Supreme Court, which is now a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party. More outrages from various state governors, who are working day and night to suppress the vote. More outrages from Big Tech, who are working day and night to sell your private data without your permission, who are working day and night to set up a permanent police surveillance state, who are working day and night to silence the little guys, who are working day and night to appease totalitarian governments and to help them establish themselves permanently.

Outrage upon outrage upon outrage.

Another glance up. You see that three hours has passed, that most of the afternoon is gone, that your heart is pounding and you're short of breath, that you've lost your appetite and are now on the verge of a huge bout of depression that'll take weeks to overcome. That is, assuming you stay away from the "news"--which you won't.

Outrage upon outrage upon outrage. It never fucking ends.

I don't honestly know if I can ween myself from it. I don't honestly know it's even possible. I have considered that keeping myself to a strict diet of no more than half an hour a day is what I should do; and in fact for the last three weeks I've been, more or less, pretty good with holding to that schedule. It's very difficult, and may not be sustainable. But I think it's important that I try.

~~*~~

The thing is, and as I've mentioned already, it isn't even news anymore. Not really. It's carefully worded outrage crack. And I'm addicted.

It's all about getting clicks. It's all about getting your attention. To do that involves an endless race to the bottom: clickbait, manipulative headlines, misleading headlines, outright dishonest headlines. Disinformation. Misinformation. All capital letters. Tragic, precisely edited videos that start playing the instant you've scrolled them into sight. Doom and gloom--everywhere.

It isn't news. It's the National Enquirer or the Weekly World News on horse steroids. It's at best propaganda, with only a glancing relationship to the truth. That's the problem right there: some of it is true. But even if it is 95 percent true, you're still dealing with some form of propaganda. You're still dealing with outrage culture. You're still dealing with someone's attempts to manipulate you. You're still dealing with the blast of all caps or woulda-coulda-shouldas. Headlines that bleat that this could happen or may happen; headlines that don't give any real information but force you to click on them to acquire it, which turns out to be the toss of a coin if you do. Headlines that bear little relationship to the ostensible subject matter.

It isn't news. In my opinion, it barely qualifies as journalism.

Unfortunately, that's almost all there is now. And that by itself is outrageous.

~~*~~

It is a daily chore to remind myself of just how little control I have over anything in this world. But that's an important, even essential, pill I must take daily if I want to disengage with outrage culture. People are going to continue sucking no matter what I do or say to stop them. Governments are going to continue sucking no matter what I do or say to stop them. Ignorance and stupidity are going to continue their tyrannical reigns no matter what I do to fight them.

It will be a miracle if the human species makes it to the next century. It truly will. There is nothing I can do about that. I can do almost nothing, or nothing, full stop, to halt the bovine indifference in so many with respect to that. I can do or say nothing to halt the machinery of death, now cranking with a million different gears, as it mauls and destroys this world. I can't stop Big Tech, Big Oil, Big Evil. They've got the wheel, are giving each other handjobs in the front seat, and we're heading off the fucking cliff Thelma and Louise-style at 150 miles per hour.

But ... is all that above true?

Someone like Greta Thunberg, for example, shows that it isn't true. Or like those steel-for-spines Wisconsinites who just last week braved horrible weather and the threat of COVID-19 to stand for hours and hours just to vote, foiling the bought-and-sold Supreme Court who ruled they had to vote instead of staying safely indoors. The immoral-as-fuck justices and Trump thought that would give them the results they wanted; instead it amounted to a blowout for the good guys.

How about ProPublica, arguably the only news site worthy of actually being called news? They are growing by leaps and bounds--all by avoiding, for the most part, devolving into using outrage culture headlines and the breathless propaganda copy following. No one gave them a chance. Now they provide better news than any other mainstream source you can name.

Elizabeth Warren is another example. Arguably the most efficient and effective legislator to appear on the national scene since FDR, she has grabbed the attention of millions, me included, to begin a proper progressive revolution, one that doesn't "burn down the system," as Bernie Sanders and his followers have vowed to do, but one that transforms and evolves and fixes what is broken, what isn't functioning, what is corrupted.

Outrage culture wants you to believe that it's all shit; that it's all bad news. But that itself is bullshit. Outrage culture wants you to believe that you're powerless; that you have no control; that your efforts to make positive change are doomed to failure. Outrage culture points at those examples above and says, "Yes, but they're huge, each and every one of them. You're a nothing."

So were they at one point.

But let's keep with this notion for a moment longer--that because I'm a "nothing" I can effect no change, that anything I do is worthless. Is that true?

It isn't. A tiny action by a "nobody" multiplied ten thousand or a million or a billion times becomes progressively more powerful, many times becoming unstoppable. Something simple like buying organic groceries from food co-ops, driving or flying less, or, far more topically, practicing social distancing in order to flatten the COVID-19 curve. Tiny actions add up. Done by enough people, they become invincible movements.

Outrage culture wants you to feel helpless in addition to being outraged. Outrage culture has no real interest in whatever outrage it's ostensibly yammering on and on about, but is interested in capturing your attention and, if possible, your money. Outrage culture is entirely impersonal: it doesn't give a shit about you. It's a parasite. It consumes souls.

~~*~~

I'm 58 years old. I'm one of those "nobodies" outrage culture loves to glom onto, because as a "nobody" I can be easily outraged, easily led to believe I am powerless, easily led to waste my time clicking and clicking and clicking, easily manipulated into believing that it's all going to hell in a handbasket.

But it isn't. Things right now are bad, most definitely. And yes, I hold to my thesis that the human species will be lucky to make it to the next century. And I hold to my thesis that most people are utter crap, are cattle, are brainless consumers, are intransigent and intransigently evil, and will resist all attempts to wake the fuck up and get to work saving this planet.

But I keep coming back to something Erich Fromm said not long before he died in 1980. I don't have the book I read it from in front of me, so I'll have to paraphrase. Basically, he says, the human species would have long ago destroyed itself were it not for a few people in each era who continued, in his words, "to keep the world spinning."

Greta Thunberg? Sure. Elizabeth Warren? Sure. Angela Davis? Yep. Martin Luther King? Of course. FDR? That's right. Albert Einstein? Yep. Sojourner Truth? Yes. Marie Curie? Right. Helen Keller? You've got it.

But I don't think he was referring to the giants. I really don't. I'm fairly convinced, being a fan of his and having read much of his work, that he was referring to us "nobodies" and our day-to-day efforts to heal and save our own little corners of this aching, burning, tired planet.

One of those ways--a highly effective one, I'm guessing, is to extricate ourselves, "nobodies" that we are, from the culture of outrage. Doing so will, I believe, right our collective moral vision, which has been far too near-sighted for far too long.

Won't you join me?


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