On Outrage Culture and Federalism: Or Why We Can’t Get Along

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43 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    It is silly to dismiss LGBT rights fights as only being about bakers and jewelers.

    … then I suppose it is a good thing that nobody actually dismissed them on that basis.Report

  2. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Well, when it comes to getting some dopamine, there are only so many options.

    Sure, we could change our opinions/world views in accordance with the best arguments we’ve encountered… but that only gives you so big of a hit.

    If you want a nice steady drip of dopamine, you’re going to have to start giving arguments yourself. Write a blog post, write an article, write a script. Give a speech for a podcast, a TED talk, a segment on NPR. Make some art.

    And if that’s not an option, you can get almost as much dopamine by just loudly affirming that other people should listen to the arguments given by others and, if they don’t, hating them.

    In the absence of actually changing the mind of someone else, where else would you get your dopamine?Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Jaybird says:

      By declaring that it’s all pointless and feeling superior to people who can’t see that.Report

      • Avatar Glyph in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Eh, there’d be no point.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Mike Schilling says:

        Oh, it’s not all pointless. Sometimes you can change someone else’s mind.

        But when it comes to changing official policies of the government? Or, even worse, when it comes to changing the culture?

        Your choices are to engage in the cargo cultism emulating the people who look like they may actually have influence or refuse to play.

        But to avoid the charge of declaring pointlessness, perhaps I should have compared it to getting a vaccination. You want to be part of the herd immunity rather than the herd vulnerability (and you can even make the argument that the choice between being inoculated and not is a moral one).

        The choice to be part of outrage culture is the choice to be part of the offensive rather than the defensive part of the culture.


        • Avatar Will H. in reply to Jaybird says:

          It is always better to break into someone else’s home (even if just to re-arrange the furniture of a blind person) than to have your own home broken into.Report

  3. Avatar Kazzy says:

    I don’t think ‘outrage culture’ and internet debates/arguments are the same thing. Outrage culture seems largely built on sanctimony, public shaming, mob mentality, and, well, outrage. Internet debates can feature elements of that and likely involve topics that can potentially generate outrage, but the mere fact that one is engaging with those who disagree with him necessarily puts the situation in a different category than outrage culture. Outrage culture is about generating a groundswell and overwhelming everything in your path. There is no engagement, no debate.

    Both might be ill suited to change minds and both involve the internet, but that doesn’t mean they are the same thing. Justine Sacco was the target of an outrage mob: there was no debate about her Tweet nor any attempt to engage with her. In the aftermath, many folks (including those here) debated the legitimacy of both her Tweet and the response to it. Two different things.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

      Oh they’re not the same *THING*… but (without getting into teleology) they have the same end goals.

      Reward people on our team.
      Punish people on their team.
      Make people not even want to think about leaving our team.

      The arguments over legitimacy should be over whether the goals were achieved, likely to be achieved, and would be better achieved using significantly different methods.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


        Internet debate, at its worst, probably seeks that. But that is not necessarily inherent to it. Furthermore, are we sure internet debate is necessarily different than non-internet debate? It seems a convenient scapegoat at time.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

          Well, how important are the differences?

          Prior to the internet, debate took place among intimates far more often than among strangers. I’m not sure that the whole “friendly people who have never actually met” thing that the internet cultivates (like what we’ve got here!) began with the internet… I’m sure that ‘zines, for example, had similar… but the scope of the change is significant.

          The other main difference is the difference between face-to-face/voice and what is communicated with that and with text (and, of course, how text has backspaces) and what is (and is not) communicated with that.

          And other differences follow from those two.

          I kinda think that the former is *HUGE* and the latter exacerbates it.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jaybird says:


            There are no doubt differences, some of them rather meaningful. But the idea that there is this pre-internet/post-internet divide in terms of how folks interact with another seems false. The internet seems to amplify, well, everything… but I’m not sure that people yelling at each other was non-existent prior to the 90’s.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Kazzy says:

              When I was a kid, I was told that it was impolite to talk about religion or politics in public.

              Of course, I now know that my childhood isn’t particularly representative of anything… but I have picked up a handful of cultural cues that tells me that this used to be something that was in wider society. (Remember the movie “Sleepers”? There was a scene in there where the bartender tells the two guys at the bar “hey, you know the rules: no religion, no politics” and the two guys leave.)Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                That was the norm even in the time when religion and politics generally led to either war or imprisonment. Silence is a tool of domination.

                Talking about things seems better, even if people get a bit snippy now and then and some people’s motives aren’t entirely pure.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                Is outrage culture more accurately described as people (some with less than pure motives) getting a bit snippy than as people hoping to silence others?

