The Art of Being Outraged

09-29-2019Pastor's LetterFather Gregory Wilson

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

In recent article on Word On Fire titled, “How the News and Politics Is Destroying Your Soul (And What You Can Do About It),” by Joe Heschmeyer, Heschmeyer points out that our biggest problem is not “fake news” but junk news, news that exists only to entertain and which actually makes us worse people when we consume too much of it. From his article:
“Part of the reason is our addiction to outrage. … What happens is that anger can lead to similar ‘rushes’ as thrill-seeking activities where danger triggers dopamine reward receptors in the brain, or like other forms of addiction such as gambling, extreme sports, even drugs like cocaine and methamphetamines. Psychology Today, 2015 …

“The desire to know everything just for the sake of it (or for the sake of feeding your outrage-addiction) is a sin that used to be something that we warned against. Catholic theologians like Aquinas describe the vice of curiositas, an unhealthy curiosity that’s not motivated out of a sincere love for the truth. …

“Originally, it made sense to stay on top of the news of the day, because it was directly relevant to your daily life: weather reports for farmers, local goings-on around town, etc. But with the introduction of the telegraph and photograph…, we could suddenly read about – and even see – events having no relation to our lives in any way. This began a subtle shift from the news as useful to the news as entertaining. … ‘Where people once sought information to manage the real context of their lives, now they had to invent context in which otherwise useless information might be put to some apparent use’ (Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death, 1985).

“The successful players in this industry make a fortune by manipulating you emotionally, and by making you angry on purpose. In a piece cleverly entitled YOU’LL BE OUTRAGED AT HOW EASY IT WAS TO GET YOU TO CLICK ON THIS HEADLINE, Wired looked at some of the science behind ‘clickbait.’ The degree of physical response you have to an emotion, is a key ingredient in clicking behaviors. Sadness and anger, for example, are negative emotions, but anger is much more potent. ‘It drives us, fires us up, and compels us to take action.’ If you’ve ever found yourself falling for outrage clickbait or spent time hate-reading and hate-watching something, you know what [the author] is talking about.

“This is the point to which we’ve come. The news isn’t there to tell you pertinent information about your life. It’s there so that you see something that will make you angry enough to click on it, because then the news site can charge advertisers for the time you spent viewing the page. It’s appealing to your baser emotions, and manipulating you in ways you may not even realize.

“The solution to all of this, fortunately, is easy (at least in theory). Put down the remote, click the little X in the top-right corner, and walk away from the screen. … Try taking a week-long news fast (including Facebook, or whatever your particular triggers are), and then see how you did, and how you feel. Chances are, you won’t have missed anything you really needed.”