Avery at Gravity’s Wings has a good post about outraged exclamations about a putative “outrage culture” which are actually about ordinary, common-or-garden criticism directed at something the exclaimers consider Their Territory. We all know what those look like!
Three days ago, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist decided to create a book, called “God is an Abusive Boyfriend (and you should break up).” This was, all things considered, a pretty bad idea, and was criticized in many places. Chris Stedman wrote a column about it, and quoted posts by Sarah Moglia and Sarah Jones that also made criticisms. People left comments on his blog, and criticized him on Twitter. Shortly after, Mehta decided to cancel the project, saying that his “execution was poor and it upset a lot of good people.”
Cue the outrage about outrage that wasn’t even outrage.
DJ Grothe complained about “outrage culture” on his wall, and plenty of commenters agreed, because apparently criticizing tasteless and offensive jokes is “outrage culture” now. One person mentioned that she was sad that the “outrage culture” won, even though she’s glad the project was cancelled. In other words, even when she agrees with us* she’s against us!
On Dave Muscato’s wall, Grothe continued to rail against “Soap Opera Atheism”:
And Ed Clint joined in and on it went, as it does.
None of this is new. These are just a couple of examples, but people like Grothe and Clint have spent years attacking people in the movement who dare to offer criticism of offensive ideas. To them, the slightest criticism of people within the movement is “perpetually outraged overreach,” no matter how mild or respectful that criticism is. Telling someone that they had a bad idea is considered “vociferously bully[ing]… into submission,” which is “horrible.”
There are some trigger-happy people around, of course, but not all criticism is Soap Opera Atheism or outrage culture or call-out culture or any of the rest of the jargon. Plenty of criticism is just criticism. And it’s what we’re supposed to do, isn’t it? None of these people are pillars of the Status Quo Community. They’re all reformers themselves, so what do they even mean by it? I suppose they mean “I say I say, excuse me, that’s my ox you’re goring, and I’d rather you didn’t.”
As Avery very neatly says.
It’s also interesting how none of these people have a problem with outrage over, say, school sponsored prayer, or nativity scenes on public property. They’re probably fine with being “perpetually outraged” about discrimination of nonreligious people, or about creationism and pseudoscience being taught in schools. They’re completely fine with this kind of outrage, because it benefits them and is directed at other people. But as soon as that outrage (or simple criticism, in many cases) is directed at them, they’re quick to cry “outrage culture.” Apparently it’s only an “outrage culture” if you don’t like what the outrage is about.
These people are invested in seeing hostility where none exists. They wildly exaggerate claims of outrage, or even invent them out of whole cloth, in order to have something to complain about. It’s also a useful tool to avoid thinking about the subject, because if they can reframe legitimate criticism as “outrage culture” they have an excuse to ignore it. And so they continue to attack overblown misrepresentations of their enemies instead of listening and paying attention to reasonable criticism.