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Moral Outrage Culture and Unintended Consequences

In the American Southwest lies a hypothetical college town called Reflejos, AZ.  It is a clean and quiet place only disturbed by the occasional school event.  The peace extends from corner to corner of the city with once exception, a notorious street near the downtown area ironically named Church Ave.  This area is rampant with criminal activity, drug dealers, prostitutes, gangs and has been common knowledge to the residents for decades.  If you’re a law abiding citizen, you avoid this place and no harm will come to you.  If you are a sketchier person then you’ll go there to indulge your every vice at your own peril.  A mere couple of blocks away are the town’s main attractions, the music venues, clubs, coffee shops, etc.  This downtown core has been expanding in lockstep with the growth of the college.  One day, a college girl, who we will call Rachel and her friends wandered out of this area and into the worst part of Church Ave.  Their buzzed state from the craft beer place combined with their unfamiliarity with the town led them there.  Unfortunately, they were at the wrong place at the wrong time as a shootout broke out across the street due to a botched drug deal.  One of the stray bullets hit Rachel in the chest causing her to collapse and bleed to death before help could arrive.   Rachel was the quintessential young adult with potential.  She was well into medical school and was the first of her family to attend college.  She had a cute inviting look which was complimented with a loving personality.  The news quickly spread through the college and let many questions unanswered.  First and foremost, if it was common knowledge that Church Ave was a cesspool of criminal activity (much taking place in plain sight), why did the police department turn a blind eye?  Why wasn’t that issue being addressed?  Why did patrol cars seem to graze by and ignore everything?  Why was the person who fired the weapon still at large?  The students who knew Rachel were having none of this and started a #justiceforrachel campaign.  Though the power of social media this hashtag went viral and spread across the nation.  It brought into question the effectiveness of police departments in a climate when cops are already seen with suspicion.  Eventually, all of this boiled over and the Reflejos was inundated with protesters.  The protests would eventually turn violent causing property damage and would be in national news.
  The RPD (Reflejos Police Department) was under pressure to act.  They started an unprecedented crackdown of the street from end to end.  Tens of high profile drug dealers were arrested, prostitution rings were dismantled, and illegal weapons were confiscated.  Furthermore, the city moved to demolish abandoned buildings that were known meeting places of this criminal element.  Finally, something was being accomplished at it seemed that the area’s crime rate was plummeting.  The perpetrator of Rachel’s death was caught and charged with manslaughter. By this time though, the news cycle had moved on to something else and the moral outrage machine rolled away.  The campaign died down and the students at the college felt that they made something positive occur.   Months later, a disturbing trend emerged.  Violent crime was starting to occur in quiet neighborhoods.  There were drug dealers popping up near high schools and other sensitive areas.  College students became prime targets causing an epidemic of armed robbery and muggings.  Nobody felt safe going out and the vibrant downtown area saw business plummet.  The randomness of these events is what had everyone thrown off.  Law enforcement could not keep up with the spike in the crime rate and once again, outrage built up.  You see, there was a reason why the police department ignored the happenings of Church Ave.  They knew that they did not have the resources to deal with city wide crime. They had no way of procuring extra funds or resources to do so either.  Instead they practiced a policy of containment by allowing crime to stay in one area.  There was still violent incidents, but none like after the crackdown since as I mentioned earlier, law abiding citizens knew to avoid the street.  When the police moved in the criminals scattered like rats all over the place.  Now their activity is impossible to track.  The situation is now far, far worse than it was initially.  By now nobody from the outside cares anymore, the Rachel incident has passed and people have moved on to their next crusade.   The following has been a hypothetical but plausible scenario.  If you feel strong emotions when you hear this type of story then it means you’re human.  However, it seems that the masses have the emotional control of children regarding these issues.  We want instant gratification, we want to get rid of the problem now.  Solutions need to be acquired like a game of chess, you must think of your next few moves as well as those of your opponent.  Outrage culture permeates everything now fueled by social media and traditional news seeking to bolster their ratings.  If we see ourselves as skeptical, freethinkers then we must analyze the nuances of a situation and consequence of every action.  We cannot be governed solely by our feelings.   For the readers, I’d like you to leave in the comment section any real life situations where an outrage driven solution made a problem worse.  I can think of a few historic examples (like prohibition) but I’m looking for what you’ve notice more recently.

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Bundled Belief Systems

The following is adapted from my blog website.  By now I've transcended opposing religion and go against ideologies as a whole. 

