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The Liberal Outrage Machine is Out of Control

By Brian Byrd | Politics | August 28, 2015 |

By Brian Byrd | Politics | August 28, 2015 |

I am an unabashed liberal.

I believe everyone should have the right to marry who they love, that women, minorities and LGBTQ individuals deserve the same protection, rights, pay, privilege and respect granted white males. I believe that greed and underregulation have poisoned our economy, our environment, our government, and our collective moral authority. I believe the middle class is overworked and underpaid, a position our perpetually ignored underclass would sell their kidneys to attain.

I do not enjoy taxes but believe them to be a necessary component of a fully functioning society that requires its citizens to share burdens, yet I believe our current tax system is a byzantine boondoggle designed to funnel wealth, benefits and services to those who need them the least. I believe there is little difference between an abhorrent person and someone espousing abhorrent views, which is why I believe the modern conservatism to be the single most destructive force in American society — just ahead of guns, which should be confiscated until we demonstrate the maturity necessary to possess them.

I believe government can be a driving force for change, equality and innovation in the right hands, and that our leaders should not shy away from taking bold steps to further our civilization even at the expense of short-term economic gain. I believe in the right to practice and preach your own religion provided your beliefs do not infringe on mine. I believe this country has systemic race and gender problems, exacerbated by a white ruling class clinging to antebellum fantasies where women were happy in the kitchen and children could roam picket-fence lined streets without encountering fearsome minorities.
Mildly left-of-center positions, right? Disappointing by Marxian standards but still enough to make Andrew Brietbart’s corpse spontaneously burst into flames. My feelings on these social, economic, environmental and legislative issues typically send my conservative friends into convulsions (to be fair, most are epileptics). Lately, they’re irritating my progressive associates, too. For entirely different reasons.

For months, I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts on what can be done about an increasingly cannibalistic left that steadfastly refuses to let any outrage opportunity pass unexploited — particularly if someone on their side commits the slight. Modern progressives seem more interested in starting internecine squabbles than winning fights against those who truly oppose their agenda. Left-on-left crime is an epidemic, cropping up everywhere from comment sections to social media to presidential primary rallies. Misuse a pronoun when writing about transgender issues? Get ready for some Disqus notifications. Question the validity of a microaggression? Prepare for Twitter outrage. Wonder if something is really as racist or sexist or bigoted as it’s being made out to be? You’re now part of the problem. Liberals seemingly save their most potent venom for those who fundamentally agree with their causes yet question certain aspects. Unconditional support often feels like the only way to avoid conflict.

Outrage is a healthy expression when properly channeled and judiciously deployed. Killing black citizens for selling loosies or for having the temerity to question a police officer is fucking outrageous. Threatening women’s lives for exposing the rampant misogyny inherent to video game culture is fucking outrageous. Arguing climate change is fiction because it’s cold outside is fucking outrageous. Cancelling Hannibal before its planned sixth season IS MOTHERFUCKING OUTRAGEOUS AND I WILL BATHE IN THE BLOOD OF THOSE WHO AUTHORIZED THIS DECISION IN FRONT OF THEIR HORRIFIED FAMILIES!!!! (Sorry, Cindy edited this before posting). Attacking Amy Poehler for an intentionally offensive — but contextually appropriate — joke she didn’t write? Getting angry at people who supported a model with vitiligo for painting their faces in similar fashion? Maybe let those slide, progressives.

Rage is binary in progressive circles. Actions are either acceptable or objectively something that wouldn’t flash through Hitler’s mind even once on his meanest fucking hour. Many liberals appear unable or unwilling to discern the difference between ignorance (this person means well but perhaps didn’t thoroughly explain their point) and ignorance (this person is actually an inflamed hemorrhoid on society’s taint). Benefit of the doubt is practically an antiquated concept. Those with unimpeachable progressive credentials (sustainably printed on cage-free thrice-recycled humanely treated all-natural soy parchment) are dismissed as clueless cretins for even insignificantly challenging accepted liberal orthodoxies. Remember #CancelColbert?

The Internet allows us to self-select. We can follow who we want, visit just the websites we enjoy, discuss controversial topics only among compatible individuals. It’s very difficult for alternative perspectives to penetrate these bubbles. Frequent Pajiba readers probably think the whole country understands what the “cis” prefix means in regards to gender. Or what the “Q” in LGBTQ stands for and how it’s different than “T.” Few in my social circle have the first clue. Not because they’re willfully ignorant. No one bothered to tell them. Anger has replaced education. Telling someone to check their privilege isn’t instructive. It’s combative, even if done unintentionally.

I live in a fairly conservative area of a purple state. Many of my close friends hate Obama and what he represents almost as much as the Philadelphia Eagles hate winning Super Bowls. Nonetheless, they are intelligent, open-minded individuals who would support feminism if their wife was the one facing discrimination, oppose unjustified police violence if they witnessed it on the street, and advocate for LGBTQ issues if their family members were denied equal rights. They’re people who would, in certain circumstances, support progressive social causes. Yet they consistently oppose these movements in the abstract largely because they feel attacked by supporters. Minor criticisms are met with calls to check privilege. Legitimate questions are framed as bigotry. Dissenting views aren’t tolerated. So they throw their hands up and walk away. Another potential ally ostracized. And for what? To feel superior online?
I hear similar sentiments from weary progressives both on social media and in local watering holes. Why are these groups so determined to alienate everyone? Especially when we’re on their damn side. Liberals, not conservatives, preach tolerance and inclusiveness. Yet the right, for all its backwards policies and myopic focus on losing issues, better understands the inherent political benefit to embracing like-minded individuals. The Tea Party permanently raised John Boehner’s blood pressure to perilous levels, but hypertension is a small price to pay for control of Congress.

Conservatives are losing the culture wars on all fronts. Momentum is with progressives. Restricting potential supporters from the battlefield — even unintentionally — doesn’t just eliminate powerful allies. It places the burden of change squarely on the aggrieved parties, availing the opposition of their societal obligations. Police brutality is not only a black issue. Equal pay is not only a women’s issue. Transgender rights is not only a transgender individual issue. I mean this not in the destructive #AllLivesMatter sense that tries to homogenize the very real problems facing specific minority groups. Rather, these are shared problems necessitating shared solutions. Alienating possible partners only exacerbates the divide.

I know what you’re thinking: Well, I don’t do that. Maybe not. But how forcefully do you urge restraint when fellow liberals lunge for jugulars? Progressives insist conservatives rein in their extreme elements. They petition law enforcement organizations to root out their bad apples and demand accountability from organizations that practice discrimination yet frequently fail to turn their gaze inward. Last December, notorious outrage peddler Slate — in a move apparently designed to create an irony singularity — ran a “Year of Outrage” feature chronicling “everything you were angry about on social media.” It’s a fun and occasionally insightful project that utterly glosses over Slate’s role in creating outrage movements…movements spreading unchecked from academia to online circles to the real world like a runaway pathogen.
All this is not to say progressives should abandon deeply held personal beliefs to insulate themselves against “PC culture” criticisms. As mentioned above, we’re facing incredibly serious, life-threatening issues. But liberals must develop proportional responses and stop crying wolf. Moderating outrage — taking a minute to think through whether launching a nuclear salvo is appropriate — might bring a new recruit or two into the fold.

At the very least it will help retain allies exasperated with the current state of affairs.