Don’t Look Back In Anger

Yesterday, I watched an older man shaking with rage as he screamed at a younger man on a crowded railway station platform. I didn’t witness their initial exchange, but I’m guessing the younger man had asked the older man to move back from the pedestrian area so that he and his three young daughters could pass, whereby minimising the risk of falling off the platform or being hit by the oncoming train.

Now, when I say the younger man “asked”, the ensuing back-and-forth slanging match suggests it may have been more an aggressively issued command than a polite request. The two men continued to exchange menacing stares and harsh words until a set of train doors conveniently came to a halt right in front of said man-with-daughters.

Ironically, after having been so grossly offended by the older man’s unacceptable lack of social awareness, the younger man shot one final menacing stare back along the platform and called out “asshole”, before proceeding to force his way into the carriage like a salmon swimming upstream, as if oblivious to the tide of exiting passengers. Perhaps he’d never heard that old saying about the goose and the gander. Or perhaps he was, at that moment, literally blinded by his own anger?

I’m not sure when we became a society of such angry people. Is it a recent phenomenon, or have we always been like this?

Today, everyone has strong opinions about everything all the time, and we feel a need to air those strong opinions, in one way or another—often via blogs like this one. We’re frequently incensed by the opinions of others, and we dismiss their words on the basis that we simply disagree, rather than accepting—and being grateful for the fact—that everyone has different perspectives. Typically, anger about the views of others is most evident in the online world. In fact, online anger is so commonplace these days that it’s apparently become de rigueur to issue death threats to anyone who holds even the most unremarkable point of view, simply because it differs, however moderately, from our own.

There are public demonstrations, almost at the drop of a hat, against virtually anything we’re angry about, however relatively large or small the issue—and I almost guarantee that statement alone will generate multiple strong opinions; many demonstrations invariably become violent, despite organisers’ alleged intentions for peaceful protest.

We’re angry about other angry people, in particular terrorists and religious extremists. We’re angry that the concept of ‘terrorism’ has had the entire world almost permanently on edge for more than 15 years; it’s unnerving, even frightening, it’s psychologically exhausting and emotionally draining—and that makes us angry.

We’re angry about the incidence of oppression and dictatorship, war, death and destruction all over the world. We’re angry about the part our own nations play in warfare. We’re angry that the so-called “leader of the free world”, the United States, repeatedly inserts itself into the hostilities of other nations, then involves, almost involuntarily, any nation that wants to remain on their list of so-called “allies”. We’re angry with the leaders of our own nations for not rejecting this or, at least, for not objecting more strenuously or conscientiously.

We’re angry about things that shouldn’t really concern us; chief among these is sexuality. We’re angry about the sexuality of others and about our own sexuality. We’re angry about sexuality that isn’t the same as our own and about sexuality that is the same as own. We’re angry about those who are angry—or, at least, who take issue with—sexuality and we’re angry with those who aren’t angry—or, at least, who don’t take issue with—sexuality, or with those who are angry about sexuality.

Our indigenous people, the so-called ‘first Australians’ (a description which almost certainly angers them), have an ongoing seething rage about the European invasion of their land in 1788, as well as everything that’s happened in the ensuing 229 years; many post-1788 Australians share that seething rage with, and on behalf of, our indigenous people.

We’re angry that it took until 1967 for a referendum “to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the People of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the Population“—or, in other words, Australians were asked to vote on whether or not indigenous people should be recognised as actual human beings, rather than capturing them within the “Flora and Fauna Act” as animals. We’re still angry that indigenous folk were, for so long, not recognised as human beings. We’re also angry that so many people are still so bogged down with anger about it taking until 1967 for said referendum.

And on the topic of anger-by-proxy, we live in an age of ‘outrage culture’ where many of us are, for whatever reason, angry about something on behalf of someone else. Never before have such levels of referred anger been so prevalent. We’re outraged about something that’s happened (or not happened) to others. We’re often outraged on behalf of a less-privileged class of people—typically, “less-privileged” by comparison with ourselves and despite us having no first-hand experience of the conditions about which we’re presently outraged. We’re outraged about the assistance that isn’t forthcoming to ease or resolve these situations. We’re even outraged by the lack of outrage of others. Outrage is, of course, another word for anger.

One ethnic minority doesn’t much care for another and so there is anger and hostility between the two (or sometimes more) of them, whether here in Australia or at home.

Some Australians are so angry that they use guns to maim or kill others, such that it seems that someone in, for example, western Sydney is shot on an almost hourly basis. And many angry Australians evidently decided, at some point in the quite recent past, that carrying knives around with them as they go about their day-to-day business, and stabbing anyone they have even the slightest disagreement with, is normal behaviour; some claim their knives are necessary for self-defence against other extremely angry Australians. Many of us are angry that this should be the case and we’re angry that more isn’t being done to stop it.

