Over the last week or so, I’ve been trying to figure out how to describe the thing where certain people are just always up in arms over something. This is, admittedly, somewhat like a fish developing a word for water. I am trying to crawl up on land, as it were, but I’m still having to think these things through.  Painfully.

Lately I’ve been thinking of this thing as “the outrage machine.”

The outrage feeds into the worst of us, and, although social media sites are really great for a lot of things, they are really and truly effective at feeding the outrage machine.

I’ve seen it on all sides of the political/social map, even moderates. Need to feel superior to someone today? Join the outrage machine and forward a news article about something negative.  Call someone a troll.  Crush them for having some irrelevant flaw in their argument and pronounce a victory.  Hijack a comment thread.  Get into a petty bickering war.  Fill up the psychic space of everyone around you with outrage, either at the original issue or at the fact that they disagree with you.  Or, almost worse, get into a circlejerk of being outraged with other people who are outraged about the same things as you.

Right or wrong, it’s a nasty, smelly thing. Because the tone of the conversation is limited to outrage, anything you do to combat outrage–unless it’s walking away–just feeds into the machine.

Now, there are things we should truly be outraged at.  And then we should let that outrage go.  Because it does nothing good.  Outrage can inspire action, but it never actually helps with the solution.

It makes even the most uplifting cause into a sewer.  It distorts everything we hear, driving us to express our outrage quickly, without thought or compromise, in order to prove that we belong to the right groups and believe the right things.

Outrage is a tool.  It’s an abyss that looks back into you.  It has no sense of humor, no subtlety, no shades of gray.  It doesn’t listen.  It demands proof, then rejects it.  It has no joy, it loves nothing (even as it screams about how it’s defending what it loves), it brings no peace.  It destroys art and turns artists into slaves.

If it can be fought at all, it is fought with patience and empathy, as a kind of firewall between outbreaks.  It is fought with laughter.  It is fought by turning one’s back on it.

And moving on.