Fri | Nov 26, 2021

Alfred Dawes | Futility of selective outrage

Published:Thursday | April 1, 2021 | 12:09 AM

Whenever a new president of the United States takes the oath of office, he must have a prepared speech for the next mass shooting on hand. Depending on which party he represents, the moment will be used to emphasise the greater need for stricter gun control laws or that the call for them should not be driven by emotions generated by the tragedy.

Similarly, in Jamaica our leaders ought to have speaking notes on hand as well as a quick response public relations team on standby for the inevitable murder of a promising young woman. We are desensitised to the murder epidemic, if we can still call it that because it seems high murder rates are the baseline and now endemic to Jamaica. However, some murders hit closer to home. We do not have mass shootings as in our northern neighbour, so the last shred of empathy in a numb nation is moved by young women and children. Their murders are our national equivalent to an American school shooting.

It is therefore predictable that once such a murder occurs there will be outrage across social media and the airwaves, with several postings and demonstrations protesting violence against women. A good minister and prime minister should be seen publicly registering disgust and sadness at the killing and make assurances that they will do everything in their power to bring the killers to justice. Eventually, the howls of outrage subside as we flit from that outrage to the next one trending. Similar circumstances occur when there is an untimely death in the public health system that is believed to be the result of negligence or under-resourcing. The vitriol heaped on the staff of the offending institution and the Government seems to be unrelenting, but it always peters out, in approximately nine days. If you can weather the storm, you are home free on day 10.

The predictability and well-defined natural history of selective outrage is such that a seasoned crisis management guru can navigate it skilfully, appearing to handle the situation well, without actually having to do anything to prevent its recurrence. All they have to do is to have the playbook ready for the next game. It is amazing how well we are controlled with so little bread and even less circus. There is no pressure to enact a meaningful crime plan because the public and social media pressure is so fleeting. With full acknowledgement of the massive investments made over the last few years in the modernisation of the police force, there needs to be tangible steps taken to address crime. Reform of the police force is paramount to an effective assault on crime. There must also be determined efforts to break the link between politics and organised crime. The third pillar must take on justice system modernisation and reform. The tackling of any single one of the above would be a Herculean feat requiring expenditure of significant resources and political capital. It is no wonder that successive governments have opted to merely fill potholes in a crumbling bridge.


There is no apparent avenue to channel outrage at crime into meaningful end points. The noise and chatter will not achieve much if there are no clearly defined objectives and deliverables. If we are serious about decreasing crime, our plan of action cannot be to change our display pictures and sharing memes. How will this help to prevent the next murder? How will it motivate the authorities to take the steps needed rather than placate us with well scripted responses? After Australia had a horrific mass shooting, the government wasted no time in enacting a ban on assault weapons. The US cannot and will not take that step because the lobbyists have bought out the decision-makers and public outrage has a predictable half-life irrespective of the death toll of the mass shootings. The futility of outrage is even more evident on the international stage.

The level of outrage at the treatment of Arab Spring protesters was dependent on the allegiance of the repressive governments, with Western-friendly regimes getting a free pass. Some dynasties collapsed and others were preserved through violent crackdowns with very little outrage. In short, we are fed what they need us to be outraged about and we do it without any deliverables for appeasement. So whatever actions taken as a result of the outcry are seldom geared towards a remedy, but instead to satisfy the objectives of those who can seize the opportunity coming out of the crisis. This is one page out of the old colonialists playbook that we seem to be catching on to locally. If you doubt that this is true, remember that the only tangible outcome from the outrage following Mario Dean’s death in police lock-up was the licensed cannabis industry.

The outrage expressed by the woke ones never lasts and is constantly in search of a new home. It is selective and favours a particular victim profile. Any other soul unfortunate enough to get murdered is just another statistic. I don’t bother to share my outrage on social media. I have instead embarked on research in the new field of outrage analysis – studying the behaviour of the woke ones in their natural social media habitat. Maybe one day I can aid those determined to uphold the status quo and can add Spin Doctor to my credentials, because there is little else to be gained from the outrage I witness today.

- Alfred Dawes is a general, laparoscopic, and weight-loss surgeon; Fellow of the American College of Surgeons; former senior medical officer of the Savanna-la-Mar Public General Hospital; former president of Jamaica Medical Doctors Association. @dr_aldawes. Email feedback to and