Outrage fatigue? Get over it
Are you sick of being sick? Suffering way too much Bush-induced nausea? Well, tough
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I know how it is. You've had it up to here. There are only so many stories about blood and death and pain you can take, only so many times you can hear about random shootings and corporate malfeasance and how BushCo's squad of scabrous flying monkeys have, say, supported torture or endorsed wiretapping or gouged the nation for another $200 billion to pay for a failed war. Your nerves are raw and your heart is tired and the media will just not shut the hell up already about the sadness and the war and the mayhem and the Cheney and the doom doom doom.
It is outrage fatigue, and it is epidemic. It's that feeling that we are being hammered unlike any time in recent history with so many appalling and disgusting and violently un-American incidents and scandals and manipulations that our b.s.-detectors are smoking like an old V-8 engine on a hot summer's day and it's all we can do to get up every day without screaming.
What's more, it's not the mere quantity of moral insults, either. It's the bizarre absurdity of the subject matter, the things we are being forced to consider, or reconsider, that seem to make it all so horrific.
Torture? Are you kidding? Allegedly the most civilized, the most morally aware nation on the planet and we are still debating, in the highest courts and government offices in the land, about whether the United States should strap human beings to gnarled metal benches in rancid foreign bunkers and inflict such inexplicable terror and fear upon them that they confess to things they didn't even do just to get us to stop? Is this the Middle Ages? Are we regressing back to the goddamn cave?
Oh my, yes, plethoric are the reasons you should be outraged indeed, and torture just might be one of the most incendiary reasons in the past few years. If nothing else, its disgusting return to U.S. political dialogue certainly means it's no time to be laying down arms in exhaustion, no matter how tempting it might be.
Take this fine example: Keith Olbermann, as is his wont, executed another pitch-perfect bout of outrage recently on his excellent MSNBC show, taking BushCo to task on the issue of waterboarding like you never hear in major on-air media anymore.
Olbermann only barely held on to his trademark fierce hyper-articulation against the sheer disgust he/we have to endure at the idea that a sitting American president obviously thinks medieval torture is a gul-dang swell idea, no matter what psychologists, military experts, ethicists, the United Nations, the Geneva Convention and Jesus himself all say.
It was wonderful, powerful stuff, a razor-sharp, highly informed media pundit who dares to presume an unusually high level of intelligence among his viewers, speaking truth to power in a way most liberal media-haters complain never really happens anymore. And of course, his subject was one of the most deserving of our moral outrage in recent history.
But then I read some of the reaction to Olbermann's diatribe on various political blogs and on some news-aggregate sites, with many saying, gosh Keith, lighten up already, who cares, enough with all the outrage and the spittle, wow I'm so sick of all this ranting and raving and gosh I'm tired of these smarty media people telling me how to think and hey maybe torture is good let's kill us some more, haw haw haw snort.
On the one hand, it is, you can argue, generally the way of the meaner-than-thou blogosphere, with all but the most professional and intelligent and positive-minded of outposts seeming to suffer an undue percentage of reactionary chyme in their comment areas, hordes of Net-drunk twentysomethings and extremists and shut-ins who have way too much free time and merely chime in to see their sneers "published" and to prove how much more jaded and apathetic they are than the next person, while adding zero to the conversation.
But maybe it's worse than that. Because this is where it can happen, where you can get sucked into the vortex of whining and bitterness and where you might feel part of yourself wanting to wallow too, desiring to avoid doing the actual moral and spiritual work of dissecting and researching and analysing something as politically messy and morally ugly as torture for yourself, opting instead for the easy path, for closing your eyes and sticking your fingers in your ears and going, nyah nyah nyah shut up shut up SHUT UP! Hey, it sure beats thinking.
Or maybe we can flip it around. Maybe, with the right intent, the exact reverse can happen, and you see this ocean of nasty ennui, this pile of oft-misspelled, poorly punctuated reactionary effluvia as, in and of itself, something to be a bit livid about.
Maybe, in other words, you can enjoy, as one blogger put it, a big dose of "fatigue outrage," the feeling of disgust you get when faced with all those people who think mental lethargy and laziness is, like, way funny, dude.
In other words, enough with the childish, frat-boy-grade complaints about media overload and too many rants and outrage fatigue. You have to earn that sort of thing. If you never give a crap about engaging the world, if you never want to think deeply about complex issues and care about ramifications and see what truly resonates with your own informed spirit and then stand up for what you believe, this pretty much eliminates your right to sneer at others who do.
It is, for me, all about modulation. It is about remembering that outrage does not necessarily equal misery. Outrage does not mean you must wallow in fear and fatalism and yank out your hair and wake up every morning hating the world and hating yourself and hating humanity for being so stupid/numb/blind and wondering how the hell you can escape it all.
Outrage is rich with humanistic understanding. It is not some evangelical Christian parent "outraged" that her kid saw a woman's nipple on TV. It is not some right-wing Family Council "outraged" that someone put S&M outfits on Barbie, or that some art gallery is displaying Jesus as a woman, or that scientists dared to say that stem cell research does not equal abortion, or that the mayor isn't taking care of all the potholes and stray kitties. That's not outrage, that's reactionary whining.
True outrage, like Olbermann's, like (occasionally, hopefully) this column's, like what you should ideally be experiencing on a daily basis while Bush is in office, is honed and sharp and poignant. It contains a powerful sense of deeply informed decency, and therefore has a true feel for when that sense has been violated. Outrage has meat and substance and intellectual nourishment. It is actually healthy.
Smart, informed outrage engages you and fires your heart, your mind. It is fuel. It is the reason you claim you enjoy being an American, to question malevolent government actions and take a stand and demand accountability where there has, for the past seven years, been none. Bottom line: We simply cannot let them convince us, by way of an all-out assault on science, sex, love, et al, that the good fight just ain't worth fighting.
After all, the flying monkeys are far from done raiding the closet and stealing your babies and making a mockery of everything wise and calm and open-hearted people hold dear. And baby, if you ain't outraged about that, something is very wrong indeed.