Exploring The Strange Phenomena Of Outrage
How do we decide what to be outraged about?
Greeting friends, this is Phil Tanny from TannyTalk writing to engage you in some outrage analysis. To get the ball rolling and set the stage for this article, I’d like to ask you to first please join me in exploring a quick thought experiment.
If you would, imagine for a moment that I own the highly profitable TannyTalk Cookie Company. My cookies taste like the bottom of a garbage can. On top of that, almost a half a million people a year in the United States will die from eating my cookies, plus millions more around the world. We know this to be true, because it’s been going on for decades. Given these well documented facts which are certified by government experts, TannyTalk cookies have been officially designated as the leading cause of preventable death in America.
When asked about the death toll, I reply that my cookies are perfectly legal and nobody has to eat them. But millions of people eat them anyway, because I’ve invested many millions of dollars in making my cookies highly addictive.
When asked why my cookies are legal, I reply that’s because I’ve invested some of my vast profits in to buying the loyalty of Congress people and Senators on key committees in Washington.
When asked why I keep selling these deadly cookies given that I’m already very rich, I reply that I keep selling these killer cookies because I want to be even richer.
So, if my imaginary killer cookie company was real, how would you feel about me?
Would you be outraged?
The Real World Of Outrage
By now you’ve figured out that the thought experiment above is a set up for a discussion of the tobacco industry.
Well, more precisely, this article is about our relationship with the tobacco industry, and with the experience of outrage more generally.
Outrage is everywhere these days. Outrage is a bubbling cauldron of toxic fumes on the Internet. American politics on all sides of aisle is powered by the high octane outrage fuel fed to us by the gotcha media. And just when the Catholic Church began to falter in it’s finger pointing moral outrage routine, woke culture jumped in to save the day and fill the outrage gap.
In our modern world outrage is aimed at nearly everything.
Except the tobacco industry.
The Outrage Math
Presumably our outrage is in proportion to the scale of damage being done by somebody. Presumably, but apparently not true. Check out the numbers.
American War Dead
Here are the estimated number of American dead in the wars of the last century.
420,000 - World War Two
36,000 - Korean War
58,000 - Vietnam War
3,000 - 9/11
7,000 - Iraq and Afghanistan
540,000 - Total American deaths in all of the above wars.
Americans Dead From Tobacco
The CDC says that tobacco causes more than 480,000 deaths annually in the US.
So, almost as many Americans die from tobacco EVERY YEAR as have died in all the wars America has been involved in over the last century.
Who Is The Enemy?
So who is the enemy? Nazi and Japanese fascists? North Koreans and Chinese? North Vietnamese communists? Islamic fundamentalists? Middle East insurgents? All of them put together?
Not really. Those are are just baby bad guys.
The real big time killer of Americans is…
The real enemy is…
The American tobacco industry.
Outrage Is Weird
How do we decide what to be outraged about?
I don’t have an answer to that, because as the tobacco company example seems to illustrate, outrage decisions seem to be governed by some strange law of human physics which is beyond my ability to understand.
I’ve raised the tobacco company example on countless sites over the years, and it always goes exactly the same way. The comment section is almost instantly filled with lots and lots of writers wanting to lecture smokers on how they need to take responsibility for their own health (true that) and all the enthusiasm in the thread goes in to such lecturing.
If the tobacco companies are mentioned at all, it typically goes like this…
“Of course the tobacco companies are bad (seven words)”, they’ll say, followed by 17 paragraphs regarding why smokers are stupid.
Smoking Is Stupid
Yes, smoking is stupid. I know this from personal experience because I smoked for a few years back in college days during my “I am such a manly man” phase.
In high school I was super healthy because I was either surfing or playing football just about all year round. And then in college after a year or two of manly man smoking, one day I discovered I was having a great deal of difficulty walking up four flights of stairs to my professor’s office. Couldn’t make it all the way to the top. Had to sit down and rest. I was 19. My youth destroyed.
So, yes, yes, yes, and yes, and a thousand more times yes. Smoking is stupid. And each of is responsible for managing our own health. Agreed, agreed, agreed.
But what in the world does that have to do with giving the tobacco companies a free pass? And that is pretty much exactly what happens in every thread I’ve ever seen on this subject. Everyone always seems so eager to shift the blame off the tobacco companies, and on to their victims. Yes, their victims.
Rationalizing Evil is Stupid Too
Why is it so hard for us to simply say that the tobacco company executives are evil?
You know, evil, bad, wicked, immoral, despicable, agents of Satan ruthless money grubbing bastards who target children with very carefully engineered highly addictive drugs which they know for a fact will kill millions.
Why does describing tobacco company executives that clearly make us uncomfortable? Why do we always have to layer on a bunch of other stuff to soften the blow?
How did our outrage get so confused?
How do we decide what to be outraged about, and what to let slide?
To return to the top of this article, if I really did own the TannyTalk Cookie Company, how would I be received on your blog, and in your neighborhood?
If I really did sell TannyTalk Cookies for a living, wouldn’t everybody scream profane insults at me every time I showed my face anywhere on the Internet? I would hope so.
When was the last time you read a post anywhere on the Internet screaming outrage at the tobacco companies?
Outrage is weird.
I’M OUTRAGED BY WEIRD OUTRAGE!!!!!!
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