Imagine if you will two very different college students, we shall call them Mary and Jake.  They're starting their first semester and find the dorms lacking opting instead for small apartments near the school. All utilities are included with their rents except for cable and internet.  With that said, they decide to head down to the Comspaz office (the local cable and internet provider).  Jake is a big sports fan.  He played on the high school football team and is an overall athletic person.  He also enjoys having friends over to watch the game.  Comspaz offers a premium package that includes ESPN, ESPN2, etc.  However there’s content that Jake knows he’ll never see such as a cooking channel, a reality TV channel, etc.  The package is expensive for a college student but it’s the only way he’ll be able to watch what he wants.  He inquires “why cant I just get the sports channels I need?”  The salesperson apologizes and tells him “unfortunately, that’s the only package that offers that content.”  Jake begrudgingly signs the one year contract and a tech is dispatched to get his service up and running.  Mary shows up an hour later.  She doesn’t watch television as her parents never had a set at the house so her only need is fast, reliable internet.  The Comspaz employee tells her that she’ll get internet at a lower price by bundling it with the premium package that Jake has.  Her apartment doesn’t even have a TV but she also begrudgingly signs the one year agreement.  When she gets her fist bill, she’s upset that she has a “sports broadcasting fee” and other taxes.  She grills the Comspaz employee by asking “why do I have to pay for something I have no interest in?”
  Nobody likes these types of combined products/services.  I’ve worked in sales positions in different industries and everyone (save the impulsive shopper) just wants to buy exactly what they need/want and nothing more.  When it comes to the beliefs that form the foundation of our lives however, we gladly accept any bundle.  Jake is a Christian from a small town and the Baptist church he attends now offers what he’s looking for.  He has a place of community with like minded individuals.  He has an outlet to help poor children in the city and also joins a ministry where he helps the homeless attain employment.  Unlike his church back home, this one is well funded, organized, and actually accomplishes what it sets out to do.  Of course, anyone familiar with religion knows it isn’t all love and compassion.  Jake sits through sermons condemning the LGBT community for example and the pastor also breaks into “fire and brimstone” warnings for the unbeliever.  He’s also forced to listen to anti-science diatribe on a regular basis.  Sometimes, the message is about theological issues that have no relevance to daily life whatsoever but this is the “bundle” he must accept if he is wants to be a part of the congregation.  Jake might be a loving person but these ideas slowly poison his mind.  He begins to see the LGBT community on campus with a sense of disgust.  He looks at students of other faith with suspicion and/or targets of conversion.  He becomes weary of scientific discoveries if they so much as slightly contradict scripture.  I’ve publicly acknowledge that sometimes religion has the potential to create changes for the better (to an extent), even as an atheist.  However, this type of toxicity will be always be there in one form or another.
  Mary’s story is different but also veering off course.  She’s in an atheist, pro social justice, pro feminist group on campus.  The group has programs that encourage young girls to take interest in science.  They also help with a woman’s shelter and empower victims of abuse to confront their abusers while bringing awareness these types of issues on a local, national, and international level.  The organization branches off into other areas such as environmentalism.  Their activism has managed to get the city to reconsider selling the nearby nature preserve to the school for development among other things.  Furthermore, they also address income inequality and childhood poverty (what initially drew Mary in the first place).  From the outside, everything looks positive (much like the work of Jake’s church).  However, even here a “bundle” also exists and the group has become more and more radical in recent years.  Many of the leaders believe that men are the problem in society, that we actively oppress women, that we’re all potential rapists.  The organization has also taken inequality too far and have adopted outright communists ideas.  They also see everyone who subscribes to religion as the enemy since it’s typically been used to justify oppression.  These ideas also poison Mary’s mind and she starts seeing every man with suspicion.  She walks past the campus ministry booth by the student union area and looks with utter disgust.  He looks back at her with equal disgust as he sees her as a wayward heathen.  The saddest part about this interaction is that if you removed all the ideological crap, both would get along well with each other and work towards similar goals.
  I cannot ignore the countless individuals who’ve been hurt deeply by religion.  I cannot ignore my own experiences in this area.  I won’t turn a blind eye to the abusers in this world either or the injustices many face.  I can understand the reasons why people gravitate towards such extremes.  Like part one, the scenario presented here is worst case.  Everyone will fall somewhere along the spectrum between neutral and Jake’s/Mary’s mentality.  Bundled ideologies can often introduce people to new concepts.  Jake initially learned about helping others through Christianity and Mary through activism.  The problem is, there are also vile, poisonous details tossed in there.  It’s like ingesting 99.9% food and 0.1% rat poison, you still die.  The same applies to what we are taught, it doesn’t take much to kill your mind.  No sane, respectful man wants to see a woman abused or oppressed.  Many of us have or will put ourselves in physical danger to protect them from psychopathic males.  Most feminists don’t hate men and will often reach out to us as allies.  In fact, this a positive trend that I’ve been noticing.  Extremists get all the attention these days but more and more people are rejecting the bundle.  I’m seeing Christians who outright reject the condemnations LGBT, atheists, or other traditionally reviled groups.  I know believers who take very progressive stances.  I’m seeing some liberals acknowledge that capitalism has problems but it’s better than the alternative.  Conservative atheists also exist, they just focus on the role of government and don’t give a damn about your personal life.  People are starting to wake up to the fact that just because you accept idea A, doesn’t mean you have to go with B, C, and D.  I can only hope this trend continues.  The solution is readily available information and freedom of choice.  Will this concept dawn on Jake and Mary?  We shall see…

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