Three days ago, Hemant Mehta of the Friendly Atheist decided to create a book, called “God is an Abusive Boyfriend (and you should break up).” This was, all things considered, a pretty bad idea, and was criticized in many places. Chris Stedman wrote a column about it, and quoted posts by Sarah Moglia and Sarah Jones that also made criticisms. People left comments on his blog, and criticized him on Twitter. Shortly after, Mehta decided to cancel the project, saying that his “execution was poor and it upset a lot of good people.”
This was a perfectly reasonable decision to make in the face of extensive criticism. Unfortunately, some people didn’t see it that way. DJ Grothe complained about “outrage culture” on his wall, and plenty of commenters agreed, because apparently criticizing tasteless and offensive jokes is “outrage culture” now. One person mentioned that she was sad that the “outrage culture” won, even though she’s glad the project was cancelled. In other words, even when she agrees with us* she’s against us!
On Dave Muscato’s wall, Grothe continued to rail against “Soap Opera Atheism”:
And Ed Clint left this absurd diatribe:
So what we have is reasonable criticism of a bad idea, framed as an “outrage culture” and an “SJ mob.” Clint even calls us “bull[ies].” We bullied Mehta by… criticizing him a lot? The horror!
None of this is new. These are just a couple of examples, but people like Grothe and Clint have spent years attacking people in the movement who dare to offer criticism of offensive ideas. To them, the slightest criticism of people within the movement is “perpetually outraged overreach,” no matter how mild or respectful that criticism is. Telling someone that they had a bad idea is considered “vociferously bully[ing]… into submission,” which is “horrible.”
And notice that the “outrage culture” that these people are complaining about doesn’t actually exist. If you read any of the criticizing comments or blog posts about the project, all you’ll find is variants of “I think this is a bad idea, and here’s why.” I think Sarah Moglia’s post is the only one with even a little snark, and that’s still pretty mild. In fact, “outrage culture” seems to have precious little outrage.
I’m fairly certain that if asked, Grothe couldn’t produce an actual example of “perpetually outraged overreach,” let alone an entire “outrage culture.” Clint decides to invent an entire conspiracy out of thin air, turning “not many people saw a random YouTube video, but they do read a very popular column” into “Stedman and other self-appointed SJ mavens rallied the SJ mob to vociferously bully Hemant into submission.” That takes quite a bit of imagination.
It’s also interesting how none of these people have a problem with outrage over, say, school sponsored prayer, or nativity scenes on public property. They’re probably fine with being “perpetually outraged” about discrimination of nonreligious people, or about creationism and pseudoscience being taught in schools. They’re completely fine with this kind of outrage, because it benefits them and is directed at other people. But as soon as that outrage (or simple criticism, in many cases) is directed at them, they’re quick to cry “outrage culture.” Apparently it’s only an “outrage culture” if you don’t like what the outrage is about.
These people are invested in seeing hostility where none exists. They wildly exaggerate claims of outrage, or even invent them out of whole cloth, in order to have something to complain about. It’s also a useful tool to avoid thinking about the subject, because if they can reframe legitimate criticism as “outrage culture” they have an excuse to ignore it. And so they continue to attack overblown misrepresentations of their enemies instead of listening and paying attention to reasonable criticism.
I use terms like “us” and “we” here, even though I was never part of the criticism of Mehta’s project, because I agree with the criticism, and I view myself as part of the “SJ mob” that people like Grothe and Clint are attacking.