Perpetual Outrage Machine

There is so much to be upset about, isn’t there? It never ends . .  . the endless voices calling for your attention, the rising anger and boiling tension.

It can be exhausting, too. Every time somebody is called a racist this or a communist that, the effect of the word has just a little less impact, the power of the accusation chipping away each time so that even a boring, bland, milquetoast public figure who has likely never even so much as farted in public is called a bigot, a hater, a murderer, and so on.

The end result is: Nobody listens.

The process takes years, decades, but I think we are finally here. “Wolf” has been cried so many times that nobody believes those playing the part of the little boy anymore.

This is not a political blog. When I do talk politics, I enjoy talking about the macro issues, not the minutiae. And this seems like a macro issue because the perpetual outrage machine affects our moods and our well-being. I contend that the perpetual outrage machine that is the American media in all of its various forms–news, pop culture, sports, and so on–is designed to elicit strong emotional responses not only to get clicks and eyeballs, which equal money, but also to desensitize us to actual bad stuff perpetrated by people who want to pull a fast one on us.

What do I mean? Well, when the Overton Window is shifted so far in one direction, positions and ideas that were beyond the pale moments ago all of a sudden seem reasonable.

This isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes the Overton Window needs to be wrenched in one direction in order to start a conversation on things that we desperately need to have conversations about. But other times it can be used to overwhelm our emotional and intellectual bandwith to the point that someone or something truly despicable seems sane by comparison.

I’ve written about this before a while ago in the context of manufactured racial division:

The insidious thing is that black America’s problems are normalized, celebrated, and encouraged by forces that want to keep them poor and angry, as long as they pull the lever for the right candidates.

Here’s another thing that pisses me off: Seeing blacks and whites at each other’s throats. 

Time for me to put on the tinfoil hat yet again, but this is also being done on purpose. Why else are black and white, man and woman, religious and atheist, Republican and Democrat, being pitted against each other at every turn?

Sickening, isn’t it? And things only seem to be getting worse.

Or are they?

The amazing thing about the world is that, when you go off-line, things aren’t nearly as dire as they seem. If you walk around most of America you’ll find that it hardly resembles the dire war-zone our lovely outrage culture makes it sound like. People do manage to get along pretty well.

Are there problems? Of course. Will they get worse if we don’t do anything about them? Of course. But the perpetual outrage machine, which focuses our attention on insignificant things, makes it difficult to do anything about what really matters.

There is good news: It’s relatively simple to alleviate some of this heightened emotional tension. Just log off. Just go. Start small: Take an hour-long break. You’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.

Social media can be fun. It can even be useful. And it is important to be informed.

But be aware that many of these stories are emotional weapons designed to elicit certain responses in you.

You are supposed to hate this group, fear these people, never take anything those guys say seriously.

You are encouraged to be incurious and accept what is given to you in pre-digested chunks.

This is no great revelation. However, even stuff you’re predisposed to agree with has the same purpose and needs to be passed through the same filter.

Self-awareness is one of the most crucial skills to develop. Mine, as I’m sure most of ours is, is a constant work in progress.

One of the most common self-deceptions we all deal with has to do with the Dunning-Kruger effect, or overestimating our own intellect and abilities. When it comes to media, this involves giving ourselves way too much credit in our ability to discern what is right and what is wrong. As I’ve previously written, this is one of the most pernicious lies we tell ourself:

  1. “I see through the lies and view the world as it really is.” This is often referred to as being “red-pilled,” named after a scene in the popular sci-fi movie The Matrix, which came out when I was still in high school and good God do I feel old. Anyway, the idea is that everybody else is duped and that you are not. This is dangerous because it creates a false sense of security whereby one thinks they are always right. Since few things are “always right” except for the fact that nobody is ever “always right,” this creates dangerous blind spots. You might reject, or not even seek, evidence, or take potential risks seriously, because you already have The Answer.

So what can we do to mitigate the negative effects of the perpetual outrage machine?

