Saturday, November 6, 2010

I am Outraged by Your Outrage!

Kieth Olbermann made a few political contributions and was suspended indefinitely by the powers that be at MSNBC.  From Facebook to Twitter to a million liberal blogs the outrage is as palpable as it was predictable.  Spittle seems to spew off the pages as they shout their hoarse cries of offense and rage, shaking with anger at the unfairness and bias they see behind this action.  And so it may be.

But I want to make one thing as clear as I possibly can.  I don't care about Kieth Olbermann.  I don't care about Cable TV news shows.  They simply do not matter.  They are closed systems, preaching the gospel of high dudgeon to an audience that already believed all the same things and is absolutely unwilling to listen to anything they might disagree with.  That would make them uncomfortable.  One of the clearest signs of a closed-minded ideologue is that they never seek information - only reinforcement.  There is a risk to learning - everything you learn changes the way you see the world.  Learn enough things and the next thing you know you'll be reexamining your entire worldview.  Of course, this tendency to cling to a set of beliefs runs counter to the instincts of empirical secularists, which certainly explains why Olbermann was losing the ratings fight.

But therein lies the point.  This sort of spittle-flecked ranting over prosaic events of little significance is classically a wingnut trait.  I do not have to see the people I disagree with as horrific monsters, as Hitlers and Stalins and Guevaras and killers of innocents.  I can see them as misinformed, I can call them out when they are disingenuous, and I can argue in favor of affirmative public policy actions I believe will improve the lives of citizens in my community.  Certainly, every now and then someone will actually do something so offensive, so beyond the boundaries of legitimate political discourse that outrage is a natural result, and in those cases it is not only justified, but necessary.  But by allowing ourselves to become outraged daily by small events of little consequence, we end up in a place where it's hard to react differently to rape than to an illegal left turn.  In all our repeated fury, we lose an important part of our humanity when we lose all sense of degree.

The outrage du jour is a mindless, silly game played at the confluence of the 24 hour news cycle and ideological demonization.  My political opponent is so evil, so completely monstrous that there is nothing he or she cannot do that doesn't inflame my anger, offend my sensibilities and generate gigabytes of demands that it all stop now.  I recognize there is no hope of recalibrating our sense of outrage, but like so many things, I do not have to participate.

A rich, famous television star losing his job does not cause me outrage.  Politically, we lost nothing - he was not converting people to see the world the way I do, he was not exposing criminality and wrongdoing, he was simply telling a few million people what they want to hear, night in and night out.  Poor, sick, unemployed, homeless Americans is an outrage.  Murdering Pakistani villagers is an outrage. Providing cover for people to take the ancestral homes of Palestinians at the point of a gun is an outrage. Threatening to attack other sovereign nations that do not threaten the US or her interests is an outrage.  But we don't want to talk about these things.  We don't want to talk about economic solutions, or the proper role of government in society, or the most appropriate way to raise the revenues necessary for government to deliver those services.

We scream and rant about a fired TV host, or shout nonsensical lies about a routine Presidential trip abroad.  We worry endlessly that a doomed candidate might be a witch, or whether another is really a Christian.  And all the while, with every tick of the clock, the real problems become greater and that much harder to solve.  We'll need to talk about them at some point.  Maybe after tomorrows' outrage?


  1. Of course, this tendency to cling to a set of beliefs runs counter to the instincts of empirical secularists, which certainly explains why Olbermann was losing the ratings fight.

    There also may be something to the fact that MSNBC is available to fewer households than FAUX Nooze.

    In any case, whatever goes on at MSNBC is far outweighed by NBC's weekly Beltway Wisdom Carnival, this week featuring liberal² Governor Chris Christie (R-NJ) and conservative Senator Jim DeMint (Psychopath-SC).

    ²: Is joking.

  2. Yeah. I'll tune in when the host says something like "But Senator, there is simply no way that reducing tax revenue by 800 billion dollars will reduce the deficit - that's a blatant lie".

    Or they say "But Cogresswoman, there is exactly zero evidence that Iran is a threat to the region, the US or Europe, that they have an active nuclear weapons program or have diverted ANY fissile material. And you must know that if they did produce a bomb it would be too large and heavy to deliver by missile, so it still would not represent a threat, but rather only a deterrent capability".

    Yeah. I'd watch that.

    But I'm not re-scheduling my viewing habits at this point...

  3. Interesting read. However, I surprised at your inclusion of Guevara in your examples of "horrific monsters" and "killers of innocents". I did a search and according to, (Miami based and definitely not a propaganda arm of the Castro regime)they cite a total of 127 'murders'. The names are provided and notes that a small number were executions of deserters and collaborators and criminals in their ranks.

    I suggest that Pol Pot might be a be a better third choice for your triumvirate of horrific monsters.