It’s Not Moral Outrage. What You’re Feeling Is Empathetic Anger.

And there’s nothing wrong with it.

Jessica Wildfire


My aunt loves outrage porn.

She gets outraged when there’s no Santa on the Starbucks cups, or there’s too many satanic images in a Disney reboot, or when they replace James Bond with a black woman. She complains about socialism and free handouts, even though her daughter collects disability checks. Like most of us, she expresses her outrage on the internet.

In real life, she’s downright cheerful.

Here’s the thing:

Nothing she gets outraged over has the slightest impact on her well-being. In person, she’s always smiling. She has a good life.

(She’s also vaccinated.)

So what gives?

Let’s talk about moral outrage.

There’s an objective way to define moral outrage. Psychologists Stefanie Hechler and Thomas Kessler describe it as the anger we feel when someone violates our moral code, our sense of right and wrong.

Outrage focuses on intention and wrongfulness. It’s not really about the actual harm someone does to anyone.

You don’t have to hurt anyone to provoke outrage.

It’s abstract.

You just have to do something they find immoral, something that violates their personal view of the world. Mask mandates provoke moral outrage because it transgresses against people’s sense of personal freedom. Lately, even wearing a mask is enough to trigger someone.

There’s plenty of other things you can do to provoke outrage: You can marry someone with the same gender. You can worship a different god, or no god at all. You can try to teach people about diversity or race. You can bring up instances from our history that contradict the story others want to tell themselves about their heritage. You can suggest reallocating money from the police to other public agencies.

You can kneel.

We all know people who get upset over things that don’t actually seem to hurt anyone. They’re offended when Quaker Oates gets rid of Aunt Jemima. They care more about the perceived loss of their “childhood…