Sunday, November 9, 2014

The new opiate of the masses is outrage

This is a excellent article that sums up why people choose to inflict outrage on themselves.

They said one possibility is that negative emotions represent “a reliable source of arousal, one that can be continuously converted into positive affect as long as people place themselves within a given protective frame.” This protective frame can actually take several forms: it can be that the individual feels the danger of the stimulus but has the confidence to overcome it; or that a “safety zone” is created, where the individual places herself sufficiently away from the danger; or, finally, that the individual observes the danger but simply doesn’t engage with it.

The Psychology Today article also notes that the expression of outrage signals affiliation—we know you’re on our side if you exhibit the same level of indignation at the same perceived violations. And since there is safety in numbers, when we see and hear the thousands of comments in our respective echo chamber we know we’re not alone—and this is likely what gives us such confidence to deal with those violations. We enjoy feeling outrage because it increases our sense of camaraderie with like-minded fellow believers. And as Tetlock says, true believers “seek reassurance from each other that their beliefs are not mere social conventions but rather are anchored in backstop or sacred values beyond challenge.”
Not only does this explain Fox News, it also explains the doctrine of Hell. Defining actions as moral crimes worthy of outrage, coupled with the protective frame of God's forgiveness, allows the believer to safely engage in negative emotions. Like a horror movie, he can scare himself silly and yet enjoy it because he knows he is safe. This creates camaraderie with other believers, which in itself feels good. But there is a more insidious aspect to that camaraderie: because belief in the protective frame is difficult to sustain, the support of the group becomes doubly necessary. The fact that the idea of God is not independently derivable from empirical observation and requires an act of faith means that a group of like-minded believers is necessary to maintain that faith. And since that faith is the protective mechanism, the group becomes inescapable: the more you indulge in the outrage and fear, the more protection you need, which means the more you need to identify with the group. And the group exists to indulge in outrage and fear. It's a self-feeding cycle.

It also means that de-converting someone is literally rescuing them from hell (or at least their imagination of it); but, like Marx's famous quote, it's not as easy as it sounds. Have you ever tried to get between a junkie and his opiate? He'll knife you in an instant. In the same way, people who are quaking in fear of Hellfire are actually thrilled; just like being in combat, every second counts, every action is significant, colors are brighter, sounds are louder, and the sense of engagement and presence in the world is turned up to 11. But unlike combat, this state is enjoyable, because they are certain they will emerge unscathed.

In other words, those hellfire and damnation traveling tent shows were the equivalent of the Saw movies. And watching Fox news is like playing Doom with your buddies. Outrage is the junk food of the mind, and the USA will stop gorging on it just as soon as McDonald's closes up shop.

(Note: this mechanism might also explain the growing contingent on the Left that seems to glory in how irreparably broken democracy seems to be. Escape I can't figure out what their protective frame is.)


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