Wednesday, October 2, 2019

On the Hook

Mike Pesca has an interesting article in Slate about the outrage-baiting that was prompted by a MarketWatch article that portrayed a hypothetical family of four as struggling on a pre-tax income of $350,000.

Personally, to describe the situation as outrage-baiting seems too tame. "Hate-baiting" would perhaps be a more apt description.

At the conclusion of the piece, Mr. Pesca notes: "Our (manipulated) outrage is unempathetic, adding to the anger in the world while doing nothing to achieve a solution."

Adding to the anger in the world, though, is what generates click-through rates. Empathy doesn't raise advertising revenue.

But perhaps where things go wrong is when giving people the opportunity to add to the anger in the world not only allows themselves to express themselves (and virtue signal), but also to feel as if they're doing something constructive. I know a number of people who feel that the first step in solving a problem is to become emotional about it, and if the emotion needed is a burning class resentment, then so be it.

In my experience, though, our resentments are less effective at inspiring people to solve problems than they are at stoking further resentments. People come to resent what they perceive to be unfair resentment, and it starts to become a vicious cycle.

But the most interesting thing about this is that it isn't new. Sam Dogen, who put together the budget that had people so up in arms, had done the same thing back in 2015 or thereabouts (judging from dates on the comments). At that time, the income being looked at was $200,000 dollars and a lot of the same outrage was generated (it popped up on Google+, which was still active at the time). I recall being a but dubious about the idea that the family in question was "just getting by." After all, from where I sat, they seemed to be doing pretty well for themselves, considering. But I could understand how they felt that they were more precarious than it may have first appeared; a stance that cut no ice with a number of people.

Of course, it's unlikely that it's all the same people commenting now who were commenting then. After all, the initial piece didn't seem to have that broad a reach.

In the end, it doesn't make sense to expect societies to learn from past experiences. That simply isn't way the world works. But I'm curious to see, if Mr. Dogen repeats this exercise again in 2023, if a new, fresh round of outrage is triggered. Or, rather, what that round of resentment will look like.

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