Emocracy: Conclusions

This post concludes my investigation of emocracy[1]. I started by describing how emotions rule our world in an unprecedented way; looked at how psychology and social media contributed to this rise of the reign of emotions, in particular with regard to hate; explored the benefits and the losses of emocracy, as well as the tipping point we have reached today; and thought through seeing our emotional landscape as a commons to jointly care for as well as considering a right to the freedom of emotions. Two posts ago, I wrote about how regarding emotions as a commons might work for reasonably delimited communities who can agree on the principles and practices to care for their shared emotional landscape. And in the last post, I pointed out that assuming a right to the freedom of emotions implies a right to express emotions – which in turn brings plenty of challenges. Both views result in a collective outer display of emotions: Either in terms of a common emotional space collectively looked after by the community; or in terms of a public cacophony of individual emotional expressions created by and accessible to all.

My ninth – and final – hypothesis is: The rise of emocracy entails the retirement of (emotional) individualism as we know it. Living in a shared space of emotional expressions requires either the joint agreement on how to run that space (“the commons of emotions”), limiting each individual’s emotional expression within that community to what is commonly accepted. Or – beyond such communities and assuming the right to freedom of expressing emotions – it requires each individual to distance themselves from their own emotions far enough to accept that others express their emotions, too: An attitude of emotional tolerance, respecting that others’ emotions might be different or outright opposing to our own. In both cases, individual human beings can no longer claim to be their emotions, identifying their assumed self with the full set of their emotional states – or expressions thereof.

What does this mean for the future of communities, cross-community conversations, and humanity’s understanding of itself in turn?

Towards multi-centered, overlapping communities: If communities jointly managing emotions have to be limited in size and purpose, with all likelihood, we will see a dissemination and stabilization of interest-based (or otherwise clearly restricted) communities which manage to care for their emotional landscape in ways acceptable to all members. Traditional interest groups – sports clubs, game circles, arts and crafts communities and the like – will continue to flourish; local or regional communities will find ways to organize themselves in neighbourhoods or action-oriented, temporary associations; Facebook Groups will work better than Facebook overall (or any other global social platform). These communities’ memberships will partially overlap, as I can go to a yoga studio, play PokémonGo, attend bread-baking classes, and support my street’s initiative for reducing traffic in parallel and without conflict – while accepting the (potentially different) emotional principles and practices in each community as long as I am engaged. As a single human being, I will then temporarily conform to the emotional tone set in each of these communities – without assuming that any of these is more “me” than all the others. In turn, the “big” identity-creating communities inherited from previous centuries – gender, ethnicity, nationality, and the like – will lose ground, as they are too big and too diverse within to allow for a shared definition of emotional principles and practices[2]. If this happens, at some point in the future and for the first time in history, human beings will organise themselves exclusively in multi-centered, overlapping communities which are not automatically part of bigger, concentric circles “holding” these communities[3]. It remains to be seen whether and how we can manage such a transition both in terms of ideologies and in terms of practicalities, such as infrastructure, taxes, or social services.

Towards complex cross-community conversations: Whenever conversations across communities take place, if we want to hold up the right to the freedom to express emotions, we need to step away from our own emotions far enough to accept that – in the absence of a shared space of agreed-upon emotional principles and practices – others express different emotions. On an individual level, this requires the ability to simultaneously hold our own emotion – and the idea that others have and express different emotions. By definition, this complexity of dual attention means that I can no longer identify fully with my emotion, because I have to at least marginally let in the possibility of others feeling differently from me. Automatically, then, I can no longer regard my emotion as my “true” self turned outward. Instead, it turns into a display of something that could also be something else – and therefore cannot be “true”. With this stance, collectively, we can no longer frame cross-community conversations as “us” against “them”[4]. Instead, each cross-community conversation needs to turn into a complex dance of expressing, listening to, and mutually exploring different emotions – while not losing focus on what practical issues need to be solved. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether we feel differently about something, as long as we agree on what will (or won’t) be done. Fortunately, psychology has taught us the tools and tricks to have such conversations. Unfortunately, however, our skill in bringing these tools and tricks to the public arena is not (yet) well developed.

Towards being what we are not: Modernity brought us the claim of individualism as a hallmark of humanity, and the late 20th and early 21st century drove this claim to its peak experience[5]. Amongst the defining characteristics of what makes each of us an individual, the subjective reality of our respective inner emotions was (and is) one of the most important aspects. This – as we saw in earlier posts in this series – was one of the driving forces behind the rise of the reign of emotions – emocracy in its present form. Now, however, with emotions out in the open, they paradoxically lose their defining power for our assumed individualism. If the emotional principles and practices I comply with can change, depending on which community I’m currently active in, I am no longer my emotions – but bring (a part of) them into an environment with a clearly defined common emotional setup. And if my right to express my emotions cannot but to coexist with others’ rights to express their emotions, I automatically witness the possibility and existence of other emotions, further reducing my self-centredness on being only my emotions. As human beings, living with emotions “out there”, means accepting that (at least emotionally) we are always also what we are not – able to adopt emotional stances, but not defined by them. Whether we can (and need to) find a new way to define ourselves as individuals, or whether emocracy ultimately kills all individualism (and potentially replaces it with something else), remains to be found out.

* * *

With this, I end this mini-series on emocracy.

Thank you for reading!


[1] This piece is the tenth – and final – 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 deals with the benefits of the rule of emotions; the sixth chapter deals with the losses; the seventh chapter describes the tipping point we have reached. Chapter eight and chapter nine address the 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?”, looking at emotions as a commons and at freedom of emotions in turn.BACK TO TEXT

[2] Which is kind of ironic – and a little sad – in the case of nationality, given that at the time of its invention it was a concept with the ability to unite opposing factions. The differing views on political direction emerging after the French Revolution – the “left” and the “right” – would never have been contained within a shared state without the concept of the nation state. However – and this reduces the sadness a little – the nation state itself then created its own brand of aggressions and wars, which we will certainly not miss if it dies with the idea of nations.BACK TO TEXT

[3] I haven’t come to a conclusion yet on what this means for business. Of course, big global corporations are different from nation states in many respects, but they, too, suffer from a lack of ability to define common emotional principles and practices across thousands of employees worldwide – despite all attempts at improving company cultures. I’ll come back to this question some time in the future.BACK TO TEXT

[4] With, of course, the notable exception of competing groups in the same interest “cluster”, e.g. sports teams playing against each other or restaurant engaging in a dessert competition about who makes the best crême brûlée or tarte au citron.BACK TO TEXT

[5] A while ago, I looked at this “cult of me” in a blog post here.BACK TO TEXT

Respond to Emocracy: Conclusions

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