This post concludes my investigation of emocracy. 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.
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.
We live in an age of emocracy. In stark difference to most of humanity’s history, emotions overtly govern our private, professional, and public lives. In this and a few subsequent posts, I will explore the question of how, when, and why the shift from keeping emotions “under cover” towards today’s unembarrassed emocracy happened. My first hypothesis is: The rise of emocracy was strongly favored by the invention and (later) popularization of psychology.
Emotions rule our world. This in itself is not news. Ever since Cain slayed Abel, and ever since Zeus fell in love with Europe, human behaviors have been driven by aggression, passion, and all their cousins. But in the last years, something has shifted: In the past, quite regardless of culture and environment, human beings mostly saw emotions as something unruly that had to be contained. In the very recent present, however, emotions have taken center stage in our personal, professional, and public lives. We live in an age of emocracy – but without ever having explicitly agreed on its constitution, principles, laws, and practices. This is a problem.
A year comes to a close. Some say, it was a good year. Some say, it was a bad year. Some say it was just another year, neither good nor bad. In this ambiguity of how people see it, at least, this year is no different from all other things that surround us: Owls that are nightingales, nightingales that are larks, larks that are dead serious, serious deaths that are fake news, fake news that are wiser and truer than owls.