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How to Beat the “Outrage Industrial Complex” and Save the Country

After the remarkably depressing Covington Catholic situation on the National Mall a couple months ago, I wrote a commentary and produced a video that said, in a nutshell: we hate each other and that isn’t going to end well.

That’s why when my former boss recently tweeted a New York Times article entitled “Our Culture of Contempt” to me, I was immediately drawn to it.  That’s what we’re living in after all, and the author of the piece, Arthur C. Brooks, identified just how desperate the situation has become:

Political scientists have found that our nation is more polarized than it has been at any time since the Civil War. One in six Americans has stopped talking to a family member or close friend because of the 2016 election.

That’s astounding.  Lifelong friendships being severed by politics.  It’s undoubtedly always happened, but what’s concerning is the rate at which it’s happening today.  And the fact that our Trump takes have become thicker than blood to the point of cutting off family members for either wearing or hating red MAGA caps.

Brooks attributed much of this hateful sentiment to something called “motive attribution asymmetry.”  That’s a fancy way of saying we become convinced we (and those that agree with us) are motivated by love and those who oppose us are motivated by hate.  We are noble, they are evil.  We are the good guys, they are the bad guys.  It all builds into a colossal outrage society that serves only to line the pockets of the truly bad actors in Brooks’ equation:

divisive politicians, screaming heads on television, hateful columnists, angry campus activists and seemingly everything on the contempt machines of social media

He dubs it, perhaps appropriately, the “outrage industrial complex” and warns how this complex is playing all of us for fools:

…turn away the rhetorical dope peddlers — the powerful people on your own side who are profiting from the culture of contempt. As satisfying as it can feel to hear that your foes are irredeemable, stupid and deviant, remember: When you find yourself hating something, someone is making money or winning elections or getting more famous and powerful. Unless a leader is actually teaching you something you didn’t know or expanding your worldview and moral outlook, you are being used.

I’ve referred to the cesspool of divisiveness as verbal excess, verbal diarrhea, and nincompoopery.  But “rhetorical dope” is a far better description because it captures the essence of what we’re dealing with – a drug (contempt for each other) that we don’t like, that we know is bad for us, but that we’ve become so addicted to, we just can’t quit. 

The drug addict who doesn’t wise up will eventually kill himself.  And this situation is no different.  The right-leaning voices in the Outrage Industrial Complex have convinced half the country that the libs are poised to destroy this country.  The left-leaning voices have convinced the other half that the cons are about to do the same.  But the truth is that neither are going to do so – both halves together are going to commit national suicide.

In my commentary I highlighted my belief that this contempt and hatred we have for one another is supernatural in origin and therefore the only hope for reconciliation had to be supernatural as well.  Brooks doesn’t go that far, but he does appeal to some thinly veiled Christian themes: namely, repentance, forgiveness, and introspective efforts to change our own hearts.

I don’t have any idea where Brooks stands politically, but I appreciate and fully concur with the message of his article.  And that’s the point.  People of goodwill have to commit to a proactive effort to fix what we’ve allowed to devolve so terribly in recent years.  Where to start?  My suggestion (with a hat tip to Brooks):

  1. Pray for a reconciling, humble spirit for yourself.
  2. Unfollow and avoid those in the Outrage Industrial Complex despite the fact that you agree with their politics, love their sense of humor, or find entertainment in their antics.
  3. Respond to those who disagree with you not with offense or defensiveness, but with grace. View them charitably, as captives to be freed rather than enemies to defeat.
  4. Listen more to others and learn the discipline of remaining silent.
  5. Seek out those you have allowed politics to alienate you from, and mend those relationships.

Not an exhaustive list by any means, but from where I sit, it’s a heck of a good start.

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