It ranks with “unprecedented” and “you’re muted” to conjure up the past year or two. When have we seen so much outrage in so many spheres of public life? Party A, outraged, declares Party B’s words or deeds an outrage and responds in a way that outrages Party B. It’s an outrage perpetual motion machine.
Originally unrelated to rage, the word outrage comes from Latin ultra (“beyond”). An outrageous act goes beyond acceptable bounds. The outraged seek allies. Their righteous anger is contagious.
What makes a feeling of outrage so addictive? Is it the rush of adrenalin, the ego-boost of moral certitude, the sense of belonging in a group bound by shared passion? I don’t personally enjoy it, so I can only guess.
At its best, outrage generates action to right a grave injustice. Some exploit it to increase ratings or social media "likes." Among its dangers is a moral absolutism that wipes out any sense of proportion. To be certain of one’s innocence leaves no room for humility. Opponents seem scarcely human. Having God on your side makes any compromise a deal with the Devil.
Image: New York City draft riots of 1863.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.