(Sorry for the coy title--I want to give the reader a chance to guess what the addition is.)
One day I opened up the front page of reddit. I was not signed in and I was using my browser's incognito mode.
The following list composed about 25% of what I saw as I scrolled. See if you notice any themes. (As hinted by the title, I think there is something other than outrage here.)
(At least another 25% was made up of r/news, r/worldnews, r/politics, r/PoliticalHumor, and so on.)
Like many people, I have spent a lot of time thinking about the psychotoxic effects of concentrated outrage, political polarization, doomscrolling, misinformation, and filter bubbles. So I was a little surprised by my own interpretation of the above list:
I submit that the most salient theme is contempt.
Here's a sentence that has been at the back of my mind since I came across it:
Scandal is great entertainment because it allows people to feel contempt, a moral emotion that gives feelings of moral superiority while asking nothing in return.
-- Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis
Let me first admit that contemptuously bonding over the misbehavior of others probably can have real benefits. But I claim that in the case of the reddit front page, these benefits are clearly outweighed by the costs to one’s personality (not to mention epistemics).
So, Haidt says contempt feels good, reddit appears to be a prime example, and I'm now asserting that it's psychotoxic (and possibly addictive, at least when taken via
intravenous drip bottomless scrolling). Presuming all of that is correct...is it actionable? I think so.
If you're ambitious, you could quit social media for a month and pay attention to how your thoughts and attitudes change.
More coordinationally, perhaps a social stigma can develop around this kind of overindulgence, similar to the increasing stigmas toward ragebait and doomscrolling.
But at the very least, you can simply notice that something you're reading is triggering contempt, as opposed to outrage or doomfeelz. I think this awareness by itself restores a decent chunk of mental autonomy. Personally, I like to also take the proactive step of rehearsing questions like, "why did they end up so stupid/scandalous/cringeworthy?" and “what led me to avoid such faults so well?” I find that the answer (whatever it is) often feels strangely liberating--it diminishes the tasty allure of the contempt, and makes it easier to refocus my attention on something better.
EDIT: Thanks Daniel Kokotajlo for offering the term scornporn in the comments!