Bioethics Blogs

The Ethics of Moral Outrage

by Kayhan Parsi, JD, PhD

Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy. –Aristotle

The year 2015 produced a mind numbing number of events that triggered intense social media anger. From the dentist who killed Cecil the Lion to the CEO who jacked up HIV/AIDS drugs, it seemed everyone had an excuse to be angry. With the ubiquity of social media, we now all have convenient outlets for our anger when someone displays extreme assholery.

This wasn’t always the case. I recall when I was a high school student, I read something in the local newspaper that triggered indignation and even anger on my part. I took that anger and wrote a letter to the editor. That same letter was then vetted by someone on the newspaper staff; a week or two later, my letter appeared in the local paper. Today, there is no filter. With a few strokes of a keyboard (or on a smartphone), we can quickly dispatch our anger and even contempt. The question is what deserves our anger and whether we have an ethical obligation to mitigate our anger or channel it in a productive way. There’s a moral difference between the righteous anger that produces social movements such as Black Lives Matter or White Coats for Black Lives and the anger that is triggered by something mindless, trivial or even stupid.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.