Mobs and the Age of Outrage

This, Palin Broke His Heart, would be an interesting read no matter what, but I think it touches on something that it fails to expand upon: that the mob is becoming central to contemporary political and cultural expression.

One of the shibboleths of American politics that is getting eviscerated this election cycle is that The People Are Always Right. It was never true for anybody; certainly any conservative knows, or should know, that a crowd can easily turn into a mob, and a mob is always a destructive force. We may be seeing this year the political equivalent of a mob.

But mobs don’t come from nowhere. It’s very easy to look at Trump voters and dismiss them as thoughtless vulgarians who vote their prejudices, and who therefore can be dismissed as too morally compromised to take seriously: in other words, not just wrong, but bad. I would ask you, though: is this the way the media and others regarded the mob of Ferguson rioters? No: we had a long, loooooong national conversation on the roots of Ferguson’s rage. And we ought to have had that conversation, however ideologically constrained it may have been.

If we see the Trump moment as not just a populist movement, but as more of an uprising and a mob of angry voters supporting the most visceral and outrageous candidate available, then the mob is becoming the preferred bludgeon for political advancement in the U.S. That fits in with the outraged mobs that flock to and fro on social media, crucifying anyone who dares disagree with their deeply held beliefs. This fits in with the idea that we no longer seem to believe that private opinions and political acts, which cause no direct harm to anyone, are reasons to disqualify a person from a job or a business from operating.

5 Facts of the Age of Outrage

  1. Everything is political. Everything. The things you buy, whether you let your kids walk home from school alone, the movies you watch, and the car you drive, the way you do (or don’t) worship, the microagressions you suddenly notice in movies that you used to love as a kid…you get the picture. Everything in America is seen through the lens of political preference.
  2. Everything is judged. Everything. See above and understand that since everything around you and everything you do is a political statement (even if it is an accidental political statement), that everything is being judged by the hunkering masses on social media and around you with their smart phones and instantly available cameras.
  3. And everything is seen. No transgressions seem to go unnoticed: no accidents or bad days or bad moods or bad moments can excuse away your social and political sins. Someone will post the video or the picture or the scan of the credit card receipt and the outrage machine will grind into motion. And while your family might work to protect you, don’t expect your friends to save you.  While some may remain true, may stay in your corner, I’ve also seen folks who have known each other for years turn on each other and unleash crazed mobs.
  4. The mob is power. Unleash the mob, watch the opposition crumble, and know this truth: the mob is political and social power. While it’s easy to see this as a tool of the so-called “social justice warrior,” the truth is that it is everywhere. It is the Trump voters demanding political change and reveling in the overthrow of contemporary conservatism. It is Occupy Wall Street in all its incoherent, shitting on cop cars rage. It is the black lives matter folks shutting down highways, disrupting libraries, and “taking back” Martin Luther King Day. It is every upheaval on Twitter when someone does something stupid, catching the baleful eye of the monster, finding targets in the  young, old, and middle aged, rich, poor, and middle class, right, left, and somewhere in between. The mob is dumb, dangerous, raging, and unpredictable.
  5. The only safe place is in the mob. And that’s why so many people find a safe place in the mob. If they just follow along, then the eye of the beast isn’t on them. The rage isn’t targeting them. The jobs lost, the reputations ruined, the people hurt– well, if you’re in the mob, it’s not your damage.

This, of course, is unsustainable. We cannot continue as a country, working side by side, raising kids, going to church, seeing movies, paying taxes, dealing with every day life if we grow so fearful that we cannot speak and so hateful of our countrymen that we stop caring for their well being.

This, of course, is unsustainable.

But how much damage will we endure and how will we find a way to heal the divisions? It’s time for a new social contract and new social standards to help us curtail the worst of our own natures, but where is the leader who will show us the path? There are very real problems facing our country and we’ve chosen this moment to magnify them with a social movement based almost purely on the politics of destruction. We better start remembering what is important or we will lose this nation and all the good that its future could hold.

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