Peak Outrage and the Exhausted Amygdala

Why have I lost interest in politics, when it was once such a passion of mine that I left theatre and performing Shakespeare for a living to pursue it? John Dickerson gets it. In a piece about the titanic clusterfuck that is the VA, he writes:

One primary reason to despair is that we’re already living at peak outrage. Fake umbrage taking and outrage production are our most plentiful political products, not legislation and certainly not interesting solutions to complicated issues. We are in a new political season, too—that means an extra dose of hot, high stakes outrage over the slightest thing that might move votes. How does something get recognized as beyond the pale when we live beyond the pale?

This is of a piece with the utter lack of a generosity of spirit from even the most well-meaning progressives out there, who have been socialized to salivate at the prospect of uncovering the heretics in their midst, taking as much pleasure in sicking the mob on the perceived transgressions of fellow liberals as they do in substantive policy wins. How can you be truly moved to tackle problems like Veterans Affairs, climate change, or the Boschian hellscape of our prison system, when you’re consumed by your fury over Alec Baldwin on Stephen Colbert?

More Dickerson:

As FDR said, the public cannot “be attuned for long periods of time to a constant repetition of the highest note on the scale.” If we are constantly yelling outrage, it leaves us with nothing when the real thing comes along.

True, but perhaps even worse, the constant repetition of outrage I suspect trains our lizard brains to be in a constant state of threat. Our collective amygdalae are pumping out fight-or-flight chemicals at such a rate, that either everything looks like an equally existential threat or unpardonable offense, or we become exhausted, and cease to care about much at all.

For myself, I have to wonder, now that I’ve passed both of these stages, is there any coming back? 

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