Just as an example, I had worked for days composing the perfect 140 character tweet about Cecil the Lion. I was just about to hit send when I noted my entire Twitter feed was over Cecil and was now carrying on about how people care more about dead lions than they do black lives, the Holocaust, unborn babies, GMOs, death-by-anti-vaxxers, and Nikki Minaj's boyfriend. I started to create a hashtag which read #CecilMattersButSoDoesEverythingElseYouAreUpsetAbout as a way to fit in, but before I could post it, Donald Trump spoke and crashed the internet.
The information highway moves at lightening speed, and that means we barely have time to get the facts straight before we are expected to commit to a stance in the form of a meme, gif, or strongly-worded Facebook status. That would be intimidating in the real world, but the beauty of social media is that there are almost no repercussions to taking a stand on any trending topic that pops up. It is safe to shout your outrage to the world in all caps even if you have no idea what you are talking about. Of course, if you don't know what you are talking about, a quick trip to Wikipedia can give you all the ammo you need to continue your harangue. The best part is that you can get into a full-on snit over Benghazi while simultaneously posting pictures of your pedicure. You can hold your own in a Facebook debate about Planned Parenthood while checking out videos of Lenny Kravitz's wardrobe malfunction in another window. You can tweet your horror about the murder of a lion while munching on your sub from Jimmy Johns!
The problem is that as fun and easy as on-line outrage can be, we are not learning anything from these exchanges. Of course, learning isn't the point. Outrage has become a competitive sport, the goal being to form teams, call in reserves when the going gets tough, and beat down the opposing players. There is no room for middle-ground or give-and-take in the game of Outrage. And there is absolutely no room for the most important skill human beings possess - the ability to truly listen. When the news of Cecil the Lion's killing hit the media, and thus the internet, Outrage players went into overdrive. It was the scene from Frankenstein where the villagers arrive, torches in hand, to threaten the very life of a man who had engaged in an activity that, no matter how deplorable, was legal. If you dared to suggest that the man who hired the professional safari team to ensure he could add a lion to his trophy collection is just one tiny cog in the wheel of the safari business, you were shouted down by the Outrage Police. If you weren't for the immediate drawing and quartering of Cecil's killer, you were against magnificent creatures. And who wants THAT on their Facebook resume?
For the record, I think outrage is a necessary emotion that sparks social change. Thanks to the outrage over Cecil, trophy hunting is getting the negative attention it deserves, and some companies, like Delta Airlines are taking their own stand by no longer allowing the remains of trophy-hunted animals to be transported on their flights. (Which means they used to transport them. Where?!!! In the overhead bins? As if I didn't have enough flight anxiety, now I have to imagine a rhino head falling into my lap during heavy turbulence!)
On the other hand, when we mourn the death of a lion by publicly posting that we hope for the prolonged torture of the man who killed him, it's as if Outrage is our meth. We're pumped up, high on the adrenaline. We are no longer rational human beings, but addicts. Within a few days, the source of that buzz is gone. Cecil is no longer available to provide us with our fix. So, we go elsewhere. We get our fix from the constantly outraged pundits from both sides of the equation who are paid large salaries for their outrage. We get it from internet stories that may not be completely accurate, from friends, from the pulpit, from the reality of life. I mean, really. Shouldn't we all just....
Then again, maybe not. Oh well. Carry on!