Today we have an exercise!
A lot of politics today for those of us not "in the system" involves a cycle of outrage. Something awful happens, it gets talked about ad nauseam by 24-hour news media, it gets blogged about, someone creates a meme villainizing the opposition party or some other "other group" for the event, and we share the memes and argue about it on Facebook.
Then something else happens and we forget about it. This isn't a new narrative, but hearing about the narrative hasn't changed our behavior. Enough people still participate in the cycle of outrage that it continues to dominate political dialogue.
Why is this so bad? Beyond the issues of partisan dysfunction and the growth of antipathy--which we discuss in Wedged--the very short cycle of outrage means we never commit the resources to fix any of these problems. Typically, political change takes more than 13 days of angry Tweeting, but if we get hooked by another outrage-moment 2 weeks from when we get angry about the last thing, we've lost any opportunity to turn passion into action.
We know that this cycle is unhelpful (at best) and destructive, but it's hard to stop doing it. So we're going to do a quick exercise in the hopes of helping us to hesitate next time we are tempted to let ourselves be sucked into the outrage machine.
Look back one year to see what we were angry about. Slate magazine used a lot of statistical social media analysis (which actually goes a little beyond counting hashtags) to determine what we were most outraged about each day, which is a helpful reference.
Before we do the "big reveal," the exercise itself actually requires you to grab a word processor, pen, etc, and write down 5 things you think were outrage-worthy in December 2014.
Then we're going to compare to what Slate found and see how good our memories were.
Seriously, start writing.
Alright: at this point, you've either done it or you aren't going to bother, so here are the 31 things we were angry about in December 2014 (we the authors actually don't know what's going on with a few of these; Slate explains them in its article):
- St. Louis rams players make the "Hands up, don't shoot" gesture during player intros at a game
- New lawsuit against Bill Cosby alleges he sexually assaulted a 15-year-old-girl
- Staten Island grand jury declines to indict an NYPD officer in the choking death of Eric Garner
- A St. Louis county police Facebook page offers advice to parents on how to keep their children from getting shot like Tamir Rice
- Rolling Stone retracts its story about rape at UVA, saying its trust in the primary source was "misplaced"
- A company calls itself Strange Fruit PR
- A friend of the UVA "primary source" claims that Rolling Stone--who quoted him in the article--never talked to him
- No one got eaten on the Discovery Channel's "Eaten Alive"
- Senate CIA torture report: prisoners were tortured for 4 years before President Bush was briefed
- People get angry that a Harvard Law professor got angry that a Chinese restaurant overcharged him by $4
- Best Buy tweets a joke about "Serial"
- Scott Rudin and Amy Pascal joke that Pascal should ask President Obama if he likes Django Unchained
- A UCLA law professor asks a Ferguson-related question on a final exam
- Amid a hostage crisis, UBER's surge pricing charges Sydney residents $100 to get out of the city
- People take selfies amid the Sydney hostage crisis
- Unidentified hackers threaten 9/11 style attacks on theaters playing "The Interview"
- Obama announces the normalization of relations with Cuba
- Sony withdraws "The Interview" from its planned Dec 25 release
- Paramount refuses to allow theaters to screen 2004's "Team America: World Police"
- NBC News reports that a CIA agent (that was one of the models for "Zero Dark Thirty"s heroine) failed to share a tip that could have averted 9/11 and went on to shape the cover-up of the torture program
- Former New York Gov. George Pataki blames the murder of two NYPD officers on Eric Holder and Bill de Blasio
- Obama goes to Hawaii for vacation during unrest in New York City
- Rep. Michael Grimm pleads guilty to felony tax charge, plans to stay in office
- Writer tweets a comparison of Ralphie in "A Christmas Story" to Tamir Rice
- Rush Limbaugh declares Idris Elba can't be James Bond because Bond is Scottish (Elba is black)
- Video surfaces of Obama "breaking down gender stereotypes" at a Toys for Tots event
- NYPD Officers turn their backs on Bill de Blasio during funeral for slain Officer Rafael Ramos
- Facebook's "Year in Review" shows a user a photo of his child, who died this year
- Newly elected House Majority Whip Steve Scalise spoke at gathering hosted by white supremacists in 2002
- The NYPD engages in a "virtual work stoppage," according to the New York Post
- Target's ads for its new "Annie for Target" clothing line feature white models when the new Annie is black
How'd we do? Many of us probably never heard of many of these, which is perhaps for the best. Of those you remembered when you read them, how many did you get before you read the list? (I'll admit I'd forgotten about most of them.)
Hopefully it's got us considering one or both of two things:
- Our momentary outrage may not be related to how much we actually care about something, and that constant high outrage makes it hard to differentiate what's really important to us
- We do think lots of things are important, but we only allow ourselves to be engaged with them for a few days before moving on to something else, rather than committing to making sustained change in a few of these issues
Something else to consider: do we even remember what we were angry about two months ago? What comes to your memory between Oct 7th and Nov 13th (the Paris attacks, which set off a very recent cycle of outrage over terrorism, semantics, and refugees)?