Books editor’s blog: outrage has become our default setting

Why do anger and indignation come so quick these days? wonders Matthew Reisz

May 30, 2019
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These are disturbing times, and it is hardly surprising that many people, including academics, spend a great deal of their time on social media in a state of permanent outrage.

I share much of the outrage about, for example, Donald Trump, the state of British politics and the appalling recent legislation that in effect bans abortion in Alabama. What I can’t understand is the kind of agonised surprise (or faux surprise) that seems to greet every mildly offensive comment or ill-judged “joke” from a celebrity or even politician.

There can’t be many people who don’t have a single neighbour, in-law, grandmother or great-uncle who has sometimes come up with a passing sexist, racist or homophobic remark. And who hasn’t met a few ageing individuals who still haven’t quite come to terms with the changes in social attitudes associated with the 1960s, a decade that ended well over a generation ago? Some people still haven’t got their head around rock’n’roll. And inertia is a feature of just about everybody’s thinking.

This can also be an issue in book reviews. Certain scholarly monographs can obviously afford to address themselves purely to specialists. But I would always hope the reviews in Times Higher Education, which is not a specialist journal, will be of interest to readers beyond those in a particular subdiscipline. And just as all academics must have relatives who are not au fait with the latest in intersectionality or critical race theory, they will also have colleagues of whom this is true. What is the point of writing in a way that ignores this very obvious truth?

So, instead of an echo chamber where those outside the charmed circle are ignored if not treated with contempt, I’d much prefer these pages to feel like an open conversation where academics are in some sense putting the case for ideas some readers may not have come across, not least because intersectionality and critical race theory do have something to say to us all. Many of my reviewers are very good at adopting a style rather different from that which they would use to address their peers. It is certainly something I would like to see from them all.

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