Uncle Josh Deals with Outrage Society

Outrage Society is my shorthand term for what I view as the extreme form of the Cult of the Individual, which may itself be an extreme form of the Cult of Ignorance, which may or may not be the fault of Capitalism. I’m still trying to sort out all these capitalized ideas.

Note: Outrage Society is not the same as Political Correctness, which is an agnostic attempt to express “treat people with respect” as a good rule of getting along in society. (Disclosure: I agree with this position 99% of the time.)

One: The Outraged (a participant of Outrage Society) assumes that others will see the world as they do. This is ridiculous but it doesn’t stop them. No two people see the world the same way. Even identical twins don’t always see the world the same way. It declares the Nature vs. Nurture debate over with Nature the winner, and then assumes everyone has the same Nature. Or at least everyone should have the same Nature. The assumption of the Outraged boils down to this: Your experiences don’t matter and if you are not outraged about this particular thing that outrages me then you are fundamentally and morally flawed.

Fuck that.

Two: The Outraged declare that people should not make assumptions about other people. This may be more about the Cult of the Individual (I’m still looking for those representative tweets).  If I meet a person presenting as a woman I am not allowed to make the assumption that they have always presented as a woman, or grew up through girlhood. I can’t make assumptions about people’s pasts, or their current situations.

Humans are pretty damn good at pattern matching, and when meeting a new person the human brain starts to categorize: Age, gender, style, and yes, various physical features (skin tone, hair, eyes) and affectations (clothes, body movement) all start the free-association from our experiences and assumptions and attach themselves to the new person. Does this pattern-matching and categorization make us see things that aren’t there? Sometimes. But they also allow us to see things that are there.

In this model, bigotry is a philosophical condition of having too few boxes to handle the real world. The Outraged demand the use of too many boxes to be practical or helpful.

And not making assumptions about people in the Outrage Society model leads to all sorts of awkward starting conversations about personal pronouns and trigger warnings. I’d rather listen to an old modem try to connect to the local bulletin board system when the lines are busy that manage these conversations. It’s easier to treat people as people instead of a bundle of exceptions to some “heteronormative constraint model”.

Three: It seeks to shape the language in awkward and unhelpful ways. My joke definition of the outraged is the person storming into a city council meeting about a sidewalk repair project that needs to be done demanding they don’t use the term “sidewalk” because it’s “ableist” and implies people in wheelchairs or walkers aren’t welcome in public. This is the absurd extension of what’s happening.

Orwell’s 1984 contains the argument that our language shapes our thoughts. D.T. Suzuki argues in his introduction to Zen Buddhism that westerners can’t understand  Zen because our language doesn’t fully support the ideas that lead to it. The Politically Correct movement also tried to shape the way we think by introducing words that didn’t come with the baggage that words like “retard” or “cripple” came with. “Special needs” or “differently abled” or “something impaired” tried to stop the dehumanization of disabled people. It may have been successful in reducing dehumanization, but it didn’t humanize them much, either.

Outrage Society tells us that our language in insufficient, and will never be sufficient. It’s hard not resist the easy lure of fatalism when you can’t, by definition, succeed.

I guess the underlying issue with the Outraged is they are judging everyone else all the time and all others are found wanting. It’s a strange form of narcissism. Maybe the Outraged are so desperate to feel heroic and find themselves so unheroic that they have to turn every other person into a villain. Why do they do this? Do they have an idea of a hero that is an impossible standard to live up to? Is this just an outlet for managing a need most people have to be a victim? (Okay, that’s kind of hard to believe because I suspect most Outraged would consider themselves on the political Left and most Victims are on the political Right. But I digress.)

I can see why I don’t like the Outraged: I don’t like being judged harshly and constantly. I don’t know why I should give them my attention except that I experience an intense negative reaction to them. My small steps into stoicism tell me I am ultimately in control of my reactions; but this is one of those reactions that I don’t seem to be able to control. In the very first part of the Enchiridion challenged me in this claim and I have visceral reactions that seem out of my control. I suppose my stoic journey is finding some way to control these reactions. I need to examine them and source them to manage them. The true source of my reaction against the Outraged is a reaction against being judged.

Now, what is a judgement against me? What is the judgement of a stranger? This points me towards a conflict I still feel between stoicism and my Christianity. My religion tells me I need to listen to others, to see Jesus in them, and Jesus is somewhere in the Outraged (although I suspect their inability to follow the Golden Rule is a cause of His distress). I suspect stoicism would eject the concerns of a stranger, especially if the point of the interaction is solely to injure me or to raise others’ self esteem. Neither Christianity nor stoicism would require me to suffer and injury. I should be able to listen to what’s being said underneath the tone and the negativity. I should be able to hear any real criticism of my character.

And that is the struggle. Maybe this whole thing is what Epictetus meant in the Enchiridion:

Seek at once, therefore, to be able to say to every unpleasing semblance, “You are but a semblance and by no means the real thing.” 

Epictetus, The Enchiridion, Chapter I.

How would the Outraged react to that, I wonder: to be told their Outrage is just a semblance and by no means the real thing? Their whole affect is trying to either a) make me a better person, or b) make me deny my core being to be replaced (presumably) by theirs in a Cult of Personality. In either case, it falls apart when faced with a placid-faced “your sail has no wind” reaction.

Not reacting to their anger, whether it is genuine or not, is the best way of dealing with them. With that as my armor, they can’t really hurt me, and that’s all I ever really wanted in this process to begin with.