                Because the articles posted recently about the whole “my students scare me” phenomenon seem to indicate an attitude on the part of professors that say “I know better than to say certain things, lest I be punished”.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Jaybird says:

                I know better than to say certain things, lest I be punished”.


                That’s always been a social norm of one sort or another; while it sounds bad, the devil’s in the details, no?Report

              • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to zic says:

                Soft domination then?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Jaybird, When free speech absolutists were outraged at the suggestion that the Charlie Hebdo massacre wasn’t an attack on free speech, were they just trying to silence others? I mean, in that case, I absolutely agree with you.

                Course, maybe FSA’s weren’t really outraged (unlike other folk) or their outrage was justified (unlike other outrage)?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Dunno. Did the free speechers ask clarification questions and the people who would have rather discussed the awfulness of the circumstances that led to the tragic murders refuse to answer the questions?

                If something like that last thing happened, I might be willing to say that the whole “I was being silenced!” position might be a ruse.

                I mean, if the free speech people wanted the discussion to continue, that’d put their “outrage” in a context that the people yelling “shut up” wouldn’t share.

                Don’t you agree?Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                So, they either weren’t outraged or their outrage was perfectly reasonable. Good. Unlike other folks. That’s progress, yeah?

                You know, I feel that way about my own outrage too. Perfectly reasonable. Other people’s outrage? Outrageous!Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                Hmmm… I suspect we remember that conversation very differently. The calls for silence were explicit, and all from one side. Yours.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Chris says:

                Well, that’s exactly how I remember it, too, Chris. Jaybird – like Captain Hammer – apparently remembers it differently!

                I mean, I could go on and on and on (and on and on…) about how spectacularly amazed I was by the rigidity and vehemence with which FSAs tried to control the discourse during those discussions.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                I’m not remembering “calls for silence”. I’m remembering misrepresentations of the other side (e.g. “you’re saying that they were asking for it!”) and that was clarified. I remember arguments about whether this was an affront to freedom of speech/the press or not. I remember arguments about cultures and cultural clashes. I remember people arguing against each other.

                But I can’t remember explicit calls for silence.

                Here are the threads I’m going through:







                I didn’t find any explicit calls for silence in there but maybe I overlooked them (or maybe they happened in another thread).Report

              • Avatar Chris in reply to Jaybird says:

                Outrage culture, as Kazzy notes, has nothing to do with debate.

                I note that your preferred solution is to silence people even more that the move would.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Chris says:

                What was my preferred solution? I’m looking for it and not finding it.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                My recollection is that your preferred solution was “more caricatures!” You said something to the effect that the best remedy for attacks on speech was to engage in more of it.

                Your other preferred solution – again, recollecting here – was to make sure the discussion was framed around free speech, preserved free speech, and promoted free speech (even going so far at one point as to attribute a bunch of nonexistent “pass a law!” views to “liberals”) to the degree that even the mere suggestion of treating people with respect (among others) constituted an attack on speech and was therefore rejected.

                If it makes you feel better, Jaybird, you were certainly not alone in doing all those things.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Well, if we can go by recollections, I really can’t address what you remember. The best I can do is just post the threads.

                I seem to remember there having been another one though… let me dig again…


                Yeah, that one was the one in which I discovered that the only person who said “the cartoonists kinda had it coming” was a prominent American Catholic and I couldn’t find any notable lefties arguing that (though there were a couple of ones that weren’t particularly notable).

                And I believe that my preferred solution, in all cases, boiled down to “more speech”. I wish the community had held chants like “Ho Ho, Hey Hey, Charlie Hebdo est passé” and the like.

                But I can only provide linky evidence of those sorts of things. I don’t know if I can find anything that might change your recollections.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Well, keep looking!Report

    • Avatar Oscar Gordon in reply to Kazzy says:

      I’m with Kazzy, outrage culture is about punishment for badact/badthink. Debate is not even on these people’s radar most of the time.

      One of the new battle fields of this is outrage mobs attacking authors through bad Amazon reviews (something Amazon works against) even though they never read the book. There was some dustup with Anne Rice & these review mobs recently (which is how I heard about it).Report

  4. I don’t agree with the Christian evangelical/fundamentialist view on LGBT rights but I am just a largely, secular Jewish guy from New York. Why should a Christian listen to someone like me who completely rejects their entire theology especially the idea that Jesus was the Messiah?

    Well, I think they should listen to you, especially because you reject most (not all, I’m pretty sure) of their theology. They’re human and need to engage politely with those who disagree with them, and if they don’t, shame on them. They probably won’t react well to sneering and over-generalizations, and that can be one source of disengagement if that’s the reason, I don’t particularly blame them. Still, all “sides” have to have some basic respect for each other’s humanity. That call for respect can be challenging, especially when it comes to individual rights (like I believe ssm is) that one group is trying trying to deny. But when it comes to online discussions, a “be the change you want to see” approach probably goes a long way. Would that I followed my own advice more consistently!

