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Why we shouldn't mute public outrage

Outrage isn't a hurdle in the path to civil discourse, it's the route to long-term collective action.


Outrage can be defined as anger at the violation of one's own moral standards.

While outrage is often generally considered a nuisance to societal development, outrage, specifically moral outrage, may have beneficial outcomes that lead to social change.


From a psychology standpoint, outrage can be considered a negative emotion that leads to, at worst, an escalation of the conflict, or at best, virtue signalling.


Moral psychologists from Penn State University have identified that while most studies focus on the immediate effect of outrage, studies in intergroup psychology often suggest that outrage can lead to long-term positive effects through unified action.

Image credit: Newsday

Take the recent and ongoing Black Lives Matter protesting that has sparked a global consciousness on racial inequality as well as debate on race, racism and injustice towards the black community - the anger felt by protesters and campaigners, when effectively communicated, can, and is being leveraged into collective, social action.


There are instances, however, where individuals can effectively mute or put a stop to public outrage and the good it can achieve for society. Victoria L. Spring, a doctoral candidate in psychology, Penn State, detailed how people can people pit outrage and empathy against each other, stating: "People may leverage empathy norms to suppress outrage. This can be particularly damaging if the anger is being expressed by a marginalised group".


So far, and from a UK stance, public outrage has worked to remove colonial statues across England, has forced the government and our NHS to identify BAME groups as high-risk to the current Covid-19 pandemic, resulting in a set of measures put in place to protect these groups, and has led to major calls being made to decolonise educational curriculums.


Unified outrage has worked to achieve these changes in a relatively short amount of time - imagine what else can be achieved in the struggle to equalise society through unified public outrage?


Outrage doesn't tear us apart, it brings us together.

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