Monday, October 12, 2015


It is the consistency of the information that matters for a good story, not its completeness. Indeed, you will often find that knowing little makes it easier to fit everything you know into a coherent pattern.
-Daniel Kahneman-

When I stop writing about American culture,  and it will be soon, it will come from being tired of the hot and cold running outrage that passes for discussion and social criticism and news reportage.  No more do we hear rational and dispassionate discussions, everything is outrageous, everything is about how outrageous the actions and inactions of the "enemy" are and there's always an enemy:  the Liberals, the Tea Party, the NRA, the ACLU, the "politically Correct, the Secular Humanist -- there's always an enemy to inspire actions whether or not they're appropriate, effective, moral or legal. Some of the worst outrages never happened yet they inspire wars, riots, lynchings and civil disobedience.

Whether you're Republican or Democrat or Libertarian or Bullmoose or Whig, everything our opponents do is an outrage and it's easier to fabricate the appearance of outrage now than it ever has been.  Outrage -- it's what's on the news.  It's how we manipulate opinion and inspire action and suppress thought.

Modern life is the battle among activists and activist organizations, and it's all about winning, about success and not much about reason.  A girl hears a song in a club that makes her feel uncomfortable?  OUTRAGE!  Something must be done! Don't think, ACT NOW! Someone claims to be the victim of racism?  It's an outrage and will be portrayed as such if it requires fiction and libel and lying.  It's about furthering the cause and the cause is just winning.

Hear a story that supports "our side" and you'll believe it, you'll forward it, you'll write a passionate blog entry and you'll blame it on the bogeyman of reference long before you'll check the facts, analyze the plausibility of your response or of the accusation.  Is that radio station in Alaska a plot to change the weather or sniff out underground things on the other side of the planet? Will you bother to ask the experts on radio or the weather or those in the know about ELF communication with submerged submarines? Do you know the D layer from the Nightime F2?  Have you some data on connections btween them and weather?  Hell no, we just know there's a secret agenda despite what we know about the subject and you'll forward the story to everyone and they will pass it along like a virus.  Give me a bogus outrage upon which to stand and I will move the Earth.  

In his book Contagious, Jonah Berger explains how outrage sells, how it inspires people to share it, pass it along, promote it and use it to sell us beliefs.that have little or no factual support while valid information just sits there like leftovers in your refrigerator.

Want to create an outrage?  First pick a "Goliath" says the American Council on Science and Health.  

"If you examine the most popular activist groups, they all operate according to this formula: they pick an enemy they can depict as the arrogant “Goliath”,  a corporation that cares only about profits, then they find an issue or product simple enough to be understood by the people who read sites like Natural Resources Defense Council or Environmental Working Group (ideally something people eat or use daily, so there is first-hand experience with it) and then they ‘reveal’ an outrageous fact about it."

And "fact" of course hardly has to be one to let us play to the popular fancy - food faddists for instance.  You feed their fear that we're eating poison and you blame the bogeyman.  Alar on apples -- they're trying to kill you! -- "studies show!"  only they actually didn't.  Milk causes phlegm, vaccinations don't work, wheat gives you "grain Brain" and gluten is poison only none of it is true. Nearly anything you'll read in the popular press or see on Dr Oz or in those ads that pop up on line is false. Who bothers to question it when it's too damned much fun to be outraged?

As Daniel Kahneman said of  raising false fears: all you need is something plausible to the non-expert and an anecdote. Very few will ever bother to investigate, calculate odds or learn anything about chemistry, biology, statistics or any kind of science. What we believe is what we want to and that's that.  None of us are immune to the power of outrage and all of us, from brilliant to dull are lazy when it comes to what we believe.  Outrage is addictive.  Outrage is fun and if the outrage monger offers a way to "solve" what may not be a problem we will take it.  We'll make noise in the street, sign petitions, burn neighborhoods, write passionate letters of outrage long before we'll look at valid statistics with a keen eye for deception.

Rile them up, feed the righteous indignation and give them the way to the egress and they will do your bidding, whether it's to libel a candidate, see insignificant things or non existent things as outrageous and you will prevail.

And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the emotional tail wagging the rational dog, tired of the outrage and the percieved need for action being confused with a solution. I weary of the same old truth by assertion and repetition, the outrage of the day and the hortatory calls to be afraid.  In fact I fear the fear mongers and outrage shouters far more than anything they warn us of and prophets always lie, even when the prediction comes true.


d nova said...

wish i could comfort u, but if u'r ‘tired of the emotional tail wagging the rational dog’ n ‘weary of the same old truth by assertion and repetition’, then i'm afraid u'r destined to become more tired n weary, since we are -- in the end -- only human.

Capt. Fogg said...

Well some of us - others are slimy sea creatures.

d nova said...

but sea creatures have don't wag dog or make assertions -- tho they may repeat.

Capt. Fogg said...

I know one that does