    *I’m using “evangelicals” as a catchall for evangelicals, fundamentalists, and socially conservative catholics. There’re big differences among them, of course.Report

  5. This is a bit of a stretch:

    There are also conservatives everywhere. Around 10 to 15 percent of San Franciscans voted for Mitt Romney and I wonder how they feel about being surrounded in the most liberal city in the United States and why they stay. But there are plenty of LGBT people who stay in deeply red areas for a variety of reasons. Maybe some of them are stubborn and don’t want to move. Maybe some of them can’t afford to move or can’t move because of commitments and responsibilities to their families.

    San Francisco isn’t my thing, but I can think of reasons why a conservative person would want to live there. And I imagine some LGBT people stay in “deeply red areas” for reasons other than they can’t escape.

    Still, I agree with the sentiment. We should promote basic individual rights even while respecting subsidiarity. Those principles are perhaps inherently in tension, but we should respect individual rights and also respect that even “deeply red areas” have a diversity of opinion.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    A conservative can personally like the culture and environment of San Francisco even if the politics drive them batty. These people might vote Republican for economic reasons but not necessarily like the culture war angle. Even if they do like Republican social politics, a person might be bound to San Francisco by reasons of employment and family.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

      This is kind of a reductive way of looking at it. Viewing San Francisco as the sort of place only a liberal would appreciate or, if a conservative, then at least a social liberal. Or the other way around. People are, in general, more complicated than that. Mark Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church got started in Seattle. Socially conservative. And yet… from everything I’ve read, it’s actually Seattle-oriented institution.

      Or to look at the other side, @chris is a Red American through and through, but to the left of left. He lives in liberal Austin, of course, but has expressed, quite frequently, an appreciation for the rural. He doesn’t necessarily miss the attitudes of his home, but there are a lot of things he does miss and does like about it from a cultural standpoint.

      Chris would probably not be happy in Seattle. Driscoll’s former peeps would probably be miserable in rural Tennessee.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to LeeEsq says:

      My previous comment came out more critical than I had intended. Especially given that you alluded to what I was talking about. Mostly, I think it’s worth noting that people can actually separate cultural affectations with social views. You see this more in ruralia than places like San Francisco. But the average non-Mormon rural county still votes about 1/3 Democratic. These aren’t people stranded in ruralia by virtue of a job or family. They like it there, valuing the outdoors and space more than they dislike the political environment.

      And I think the same is true the other way around. You’re going to see less of it in San Francisco per se because it is so expensive that you have to be committed. You’ll see more of it in less expensive cities, where they can enjoy a city culture (the amenities, too, but also actually the culture).Report

      • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Will Truman says:

        But the average non-Mormon rural county still votes about 1/3 Democratic. These aren’t people stranded in ruralia by virtue of a job or family. They like it there, valuing the outdoors and space more than they dislike the political environment.


        I live in an extremely red area. And, frankly, I’m somewhat content to be locally ruled by Republicans, and, believe it or not, a higher percentage of Republicans doesn’t automatically mean a higher percentage of far right loons. Sure, they exist, but once you reach a certain point, the primaries become the general election, and things sorta rebalance. We don’t seem to get the ‘All Republicans must be super-duper conservative’ constant drumbeat that other, more liberal places seem to get. Republicans can, and do, run as a moderates.

        And we don’t get the dumbass social issues here, although it’s possible that’s because this is tourist town and running around throwing hate at people is bad for business.

        I have a theory that once you get past a certain percentage of control by a single party, that party will realize ‘Wait a second…we have to *run this place* instead of grandstanding about politics.’.

        Likewise, the actual issues stop being partisan. There are several different political issues going on right now in my city/county (Parking, senior tax exemption, college stuff.), and not a single one has been derailed by partisanship, nor has any one of them turn into right-wing gibberish of ‘cut spending/cut taxes’. At this level of government, you *can’t* just start chanting slogans, or the schools collapse and thousands of anger voters show up at the city council.

        In fact, despite my city and county being entirely Republican, most of the crappy conservative stuff I care about is happening at the *state* level, which is both insulated from voters enough that they can do nothing but bullshit, and ‘bi-partisan’ enough that they can blame the Democrats.Report

  7. Avatar North says:

    What really baffles me about outrage culture is the third party-non debate level shit. Screaming at someone I can see, screaming at their associates I justof can follow but researching the person you’re angry at, stalking them in RL and bombarding their employer to try and get them fired.. I’m like wtf? Who has that kind of time and what the hell?Report

    • Avatar Dan Scotto in reply to North says:

      Yeah, this is where outrage culture really gets me. I sort of view the Internet as a separate sphere; I try to be as pleasant and civil as possible, but it’s sometimes difficult, and I know that lots of people approach things differently than I do–and I don’t want to force them to conform to a type of discourse that may not suit their personality.