We’re angry about domestic violence and violence, generally, perpetrated by men against women—in fact, we’re so angry about it today that you’d almost think it never existed before about ten years ago; some of us are angry about that unbalanced view, too. We’re angry about the (seemingly) increasing levels of violence in today’s society, generally; we’re angry at inaction to curb societal violence, but we’re also angry about action that is taken to curb societal violence and we’re very angry about the perceived knock-on effects of some of those actions.

We’re angry with our Governments; we’re as angry with the prevailing political parties as with the opposition parties. In fact, we’re angry about politicians generally. We’re angry about their behaviour. We’re angry about their perceived elitism and dishonesty and piss-taking and out-of-touchness. We’re angry about pre-election promises that aren’t honoured once they’re swept to power. We’re angry about virtually everything they do and, more likely, don’t do.

We’re angry about gender equality, religious equality, income equality, marriage equality, social and class equality, ethnic equality, indigenous equality, equal opportunity, so-called ‘postcode discrimination’, freedom of speech, civil rights—essentially, we’re angry about anything and everything that we can or can’t do, and all the levers and mechanisms we perceive to play a part in such matters.

We’re angry about the destruction of trees and parklands for the construction of housing, roads and other infrastruture, yet, conversely, we’re also angry about a lack of housing, roads and infrastructure. We’re angry about historical elements of our built environment being destroyed to make way for new elements of our built environment. We’re angry about our built environment becoming increasingly high-density. We’re angry about the appalling cost of housing. We’re angry about a perceived onslaught of foreign investment in said high-density accommodations and we’re angry about the ever-decreasing ability of first home owners to afford to buy their own home.

We’re constantly angry with our fellow road users. We’re angry with drivers who hog the right lane on motorways. We’re angry with drivers, particularly truckdrivers, who ‘tailgate’ on highways. We’re angry with drivers who we perceive to have cut in or otherwise cut us off on suburban roads. We’re angry with virtually everyone on our clogged inner-city streets. We’re so angry that, at some point, the phenomenon of “road rage” became an actual thing.

We’re angry with the drivers of over-sized vehicles, because said vehicles are too big, take up too much space on narrow roads, block our forward vision, and are too slow. We’re angry with taxi drivers because they’re usually crap drivers who pilot their vehicles erratically and who stop anywhere irrespective of legality or impact. We’re angry with cyclists just because car drivers always are; we’re angry with cyclists because they’re too slow and they hold us up and there are now stupid laws in place that mean we must drive at least one metre away from them; we’re especially angry with cyclists who use the road when there’s an available bike lane.

Basically, our roads are almost exclusively populated by angry people.

We’re not engaged with our neighbours; we’re no longer talking to people in the street; in fact, more often than not we’re going out of our way to avoid eye contact altogether. We’re more likely to call the police about a neighbour’s noise than to ask the neighbour if they could take the decibels down a notch or two. We’re more likely to ignore a bewildered tourist with a map than to ask if they’re lost. We’re hesitant to help anyone who appears to be in any kind of trouble and we’re almost certainly not going to intervene in any kind of street conflict.

In all of this, do we ever ask ourselves why? Is it because you never know what someone will do? You never know how people will react? Someone might get violent? When did our world become this way? Is our collective hesitancy and mistrust and fear a product of our anger? Or is it the cause?

Or has it always been this way?


*Disclaimer: references to “we” and “we’re” are used, intentionally, to reference the broader society, and are not intended to suggest that the anger in question is that of the author, nor anyone known to the author, nor necessarily to anyone reading this statement right now.

Storms In Tea Cups


1. an extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation
“her voice trembled with outrage”

2. arouse fierce anger, shock, or indignation in (someone)
“the public were outraged at the brutality involved”


Language is a funny old thing. In some respects it’s hardly changed, but at the same time it’s both greatly evolved and constantly evolving. Words that once meant one thing can end up meaning something else altogether, or fall out of use entirely. Other words just lose impact because we use them more often.

Some of the worst ‘swear words’ from back when I was a kid are now almost invisible in the modern parlance. Words considered so appallingly filthy that my mum would take to my tongue with a foul-tasting bar of yellow laundry soap now barely seem to raise an eyebrow.

It’s not just expletives, buzz words and the sometimes nonsensical vocab of young folk that lose impact from overuse. Ordinary everyday words also wear a bit thin if they’re heard too often and “outrage” has become a prime example of this phenomenon.

In today’s world of the 24 hour news cycle and endless social media banality, it seems almost everyone is outraged about something. So many people have such properly damning opinions about so many things! Opinions are hardly revolutionary, of course. I’ve always been something of an opinionated git and, presumably, we all had opinions in the time before we began drowning ourselves in endless streams of social media drivel. I’m just not sure when – or, more importantly, why – everyone became so righteously pompous about every little thing.

