Enough With The Outrage

Having had the chance to read some of the hyperbolic news and opinion coverage of the New Yorker's latest cover, permit an editorial comment.

There really is a politics of outrage, and it has spread like a cancer throughout the body politic. It's become the default currency of political conversation.

Outrage is supposed to be extreme anger about an extreme and dignity-damaging insult. It has instead become the quotidian autonomic emotional register of most species of political actors, including partisans, campaign operatives and pundits. Hence: what used to be normal is now considered extreme.

Outrage is the easiest type of story for journalists to write about. We create crises when we report on aggrieved and outrage parties. and then we cover the reaction to the stories we write about.

Art work, YouTubes, e-mail rumors -- all trigger expressions of outrage from campaign spokespeople and partisans and pundits. So much outrage, that we often look for something more... I know you're outraged, but are you are also "bewildered" and outraged?

Outrage is often phony; major campaigns contrive their outrage precisely for effect. (When I ask about these contrivances, I am told that they are "part of the game.") But outrage is often phony even if it seems real. Phony outrage is outrage for the sake of feeling outraged; it's a comfortable outrage, an outrage that serves to reinforce feelings of solidarity and get rid of feelings of dissonance. Outrage is a covering emotion, like its close cousin, self-righteousness. We love to be offended. We love to feel affronted.

Everyone is so outraged, outraged, outraged all the time that we're defining outrage down. If our outrage meter hits 10 at every conceivable sleight or remark, then when something really outrageous happens -- something truly morally despicable or cowardly takes place -- we're numb. Outrage moves votes and changes opinion. But if everything's outrageous, then nothing is.

And that's outrageous.