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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/16/10

In Praise of Shared Outrage

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"We have to tolerate the inequality as a way to achieve greater prosperity and opportunity for all." These were the words of Lord Brian Griffiths, Goldman Sachs international adviser, when he spoke at London's St. Paul's Cathedral last fall. With inequality at historic levels here in the United States and around the world, it's a reassuring message we all might wish to be true.

Unfortunately, scientific research reveals a sharply different reality: inequality is a driving force behind many of our most profound social ills. The Equality Trust reviewed thousands of studies conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, and the World Bank. Consistent patterns emerged, both between and within countries. Inequality is associated with diminished levels of physical and mental health, child well-being, educational achievement, social mobility, trust, and community life. And it is linked to increased levels of violence, drug use, imprisonment, obesity, and teenage births. In short, Lord Griffiths' claim--despite the venue--was a self-serving fiction.

Shared Outrage and Solidarity

Although there are no easy or quick solutions for reversing today's extreme inequalities and repairing the daily harm they cause, the path forward may be clearer than we realize. Change of this magnitude requires a stubborn, passionate, and broadly embraced commitment to greater equality as a moral necessity. Although regularly overlooked and misunderstood, the catalyst for such a transformation is often surprisingly simple: shared outrage. Indeed, when shared by the disadvantaged and oppressed on the one hand and by those with greater security and resources on the other, outrage can spur the concerted action required to overcome the injustice, insensitivity, and inhumanity that foster inequality around the world.

Recent work by social psychologists such as Emma Thomas, Craig McGarty, Kenneth Mavor, and Emina Subasic (among others) highlights why this is so. Outrage shared between groups that otherwise differ in many ways creates the solidarity vital to forcefully challenging a destructive status quo. This shared emotion is so powerful because it breaks the established boundaries that separate the "haves" from the "have-nots." Outrage over inequality can unite the direct victims of discrimination with those who find discrimination morally repugnant even though they themselves have not experienced it. Similarly, outrage can bring together in common cause people struggling to make ends meet and those who while better off are convinced that it's simply wrong for anyone to go without adequate food, shelter, or healthcare.

What also makes this shared moral outrage special is its collective action orientation--it pushes for sustained engagement against the individuals, groups, and institutions that benefit from inequality and seek to perpetuate it. As a political force, shared outrage takes us beyond the mere acknowledgement of regrettable circumstances in the world. It insists on explanations for what's wrong, and it seeks accountability for the wrongdoing. And the chorus of voices rising up in shared outrage prevents any single group from becoming an isolated target for condemnation or retribution from the powers that be.

In the U.S. alone, there are many settings today that cry out for this shared outrage. Consider a small sample:

**Wall Street's largest banks turn a taxpayer-funded bailout into billions of dollars in bonuses for their highest-paid employees--while millions of working people lose their jobs and their homes. It's not only the unemployed and homeless who should be outraged.

**Health insurance giants add to their bottom line by denying life-saving treatment to sick children, dropping policyholders when they become too ill, and aggressively raising premiums despite the economic hardship facing so many. It's not only those whose health or recovery is imperiled who should be outraged.

**Profit-driven global polluters, their lobbyists, and their political defenders block effective responses to climate change while the poor suffer disproportionately from environmental disasters and devastation. It's not only those whose lives are destroyed by drought or flood who should be outraged.

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Roy Eidelson is a psychologist who studies, writes about, and consults on the role of psychological issues in political, organizational, and group conflict settings. His most recent book is Doing Harm: How the World's Largest Psychological (more...)

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