Moral Outrage Without Personal Consequence Is a Cop-Out

There is apparently another bout of cheap moral outrage going on over alleged cultural appropriation, this time involving the upcoming Disney remake of The Lion King. Some busybody activists are pushing a petition to pressure Disney to drop its trademark claim to a Swahili term used in the 1994 animated film.

Gosh, it must be tiring to have a threshold of outrage so low. Imagine all the work involved in constantly scuttling about looking for new ways to get offended.

Contrived Indignation

What’s most annoying about these artificial tempests is that they lead to sweeping conclusions on how people are “hooked” on outrage today, which is actually the furthest thing from the truth. We desperately need authentic outrage in a world where our core freedoms are being taken from us more and more. People are waking up, but too many citizens remain inert and distracted. Proper outrage is a virtue that can lead to genuinely needed change.

Counterfeit outrage, on the other hand, is worse than a vice. It is a cop-out, a crutch for people who don’t want to be challenged in their own lives. For it allows one to feel the intoxicating high of moral superiority without having to confront oneself with a need to make improvements in one’s own life. And that is where all meaningful societal change must always begin.

Imagine feeling outraged over our toxic and corrupt corporate food system. That would cause a person to have to make real and quite possibly difficult changes to their personal diet. Or imagine feeling outraged at our rancid public school system and deciding to homeschool your children. Serious sacrifices would be involved in the effort. Or imagine any similar outrage that spurs you to make substantial alterations to your own daily existence.

Cruel Self-Indulgence

Now compare the very real and life-changing causes for outrage and the opportunistic offense taken by people who seem determined to pass judgment on strangers online. Imagine getting offended by a random social media post by someone you don’t know and who has no actual presence in your life. There is no personal challenge for you to deal with, no sacrifice to be made; only the smug, easy feeling of self-affirmation as you harshly judge another person for failing to meet your standards of personal perfection.

Imagine being driven by such feelings to the point of making an actual public news story out of an obscure Facebook post in which someone you don’t know makes a stupid statement. This actually happened in Texas in September, after a careless comment about a sporting event, which claims that, “you can’t count on a black quarterback.” Despite the clear indication of racism on the part of one individual, is this really a story that should engulf the news media? The comment would have gone almost completely unread, unnoticed, and ignored until one person chose to take a screenshot of the post and forward it to a newspaper reporter. “It’s important to make sure horrible words are met with consequences, especially for those in powerful positions with influence,” Matt Ericksen said of his deeply felt moral duty to destroy a total stranger’s life. The original commenter happened to be a school superintendent; therefore this reaction is apparently justified in Ericksen’s self-righteous eyes.

…his deeply felt moral duty to destroy a total stranger’s life.

Despite the sheer inanity involved here, the newspaper decided to report this as “news.” It then got picked up by media outlets across the country and the NFL team in question publicly commented on it. One utterly careless social media post, and a man loses his job and has his personal reputation branded in the world at large, no matter what he may have accomplished in all his time leading up to this one moment of failure.

What good has come about from the flood of outrage unleashed here? There is a clear poverty of culture on display in a nation where such a sequence of events could actually transpire. That the perpetually offended cite cultural concerns while huffing the paint thinner of cheap outrage shows a lack of the very culture that these people profess to be so keen on protecting.

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