Why outrage is powerless to ‘change the world’

Faced with an adverse event —such as crime, violence or an accident— we tend to look for immediate culprits, to locate the cause of the misfortune in them, alleviate our guilt and move on, not always assimilating the event to a properly transformative logic and policy.

The social feeling that “things can only be resolved” if we create a collective and acute state of indignation, in the midst of which urgent and effective measures will be quickly taken, as a response to the intensification of our denouncements, has become a hit parade of government practices in Brazil.

We have become accustomed to the fact that for the law to be enforced, it is necessary to threaten the State or companies with “image damage” that can be accounted for in votes or reduced profits.

As a secondary effect of this process, we continue to be unaware of the existence of public policies already defined by law, of historically focused efforts to face the problem, and we have reduced the complexity of dealing with the situation.

This desire to accelerate transformations, especially those in which we feel that the weight of politics is significant, is a fair and understandable desire.

Deformations operate on him capable of easily transforming this desire into hatred, leniency and inconsequence.

Worse, often the logic of the commotion creates the feeling that “nothing is being done about it so far”. As a result, acts and new laws emerge that are often counterproductive and ignore the investment and accumulation of experience up until then.

Those who are facing it on a daily basis, sometimes with precarious resources, other times, in frank noncompliance with the planned investments, feel disrespected and their initiatives are discredited.

All this in the name of our belief that there is only transformation with indignation.

For example, we have been following a consistent increase in the diagnosis of mental disorders among Brazilian adolescents, with suicide being one of its most serious indicators, becoming the second cause of death among adolescents aged 17 to 24, second only to violence.

Suicide is a process of multiple determinations, it involves reading and internalizing our social rules, the way we interpret our position in the world, impulsive and conjunctural circumstances alongside psychic and structural determinations.

All this to say that we don’t know very well how and why it happens, although we can isolate certain risk traits.

However, after it happens, it is very easy to reduce the causality to a disorder —such as depression, anxiety or chemical dependency— to some annoyance or adverse condition.

We quickly resort to such explanations, often to get away from the complexity. This also frees us from thinking about the imponderables of life, the systemic indeterminacy caused by the accumulation of factors in one direction (as in ecological disasters) and the points of lack of meaning in our existence (which defy the most well-intentioned theologies).


  • Individualizing blame, creating “isolated cases” and pushing any responsibility away from us suspends the need for our involvement, necessary for any and all structural change.

Economics explains this phenomenon known for the rapid mobilization of affections, followed by forgetting. As we often see in the structure of everyday life, one scandal is replaced by another, one tragedy by another, with the same grammar marked by the oscillation between acute catharsis and chronic indifference.

Now, the residue of this balance creates, in those who accompany it, a feeling of impotence, melancholy, if not that cheap and triumphant pessimism, of the type “heads I win, tails you lose”. The fortune teller who announces at the beginning of the year lives: a famous artist will die, an air accident will happen, a natural disaster is waiting for us.

As much as we intensify our denouncing efforts, our jeers and our outcry, the remaining feeling is that “nothing has really changed”. This causes us to confuse perceived inaction with actual inaction.

Mixing up expressions of repudiation and blaming, the really decisive answer, that is, implication and direct involvement in the process, loses strength.

Worst of all, the actual inaction of the responsible bodies is covered by the general cloak of impotence. From there it is a step towards waiting for someone with superpowers, to whom we will grant exceptional prerogatives, to heroically overcome our own complex of inaction.

In other words:

  • The social genesis of hate, as punitive speech, is related to a certain theory of social transformation, whose connection with the way we deal with our desires, with our affections and with our libidinal economy is evident.

There are many determinants of this process and even though we can perceive its contemporary connection with the digital language, with the change in our labor relations and with the new grammars of desire, we do not know very well how these relationships effectively take place.

Some argue that one of the reasons for the emergence of hate speech stems from the poorly regulated yearnings for a direct democracy, which can respond in a more agile, efficient and tangible way to emerging and acute forms of suffering.

The social perception that urgent transformative processes are being faced by an excessively opaque, distanced and slow response on the part of the competent bodies raises dissatisfaction and this is easily instrumentalized in hatred and this is accompanied by the feeling that since democracy never existed it is not now that she will give the air of her grace.

Others will argue that this “change of form” in dealing with dissatisfaction, fair in principle, characterizes a loss of democracy that confirms the historical association of hate speech with anti-democratic and authoritarian extremism.

#outrage #powerless #change #world

Leave a Comment