Study for Hell

Addicted to Outrage: Can We Talk About Nutrition and Obesity?

Outrage surrounds us. The internet amplifies it. Politicians are feeding on it. Sadly and too often, it drives policymaking. And unfortunately, it gets in the way of talking rationally about nutrition and obesity. Hank Green suggested two years ago that our culture is nursing an addiction to outrage. And events that followed have proved him to be a bit of a prophet.

Turning Outrage into a Business Model

Expanding on this theme in the Washington Post, David Von Drehle describes the business model for manufacturing outrage:

This is a business. An ugly business, but a lucrative one. Controversy, real or manufactured, juices ratings at cable “news” networks. It drives readers to partisan websites and listeners to talk radio. It pumps up speaker fees and inflates book advances. When Russians wanted to mess with the heads of American voters, they trafficked in hyped conflict, Facebook informed Congress this week.

A Long List of Outrages in Nutrition and Obesity

In the realm of nutrition and obesity, the outrages just keep coming. Big sugar conspired to make public health experts peddle bogus low-fat diet advice for decades. Sugary sodas are making our kids fat and keeps getting in the way of research and policies to stop it. Global food companies and fast food chains are peddling obesity in Africa and South America. Evil Monsanto is polluting the world with dangerous GMOs.

And if you don’t buy all the conspiracy theories, we can sell you some outrage in response to them.

The Cleansing Fire of Moral Outrage

Earlier this year, Zachary Rothschild and Lucas Keefer published a fascinating analysis of the roots of moral outrage. They studied the possibility that moral outrage serves as a means to soothe one’s own feelings of guilt. It can work to restore one’s own sense of moral identity.

For a textbook case, you might want to read up on Congressman Tim Murphy’s resignation this week.

Whatever the source of moral outrage, we are confident that bingeing on it is unhealthy. It leaves little time for positive pursuits. It pushes reason and facts out of the central roles they should play in policymaking.

But worst of all, it separates smart people who could benefit from diverse thinking that differs from their own. As a result, progress in solving a complex problem like obesity slows to a snail’s pace. And the health of future generations will suffer.

As an antidote, Green suggests three things: awareness of one’s own biases, faith in others, and compassion. It’s a good start.

Click here for more from the Washington Post and here for the analysis by Rothschild and Keefer.

Study for Hell, charcoal sketch by John Singer Sargent / WikiArt

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October 7, 2017

One Response to “Addicted to Outrage: Can We Talk About Nutrition and Obesity?”

  1. October 07, 2017 at 2:50 pm, Allen Browne said:

    I like the anecdote.