Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Outrage Industry is making our country ungovernable

The authors of a new book, "The Outrage Industry: Political Opinion Media and the New Incivility" by Jeffrey M. Berry and Sarah Sobieraj, have an article in that does a good job of outlining the characteristics of the Outrage Industry that has taken over our media over the last twenty or so years.  It really shows how our country is becoming ungovernable as a result of this media industry.

The outrage industry is on both the right and the left.  It is stronger on the right these days, and it has spawned the right wing extremist political Tea Party movement.  But it is on the left as well, trying mightily to spawn a left wing version of a Tea Party movement.  God help us all if they succeed.

Here are some of the characteristics of outrage tactics:
  • charismatic, personality centered voices of outrage
  • personal attacks
  • vitriol
  • moral indignation
  • name calling
  • offensive language
  • venom
  • vilification
  • fear mongering
  • ad hominem attacks
  • creation of scandals
  • conspiracy theories
  • sensationalism
  • belittling ridicule
  • mockery
  • hyperbolic forecasts of impending doom
  • rude behavior
  • incivility writ large
  • ideological selectivity
  • hyperbolic reinterpretations of current events
  • vilification of opponents
  • over-generalizations
  • communication designed for maximum emotional impact
  • reactive to events to reinterpret and reframe events to fit an ideological view
  • presenting themselves as brave and admirable
  • ideological vetting of candidates for ideological purity
  • labeling open mindedness, collaboration, and compromise as weakness
  • communication designed evoke righteous emotions of anger, indignation, fear
  • sense of inclusion and belonging in a tribe of like minded outraged people who care about how awful it all is
  • overly simplified stories that show opponents as fundamentally different than you
The article includes an example of these tactics used by the right wing Outrage Industry operative, Rush Limbaugh, and the left wing Outrage Industry operative Lawrence O'Donnell.  

The short summary, to me, is that the outrage industry is designed to create an audience for the media-outrage personalities.  It is most definitely not designed to discuss current events and foster thinking about events or politics.  It is designed to give a safe harbor for alienated and fearful people to go to in order to feel that they belong.  It is a tribal call to like minds to see the world as extraordinarily dangerous because of the existence of other tribes who must be fought, vilified and ridiculed.  It is political correctness - both right wing and left wing political correctness - exaggerated to a level of open civil war.

A simple thought experiment:  could Rush Limbaugh on the right or Bill Ayers on the left be elected president?  Of course not.  They are extremists who create an audience, not politicians who can create legislation.  So, why would anyone take their advice on whom to vote for?  They can only recommend unelectable extremists, or those who if elected would be unable to engage in the politics of governance.

So, why is there such an audience for the outrage industry?  I think there are a couple of reasons.  First it is a response to the nature of reality, which is change.  Everything changes, always.  And fear of change can be tapped into by clever media to create a very lucrative audience.  (Right wing Rush Limbaugh is said to have an annual income of $70 million, right wing Glenn Beck is about the same, left wing Rachel Maddow is a paltry $7 million but still pretty good).

Second, I think that people who are carrying unresolved issues of anger and fear and low self esteem are drawn to venues that stoke righteous emotions about how awful "others" are rather than do the personal, intimate, and sometimes unsettling work of dealing with and releasing their own unresolved emotional issues.  It is a lot easier to be outraged by the evils of the "others" than face your own internal fears and uncertainties.

The solutions?  

  • Realize that we are being manipulated by the Outrage Industry so that we can feel the safe emotions of righteousness and get a sense of belonging to our Tribe of Good People Bravely Fighting the Tribes of Bad People.  
  • Realize that the purpose of the Outrage Industry is to make lots of money and not to help us improve the country's governance.
  • Realize that we can only govern ourselves through the subtle, complicated arts of politics - which means cooperation, compromise, collaboration, deal making.  
  • Deal with our own personal fears and uncertainties in the privacy of our own hearts and minds, and avoid the lure of the easy substitutes of righteous emotions to distract us from our own personal issues.
One can hope for and expect positive change.