Ashley Charles details the history of outrage and how it is getting diluted in today’s rather over-sensitive times, sometimes obscuring reality
A file photo of a demonstration in Ottawa, Canada (Reuters)
One of the apposite descriptions of the failure of Democrats to capitalise on the failings of Donald Trump came from political commentator and satirist Bill Maher. Maher, describing the disjointed Democrat party, said the system had gone so far off reality that people do not identify with it anymore. He detailed how the so-called liberal left was over-sensitive about certain issues that it would demand apologies for the slightest of infractions from what can be construed right. This idealism has not been a problem in the US alone; the world over religion, identity, politics and economics have become so sensitive that things can be swayed with a tweet, a post, or an image. And, it is not just Americans who do not identify with this flagrant self-righteousness, but citizens the world over are denouncing it, at least silently, if not online.
What Maher explained in his 10-minute monologue is the subject matter of Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles’ 140-page commentary on how the world is erring on the side of outrage and that, too, the wrong kind. Charles’ book Outraged: Why Everyone is Shouting and No One is Talking tries to show the naked reality of modern-day activism. The author doesn’t delve into the why but shows how this faux sense of righteousness obscures reality. The book is divided into succinct chapters full of anecdotes, experiences and interviews with personalities who have been flayed online by social media, and how it has impacted them. There is scientific research, and most of all, there is mention of instances that you can connect with. There is a viewpoint too, but that remains hidden between the lines and only presents itself in the last few chapters.
The book starts with the episode of Rachel Dolezal, who, despite being Caucasian, identified herself as a person of the African-American community and went on to work on some of the significant issues of identity and activism within the society. Charles deconstructs Dolezal’s episode and her downfall when the media got wind of her identity and tries to understand how the whole matter played against Dolezal but removed the focus from the main issue of right abuses.
Similarly, Charles discusses the episode of Jamie Oliver and jerk rice. The famous food show host was accused by the gatekeepers of righteousness of cultural appropriation and admonished. The book is replete with such examples, and the history of outrage related to civil rights movements, slavery and women’s suffrage. The last chapter, however, is a guide to new-age social media, which details how we need not forego our outrage but need to be selective about it and use it wisely and for selective issues, when it matters and not when it is required.
While I would side with Maher and Charles that we as a society are becoming overly sensitive about issues, what people fail to realise is that this is not a new phenomenon. The world, in the past, has been rather too selective about outrage. Issues have been lost in obscurity because society has paid too much attention to other nuances. That is why people have waited for opportunities rather than picking up issues when it mattered. Take the case of the civil rights movement.
Rosa Parks became the symbol, or in Martin Luther King’s words “the angel” of defiance, but it was actually Claudette Colvin who carried out the same act nine months before Rosa Parks. However, she got lost in the morality of the movement. Claudette was unmarried and later pregnant, and many felt making her the face would mean giving the Caucasian majority a reason to denounce the movement.
Social media has indeed amplified hate and often obscures the real issue. But had it not been for social media, #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter would not have been a reality. Second, and most importantly, the problem with modern-day liberalism is that it tries to impose liberalism onto others. The idea of free speech and freedom applies only if you adhere to standards of it. Sadly, all sides are relying too much on the notion on what they deem right with little regard to freedom.
Let people mount a war, but don’t let it become the main discourse that decides the fate of society. In Rachel Dolezal’s case, for all its misgivings, it did start a debate on identity. Enough for Charles to consider it as a chapter. As for Outrage, there are no real takeaways. Though there is nothing that you do not know or have not seen, it is still worth a read.
Outraged: Why Everyone is Shouting and No One is Talking Ashley ‘Dotty’ Charles Bloomsbury Pp 176, Rs 2,080