Tuesday, May 15, 2018


If you are a human being living among other humans there will inevitably be times when you feel outraged. Even if you are alone on a desert island there must be moments when you are outraged by the behaviour of animals not being nice to you or to each other.

Outrage, that mixture of anger, shock, frustration, concern, helplessness, rebellion - a magnified version of IT’S NOT FAIR! - is experienced by all of us to greater or lesser degree when we ourselves. or others close to us, or even far from us, are subjected to injustice, cruelty, humiliation, exploitation, degradation, oppression and other forms of suffering inflicted by humans on other humans. History is mainly an account, slanted according to whoever is telling it, of different kinds of outrage perpetrated by some humans on other humans and of their consequences.

How is the outrage barometer measured? What gives one outrage more attention, more reaction and/or action than another? When there are so many outrages happening in the world at any one time and especially right now, which of them pushes more buttons, grabs more column inches, media reporting, internet space, discussion time, reaction and response time?

 The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893
oil, tempera, pastel, crayon and tempera.
91cm x 73.5 cm (36" x 28.9")
National Gallery and Munch Museum, Oslo, Norway


Anonymous said...

As a fellow-human, living among humans and other animals, I question your implication that we are programmed to feel inevitable outrage. I might have been that way once, I might have changed since.
I don’t think it is experienced by all of us. Perhaps I should feel that way, perhaps it would be healthier, I don’t know. What I feel is anxiety if the wrong in question requires some action from me; an anxiety only quelled by taking that action. So it manifests as a kind of conscience.
As I write this, there’s an Alsatian dog captive in the garden of the house opposite, while its owners - it seems to be one of those houses occupied by a group of sharers - have all gone out to work for the day. It howls loud and pitifully. It does this quite often. Next door is an office building and twice this morning someone has come from there to offer it comfort. I can’t see clearly, there’s a parked car in the way, but the first seemed to caress & talk to it kindly, the second threw something in over the gate, perhaps a snack. Perhaps someone has dropped a note through their letterbox expressing outrage. Its loud protestations sound increasingly resigned. I don’t feel action is required from me. In the world is immense suffering, this I mainly know from hearsay & experience. When I am required to act as Good Samaritan, conscience will tell me.
For the rest, I’m not troubled. I don’t lose sleep over it. But then, I might watch an affecting movie. You are right in mentioning buttons being pushed. The soundtrack encourages my sobs. When I watch DVDs of Call the Midwife for example, the birth of a baby always brings me to tears even though I know it has been faked for the screen.
Media reporting may or may not reflect reality. The buttons are built-in, but then we build a resistance to being suckered by them. That’s another human thing, we can numb ourselves. Otherwise soldiers could not kill an enemy they have no reason to hate.
When I see a drama in the street—someone falls over, a car crash—that’s when I may be called upon to act. Outrage is irrelevant, action is the only thing required. Or someone I know has a crisis, something I can help with. I’ll feel bad if I don’t.
Perhaps outrage is a good thing, a useful instinct, helps get things changed. I don’t condemn it at all. There’s no shortage of others to feel it. I don’t condemn myself for lacking it.

N. D'Arbeloff said...

Vincent,thanks for expressing your view so clearly. There was no "should" implied in my post nor was I condemning anyone who doesn't feel outraged. I don't think I've ever met anyone who never feels outraged about anything, whether in their personal rapport with others or on a broader scale. Of course every person will react and respond, or not react or respond, to innumerable situations in life.

In the example you mention about the pitifully howling dog next door, my response would definitely have been to go over when the people were home and talk to them, not in an outraged manner, but simply to ask what might be a solution. If I had room and time, I might have volunteered to look after the dog when they were out.

Obviously a lot depends on circumstances in any situation. You're right about the factor of whether one can personally help in a crisis or not. Often it's not possible. But, in my case, this doesn't prevent me from feeling outrage (which can be a form of empathy, though not always)about certain world events and prominent individuals who manipulate them. Yes, sometimes collective outrage can lead to positive changes (as in apartheid in S.Africa) but it's not guaranteed of course.