In many ways, our shared emotional landscape is a commons that needs to be cared for by our joint effort. However, this perspective restricts the scope of emocracy to clearly delimited communities who then still face the challenge to define – and subsequently uphold – the principles and practices to govern the emotions populating their shared spaces. Following a more recent historical trend, a broader – and potentially global – approach would be to include emotions in the basic set of human rights: the French Revolution’s and American Independency’s way of describing universal characteristics valid for everybody on this planet. What if there was an article saying: “Everyone has the right to freedom of emotions and their expression”, similar to the existing article 19: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression”?
Living in an age of emocracy, we are tasked with finding ways to manage the transition of our emotional subjectivities into a commonly agreed upon intersubjective reality of human beings’ feelings. Fortunately, the history of humanity has many examples of how people created common structures, stories, or stratagems out of individual stances, insights, or interests. Unfortunately, practically all of these examples have their successful and unsuccessful manifestations, and none (so far) has survived unaltered across times and places. Over the next three posts, I will examine three possible starting points for creating a shared emotional perspective, transforming our feelings from subjective attitudes into a shared intersubjective view. The three concepts I will investigate are: The idea of the commons; (human) rights; and transcendence.
Here’s were we got in our exploration of emocracy so far: 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”.
The reign of emotions brings losses, too. This post deals with a first – rather obvious – set of losses: As emotions rule our private, professional, and public lives, across all these domains we lose the willingness and ability to live with (and despite of) things we don’t like. The chains of “like” bind us into searching and clinging to what we makes us feel good; and the haters’ paradox makes us pull away from what we dislike (while at the same time, urging us to express our dislikes loud and clear). With this, there’s little room for an environment which contains unpleasant episodes, unwanted encounters, or outright unbearable experiences.
Let’s look at the benefits of emocracy. As emotions rule our world, what do we gain? At first glance, quite a lot: Who wouldn’t appreciate a society in which human beings are aware of their emotions, can freely express how they feel, and receive respect from others for their feelings? In this vein, “empathy” – the ability to understand and share the feelings of others – has become a universal spell for our times, from raising kids to caring for the sick, from marriage to management, and from “The Empathic Civilization” to “Empathy and Democracy” and “Digital Empathy”. So the rule of emotions, it seems, carries an inbuilt prerequisite for these emotions to be shared, heard and listened to. Emocracy’s benefits come with a catch.
Hate is the hallmark emotion of our times. Amongst the emotions ruling our private, professional, and public lives, hate is the ringleader. First, psychology’s curse equipped us with the tools to manage emotions, a dream of eternal bliss, and the notion of emotions as “what makes us human”; then, the “like button” and the “people who…”-algorithm on social media tied us into the mental state of pre-teen kids, tightly spun into our wants and needs. In this state of heightened emotional vulnerability, humanity fell prey to the stratagems of hate: the darkest lord of emotions, more enduring than anger, jealousy, or pride, and the cruelest mastermind of aggression, violence, and warfare.
More than in any previous period of human history, emotions rule our private, professional, and public lives. How, when, and why did the shift from keeping emotions “under cover” towards today’s extrovert emocracy take place? I’m exploring this question in a few posts of which this is the second one. In the first post, I explained Psychology’s Curse: the role of psychology and psychotherapy in describing the tools by which emotions can be managed; creating a dream of a blissful-ever-after emotional state in this life; and upgrading emotions to “what makes us human”. In this post I will talk about the role of social media in bringing emotions to center stage, and in particular about the impact of the “like button”.