These days, any suggestion of misconduct or impropriety – or of anything that someone doesn’t like the sound of – is met with gasps of horror. Everything is “hugely offensive” and “apologies” are frequently “demanded”. More often than not, all the huffing and puffing is merely a by-product of the culture of confected outrage, rather than out of any real concern for the topic at hand. And everyone’s at it, too. Recently Nick Kyrgios & co. were outraged by Dawn Fraser; the Federal Opposition Leader was outraged by the Government; even the Prime Minister – who, himself, is in the habit of outraging most Australians on a daily basis – was outraged by a TV program.

This week alone, Australian social media went into collective outrage mode over a wholly misunderstood job advertisement; an Australian woman was jailed in Abu Dhabi for “writing bad words on social media” after being outraged by something; and social media types once again worked themselves into a lather of outrage after a radio ‘shock-jock’ tweeted an observation about a woman breast-feeding as she walked through an airport terminal… which even sounds a bit weird when you read it, to say nothing of how weird it might look if you actually witnessed it. One overly virtuous commenter suggested the observation infringed the human rights of both mother and child, while the irony of another comment was no doubt lost on whoever made it. “People who are offended should simply look or walk away”, they said, while neither looking nor walking away.

See, everyone’s so busy being outraged and politically correct that they seem to have forgotten two basic truths: 1) some of what we see around us day-to-day really is a bit weird, and 2) it’s actually OK to think so. It’s just human nature to observe and comment – we’ve all done it. If the less-than-silent outraged minority weren’t quite so busy with all their bluster and self-righteous indignation, they too might recall at least one time when even they were guilty of the same transgression (although they’d probably also be hugely offended by the implication and demand an immediate apology from me).

But that’s just how it is these days, isn’t it? Everyone’s constantly up in arms about something. A day doesn’t pass without someone being outraged, or angered, or hurt, or deeply offended by the merest suggestion of something which, in truth, they probably just don’t much care for. iTunes users were outraged that they’d been given a free album. United Airlines passengers were outraged after a flight was diverted for safety reasons and they had to stay overnight some place that wasn’t their intended destination. Sinead O’Connor was outraged about Kim Kardashian appearing on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine (though even I have to admit that O’Connor’s killer tweet – “What is this c*nt (‘I don’t smile much because it causes wrinkles’) doing on the cover of Rolling Stone? Music has officially died“. – was absolute comedy gold!). It’s all this alleged outrage over largely trivial ‘first world problems’ that has the least ring of truth to it.

The regular panelists on Network Ten’s nightly news show The Project are among the worst offenders for encouraging outrage about practically everything, so it was unsurprising to see the same behaviour from former regular panelist Charlie Pickering on his new ABC show The Weekly. When discussing the recent execution of two Australian drug smugglers in Indonesia, the generally balanced Pickering asked, “but don’t people have a right to be outraged?”. But why do they, Charlie? Concerned, maybe. Sad, yes. Confused. Bewildered. Disappointed. Maybe even upset. But why outraged, Charlie? There’s enough faux-outrage in the world as it is. Must you encourage even more?

Today’s media is full-to-overflowing with headlines quoting offence and outrage from the four corners of the earth. Googling outraged suggestion offensive generated 37,200,000 results. Outrage, it seems, is big business these days. One of my favourite writer/bloggers, Ryan Holiday, dubbed it in 2014 as “Outrage Porn”, in an article that he headlined “How the Need For ‘Perpetual Indignation’ Manufactures Phony Offense”. And that’s exactly how it almost always comes across: contrived, superficial, fly-by-night, flavour-of-the-month, melodramatic, fake offence.

Stephen Fry said it best when he described outrage as “just a whine”, as if the aggrieved somehow (mistakenly) believe that being offended “gives them certain rights”. A few years ago, another of my favourite blogs,, said “there are few things white people love more than being offended… As a rule, white people strongly prefer to get offended on behalf of other people.” In other words, ‘offence-by-proxy’ – something our countrywoman in Abu Dhabi now knows the repercussions of all too well. I wonder if she’ll think twice next time she feels the need to be outraged by something that has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with her? Let that be a valuable lesson to all social media users.

Outrage is important, it’s necessary, but these days the word is rarely associated with anything that warrants such a highly charged response. Yet everyone still feels the need to be outraged by everything. The fact that most of this involves a compulsive use of social media can only lead to tears before bedtime. Outrage is not something we want to lose the effect of, it doesn’t need diluting. Sadly, as with so much that the 21st century has sunk its talons into, the dilution has already begun.

There’s more than enough really bad stuff in the world that’s deserving of our relentless outrage and condemnation. Unusual stuff will always be everywhere and people will always do or say things that other people don’t like, but it serves no purpose for everyone to be outraged by everything. If people would only reserve their outrage for truly significant events and channel their energy into meaningful responses, the world would be a far less outraged place to be.