Today’s Online Culture: Where Rage Is a Virtue and Kindness Is Collaborating With the Enemy

From a column about online rage by Megan McArdle in the Washington Post:

While I sat with my mother in an intensive care unit, people were screaming at me. Not in person, of course; an ICU is an eerily quiet place. Rather, they were yelling at me online, some on Twitter, some in the comments on  my column. . . .

We’ve created a political culture that has people canceling friendships and breaking off relationships over politics, and worse, taking pride in how nastily intolerant they can be—where rage is the paramount civic and personal virtue, and kindness is nothing more than collaborating with the enemy. What is anyone getting out of it, except distraction from the things that actually matter: the families and communities and day-to-day life that politics exist to protect?. . .

Given the minimal effort it takes to type out an insult, the value of the signal is pretty weak and comes at a hefty cost. It may temporarily make us feel good, because rage short-circuits other emotions such as anxiety or sadness. (Why else, after all, was I looking at my phone in the ICU?)

But rage also suppresses positive emotions such as love and joy and makes it difficult to have good relationships. This gives us more reason to feel depressed and anxious, which means we need to hit the rage button even harder. Far too many people on social media resemble addicts chasing a rush. Perhaps more to the point, dragging perceived enemies often substitutes for more effective political action. . . .

What almost all of us can count on is that someday we ourselves will be sitting in a hospital room and struggling to fit decades worth of unspoken thoughts into whatever seconds we have left. This, not some political battle, will be among the most important moments of our lives, and none of our righteous anger will mean as much to us as a single extra “I love you.”


  1. Have you noticed that the woman columnists at the Washington Post write far more varied and interesting columns than the males—Milbank, Robinson, etc.—who write pretty much the same column week after week?

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