We hear all the time about “outrage culture” and how everyone in politics is angry all the time. Vitriolic rhetoric flies across social media and people would rather insult, accuse and call people names than actually engage on ideas, policy, or ideology. Principles are gone, and only tribal hatreds remain. It is only a matter of time until we fall into civil war. If you spend much time online, that seems very plausible.
And yet I am not sure the “outrage culture” is as bad as it appears.
I am a politically active person, and I have been politically active since 1995. I am a candidate for office for the third time. Once I get offline and talk to real people, I am not sure things really are that bad. Yes, lots of people are angry. But even the people I hang with – politically involved people with very strong opinions on politics and policy – are not full of rage all the time. They are mostly just living their lives, enjoying time with their families, going to church, and working. They might be posting harsh things on social media occasionally, sure, but that does not define their lives.
Social media can make things seem a lot worse than they are. People are screaming each other, the loudest and most obnoxious voices get the most attention, and the anonymous structure of social media makes people feel “safe” to be as obnoxious and inflammatory as they want to be. Even death and rape threats are common, though usually anonymous. But if you are talking to politically active people face to face, it is not the same conversation that you see online.
Yes, the social media outrage machine is a bad thing and we all tend to get way more worked up than we should by any logical measure. But if you spend time away from that, you start to gain a lot of perspective. Maybe that is what we need to do more of: Take more time away from social media. Take your dog on a walk. Play with your children. Go to a stream and watch the water flow. Talk to people in person instead of through a computer screen. You will be less depressed and you will have a better perspective on the future.