  1. Unplug. As stated above, just walk away. Take time off from current events. The machine is a vampire that is never satisfied. It wants all of your emotion and all of your attention. What’s more, it wants to do your thinking for you. And yet you have the power to turn off your device of choice and do something else with your time. Use this power.
  2. Assume everything is false. Isn’t this paranoid? Absolutely. But there is precious little reason to trust most of what gets pumped out there as news. The Facebooks and the Twitters of the world are worried about “fake news” now? Where have they been the last forty years? Information and news has always been weaponized to serve a particular purpose, and it always will be, no matter in politics, advertising, or entertainment.
  3. Use the laugh test. This is something I’ve found that a lot of lawyers use when constructing arguments, or deconstructing the arguments of others: The law aside, just ask yourself if the story has any rational basis in the world as we know it, or if it’s so ridiculous only a fool would believe it. If the story or explanation doesn’t pass the laugh test, then the chances of it working in court from a persuasion standpoint are quite small. Think about the news in the same way. Dig a little deeper beyond what is being presented and ask yourself if the particular pre-digested morsel before you makes any sense whatsoever.
  4. Beware of convenience and coincidence. The perpetual outrage machine is kind of dumb. We already know from leaked emails and whatnot, even revelations that pre-date the recent batch of WikiLeaks (JournoList, anyone?), about the close coordination between the media and government, and among the media itself, in order to craft and push a narrative. Isn’t it amazing how every single news outlet pushes the exact same story at the exact time and then everybody starts magically talking about it? There are no such things as coincidence in the media.
  5. Control your own emotions. Really, there’s nothing worse than getting depressed or angry based on the news. Instead, I find it helpful to laugh at it. All of it. All of the people in the news, all of the people delivering the news, hell, even the people who write the chyrons. They’re all probably nowhere near as smart as you, or as decent. They deserve all the mockery and scorn that they get. Focus your emotional energy on things that matter, like your family or your work or your hobbies. Let the news inform you and make you laugh, and leave it at that.

All I try to do in life is be happy and deal with the things that are really important while trying to drown out the noise. It’s not easy, and the deliberate and manipulative nature and function of this noise is a cause for anger, but at the end of the day you’ll be glad you deny the perpetual outrage machine of it’s main source of fuel:


PS Frank Zappa, as always, hit this particular nail on the head . . . back in 1966. Check out the lyrics to his song “Trouble Every Day”:

Well I’m about to get sick
From watchin’ my TV
Been checkin’ out the news
Until my eyeballs fail to see
I mean to say that every day
Is just another rotten mess
And when it’s gonna change, my friend
Is anybody’s guess

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Wednesday I watched the riot . . .
Seen the cops out on the street
Watched ’em throwin’ rocks and stuff
And chokin’ in the heat
Listened to reports
About the whisky passin’ ’round
Seen the smoke and fire
And the market burnin’ down
Watched while everybody
On his street would take a turn
To stomp and smash and bash and crash
And slash and bust and burn

And I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Well, you can cool it,
You can heat it . . .
‘Cause, baby, I don’t need it . . .
Take your TV tube and eat it
‘N all that phony stuff on sports
‘N all the unconfirmed reports
You know I watched that rotten box
Until my head begin to hurt
From checkin’ out the way
The newsman say they get the dirt
Before the guys on channel so-and-so

And further they assert
That any show they’ll interrupt
To bring you news if it comes up
They say that if the place blows up
They will be the first to tell,
Because the boys they got downtown
Are workin’ hard and doin’ swell,
And if anybody gets the news
Before it hits the street,
They say that no one blabs it faster
Their coverage can’t be beat

And if another woman driver
Gets machine-gunned from her seat
They’ll send some joker with a brownie
And you’ll see it all complete

So I’m watchin’ and I’m waitin’
Hopin’ for the best
Even think I’ll go to prayin’
Every time I hear ’em sayin’
That there’s no way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day
No way to delay
That trouble comin’ every day

Hey, you know something people?
I’m not black
But there’s a whole lots a times
I wish I could say I’m not white

Well, I seen the fires burnin’
And the local people turnin’
On the merchants and the shops
Who used to sell their brooms and mops
And every other household item
Watched the mob just turn and bite ’em
And they say it served ’em right
Because a few of them are white,
And it’s the same across the nation
Black and white discrimination
Yellin’ “You can’t understand me!”
‘N all that other jazz they hand me
In the papers and TV and
All that mass stupidity
That seems to grow more every day
Each time you hear some nitwit say
He wants to go and do you in
Because the color of your skin
Just don’t appeal to him
(No matter if it’s black or white)
Because he’s out for blood tonight

You know we got to sit around at home
And watch this thing begin
But I bet there won’t be many live
To see it really end
‘Cause the fire in the street
Ain’t like the fire in the heart
And in the eyes of all these people
Don’t you know that this could start
On any street in any town
In any state if any clown
Decides that now’s the time to fight
For some ideal he thinks is right
And if a million more agree
There ain’t no Great Society
As it applies to you and me
Our country isn’t free
And the law refuses to see
If all that you can ever be
Is just a lousy janitor
Unless your uncle owns a store
You know that five in every four
Just won’t amount to nothin’ more
Gonna watch the rats go across the floor
And make up songs about being poor

Blow your harmonica, son!

Follow me on Twitter @DaytimeRenegade and @DaytimeRenegade

And check out my Instagram here.

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