Emocracy: The Tipping Point

Here’s were we got in our exploration of emocracy so far[1]: We live an an age of emocracy where emotions rule our private, professional, and public lives more than ever before. This shift hast been facilitated by the workings of psychology, including the creation of a dream of boundless happiness in this life and the (re-) definition of emotions as “what makes us human”. The rise of social media has made us dependent on “likes”. At the same time, social media has reduced our willingness and ability to endure what we dislike – while keeping us firmly fixated on the need to express our dislikes. Emocracy enriches our lives by raising the bar on how to take into account people’s feelings in all our private, professional, and public interactions. And emocracy limits our resilience when we have to face unpleasant circumstances or when we have to do things that just “need to be done”.

My sixth hypothesis is: We are reaching a tipping point where emocracy can either implode into an outer and inner war of all against all – a 21st century apocalypse of “homo homini lupus”. Or – much more desirable for humanity – we will stabilize emocracy into a (global) consensus of how to truly share and mutually hold emotional states. The direction we’ll take will depend on how well we manage the transition of emotional subjectivity into a commonly agreed upon intersubjective reality of human beings.

Sharing Subjectivities: Traditionally, we have seen emotions as parts of our inner lives, thereby subjective by definition. My love was my love, your hate was your hate, and – just as with pain – there was no way I could possibly verify how you truly feel (or vice versa)[2]. Nowadays, this has changed: Being out in the open, emotions appear in the guise of observable facts. People share their very private loves (and losses) on social media, so we’re in the loop on whom they date and dump on Tinder (or what their favorite pet guinea pig died of); companies encourage their employees to share their personal development goals (or personal hangups), so everybody knows Lucy wants learn how to listen better (and Luc wants to cry less)[3]; public leaders tell passionate personal stories about what dreams they have (and what drawbacks made them stronger). Of course, we still don’t know how others really feel – but the more and the broader we share, the more we create liabilities for our (communicated) emotional states. We expect others to acknowledge or validate how we feel, and by doing so expand our emotional states from subjectivity to intersubjectivity – or even claim objectivity when we measure gross national happiness or analyse the rise of hate and aggression. In other areas, intersubjective narratives have done vast amounts of good (and bad) for humanity – from shared stories to religions to (political) ideologies[4]. If this is where things are going: Can we jointly create constructive intersubjective narratives to tell ourselves about our (individual and shared) emotions? If not, what happens? If yes, what would they sound like?

Homo homini lupus: If we miss out on lifting the current cacophony of emotional utterances to a shared intersubjective narrative that embraces all shared emotions (and all those who share them), we will be in trouble. Right now, when we share emotions, we do so with the claim of sharing something about our inner selves – which in consequence means that when our sharing gets validated (or invalidated), we feel validated (or invalidated) in those very inner selves. What we love (or what we hate) is closely intertwined with what we feel is our identity. So if somebody appreciates our love (or engages in a fight with my hate), they automatically engage with our identity, confirming what we considers our “true” selves – thereby triggering a higher order contentment in ourselves, as we feel strengthened in who we are. Whereas if someone ignores our love (or makes fun of our hate), they disconfirm our very identities, denting what we consider our “true” selves – thereby triggering a higher order rage at ourselves, as we feel humiliated or hurt. The more these spirals spin out of control, the more we become susceptible to the smallest confirmations (or disconfirmations) of our likes and dislikes. The homo homini lupus of Hobbesian fame seems a harmless, straightforward creature compared to the human being who has to constantly fight for their likes and ward of their dislikes, including others’ dislikes of their likes of somebody else’s likes of their dislikes.

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The success (or failure) of emocracy will depend on whether we translate emotions into an intersubjective space that we can comfortably share with each other. How, then, can this be done? The final posts of this series will look at a couple of possible ways to shape our living together in a way that caters for everybody’s emotions in ways that go beyond the clash of subjectivities.

Stay tuned!

[1] This piece is the seventh chapter of a series of blog posts on emocracy. The opening chapter can be found here and should be read first for context and perspective; the second chapter – on how the success of psychology contributed to the rise of emocracy – is here; the third chapter – on how we’re chained by the “like” button on social media – is here; the fourth chapter – on hate – is here. The fifth chapter dealt with the benefits of the rule of emotions; the sixth chapter deals with the losses. This is the third (and last) of a few posts addressing the questions: “As emocracy rules: What is gained? What is lost? And for whom?”. The final question – “How do we want to shape our living together now and going forward, given that the age of emocracy seems to be here to stay?” – will then be addressed in the last posts of this series.BACK TO TEXT

[2] As an aside: I believe that this subjectivity of emotions is one of the reasons why emotions have for a long time and across cultures been seen as something private (rather than public) and as something that has to be kept inside (rather than shared). It would be interesting to explore how the view on emotions is similar to (or different from) the view on pain that different cultures have developed.BACK TO TEXT

[3] When done right, there’s a real upside to including people’s personal development into their professional lives. The most brilliant analysis and description of how this can be done is in Robert Kegan, Lisa Lahey, Deborah Helsing, Matthew L. Miller, Andy Fleming: “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization” (2016).BACK TO TEXT

[4] Once again (because the book is right here), Yuval Noah Harari’s “Sapiens” (2011) has a good chapter on this: “Building Pyramids”.BACK TO TEXT

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