      But I like the idea that we can get along in “real life,” instead of trying to destroy each other in real life, even if we argue intensely on the Internet.Report

  8. Avatar Mo says:

    When I was a kid, I was told that it was impolite to talk about religion or politics in public.

    This is a very American cultural touchstone. In many cultures, politics and religion are fair game for raucous debate and discussion. I would theorize that this heuristic are part of the reason for outrage culture. Because the only rule was, “Don’t talk about it,” there were never any best practices or social rules of engagement that built up over time.Report

  9. Avatar Stillwater says:

    This is why outrage culture risks. Not because people are moral busybodies because many people (maybe even all of us) have deeply held and very sincere beliefs for how the world should be.

    Well, maybe. Depending on what we mean by “outrage culture” and outrage-behavior. My FIL, for example, spent about 30 minutes the other day expressing OUTRAGE that his county just imposed a new tax amounting to about $5 dollars a year. “If the tax is 5 dollars this year, what’s to keep it from going up to 50 dollars next year, and a hundred the year after!!!” I asked him if he knew what the tax was for, since it might be something he actually supports. But he didn’t know, didn’t care. The actual purpose of the tax was irrelevant to his desire to express outrage over its mere existence.

    And so it goes. Consider something more specific: the recent spate of headlines claiming Gov. Walker said – or even believes – forcing pregnant women to have ultrasounds is “just a cool idea”. Given that the headlines were false (as a reading of Walker’s actual words revealed) it’s fair to ask what the purpose of such a headline might be, and one reasonable suggestion is an appeal to and the generation of outrage irrespective of the actual content of Walker’s words.

    On the other hand, does a deeply held belief entail outrage at other people’s behavior? (I’d say it doesn’t, myself.)

    Does it justify outrage at other people’s behavior? On a subjective psychological level I’m sure it does. But I’m not sure it does objectively, since both the source as well as the target (not to mention the purpose!) of the outrage seem disconnected from the events which ostensibly justify it. At least for lots of types of outrage.

    {{Also I have no idea how outrage-culture has anything to do with federalism…}}Report

  10. Avatar DavidTC says:

    Wow, Saul really has a talent for writing posts that do exactly the thing he decries in the posts. The reason that ‘outrage culture’ exist is that it has gotten conflated with ‘arguing’…exactly as Saul does.

    The problem is people have gotten the idea that when you see a wrong, the correct thing to do is to leap in and discuss this wrong with that person. Always. Even if you don’t know this person *at all*, and your means of ‘discussion’ is to just randomly yell at them, with usually no method for them to interact back with you, and even if they do have the technical ability, no one can interact with tens of thousands of people.

    This has *nothing* to do with people saying to the government ‘These rules harm me, please change them.’, whether they are trying to make pro-gay laws, or carve out exceptions to the law. That is entirely reasonably for a mass of people to group together and say. What the laws should be, with supposed competing civil rights claims…well, I have my own position on that, but the thing is, anyone is allowed to argue anything there. The argument is not the problem.

    The problem is when people confuse ‘grouping together to argue about laws’ *that* with ‘grouping together to complain about some *random* thing a person did’. Something that almost certainly did not cause any actual harm to 99% of them. Usually it didn’t cause any actual harm to *anyone*. Sometimes they’re even arguing about people complaining about laws.

    And even then no one would fault a person from coming up and saying ‘Just so you know, your statement about not catering a gay wedding is an attack on my friends, so I won’t be eating here anymore’. No one would fault ten people saying that, or even a guy standing out front with a sign. I mean, I suspect we’ve all gotten annoyed at friends on Facebook and had political discussions with them. Those turned out fine…or even if they didn’t, at worse two people stopped being friends.

    The problem is when the entire damn internet does that at once, towards one person who they don’t even know, especially since approximately 5% of the internet is apparently sociopaths and think the correct way to ‘argue’ is anonymous death threats and whatnot. It is, indeed, only a difference in scale…but a difference in scale is also the difference between walking down stairs and falling out of a airplane.

    It is something we need to come up with a solution to. And I freely admit I don’t have one. We now living a world where some people spend a good deal of their time telling *other* people to be angry at certain people, and those other people go ahead and get angry. This needs to stop. I don’t just mean ‘Or this will keep happening’…shit like this is how you eventually get pogrom. We’re not there *yet*, but give us another decade of this, who knows?

    And this has nothing to do with politics. People are *supposed* to group up and aim their anger and disapproval at the government. They aren’t supposed to to that towards a random person who makes a bad joke on twitter, or whatever.Report