The Guardian has a short editorial today in praise of outrage. It calls it 'a perennial requirement'. The praise is not unqualified: the paper allows that outrage can have destructive as well as creative effects and that it can be 'simplistic, fraudulent or... misplaced'. Still, outrage, it concludes, is indispensable if there are to be 'new beginnings in human life'.
There is a sound point in this: certain things should not be countenanced without passionate and forceful protest. However, I would want to enter a stronger qualification of the point than the Guardian does. For outrage, these days, is both cheap and abundantly relevant.
Cheap. You don't have to spend very long on the internet to get a vivid sense of just how cheap it is. At any given minute someone somewhere is outraged about something or other, and usually a lot of people are. On a quiet day on Twitter, when no one seems to be fuming much, you have the feeling nonetheless that many are just waiting patiently for an opportunity: 'Hey, someone, say something we can condemn!' So it's not only that outrage can be simplistic, fraudulent or misplaced, it's that there's now so much of it about, and a lot of that shifts nothing and dies down as quickly as it flares up.
Abundantly relevant. But the more serious problem is that there's so much in the world to be outraged about - and here I don't mean artificially outraged or outraged for no good reason. My list may differ from your list and both from someone else's, but legitimate causes of outrage could be: that there are people going hungry; that in South Africa police just dragged a man along the streets tied to the back of their van, and to his death; that women are still the victims of cruel oppression in many parts of the world; that torture is used as an instrument of political rule; female genital mutilation; human trafficking; racism of every stripe; attempts to curb what people may think and say; and so forth. As anyone can see, this list could easily be lengthened. Outrage, quite justified outrage, could be almost without limit. And what would it achieve unless harnessed to other contrasting attributes?
Among these I would want to highlight calm and controlled anger (brother or sister of outrage and probably more fruitful), focused determination, patient thought and work, careful advocacy, analytical clarity, and respect for the facts of the real world and its complexities.