Emotions We Must Deal with to Defend Democracy

The 2022 midterm elections raise questions about our psychological lives. For large numbers of Americans there is a sense of loss of the world we had known, of much that has defined our lives and our sense of reality. At issue are our collective forms of loss, and hopeful expressions of overcoming that loss.카지노사이트

We are used to discussing reverberations of individual loss. But we have less knowledge of its collective forms, of the effects of what I call psychohistorical dislocation. Such dislocation can be brought about by significant societal change of any kind. That change often involves a disruption of social and institutional arrangements that ordinarily anchor human lives: our larger symbol systems having to do with family, religion, social and political authority, sexuality, birth and death, and the overall life cycle. Dislocation is increased by the relatively new presence of social media, which magnify attacks on democratic procedure and contribute greatly to the loss of decency in public discourse.

Both sides in our present historical struggle—election deniers and defenders of democracy—insist on their own sense of loss. Here dislocation becomes politicized as election deniers experience a loss of white hegemony in a Christian society, and defenders of democracy, Democratic and Republican, struggle with the loss of a nonviolent political process.

In this way our public and private worlds are consumed by claims of loss, by compensatory behavior in response to those claims. And everyone is enraged at opponents they blame for bringing about their loss.

“Polarization” is the wrong term, however, because the word can suggest equal responsibility for extreme positions. It is more accurate to say that a large block of people has mounted a seditious attack on the concept of free elections and the rule of law, and with it the political world of democracy.

We need to explore the psychological effects of that attack on democracy on the rest of us—the emotions we experience in our efforts to cope with it. I would emphasize emotions of astonishment, confusion, helplessness, fear, despair, rage, and alienation. Each can be experienced alone and intermittently, but they are mostly simultaneous in ways that we can find overwhelming.

Our astonishment has to with the brazenness of the sedition and the violence in relation to the Big Lie. Behavior so extreme and unprecedented that we find it hard to believe it is happening. I am reminded of a talk I had with a Jewish physician-survivor of Auschwitz in which he said: “You know Robert, I’ve been involved in this problem for more than forty years, and I still can’t believe that it really happened—that anyone would try to round up all the Jews in Europe and send them to a place to kill them.” Of course this Auschwitz example is of a very different dimension, but it does exemplify the difficulty we have believing what is unimaginable and therefore “unthinkable.”

Our confusion has to do with deep uncertainty, especially in our relationship between self and world in what we understand to be fact, evidence, reality, truth. The confusion is further fueled by what has been called the “chaos machine” of social media.

Our sense of helplessness has to do with the persistence of conspiratorial falsehood and the Big Lie along with the feeling that we are unable to prevail over that falsehood now or in the imaginable future. Feelings of helplessness have been considerably mitigated by the pro-democracy accomplishments of the recent elections, including an impressive turnout of young people. Feelings of helplessness have by no means disappeared, but we have experienced a clearly improved sense of collective agency.

Our fear is in direct response to threats and intimidation, including death threats and acts of violence. It has manifested itself in the resignation of large numbers of civil servants, notably vote counters, concerned about their own safety and that of their families. That externally induced fear can be sufficiently pervasive to connect with inner sources of fear and anxiety that exist in everyone.바카라사이트

The same is true of a sense of despair: an absence of hope. There are pockets of fear and despair that are both personal and collective. They can be related to such democratic fault lines as anti-government attitudes, racism, and antisemitism. In that way we’re never sure whether what is wrong with us is caused by the larger society or by our personal conflicts. Fear and despair are also magnified by specific violence towards minority groups and by legislation that diminishes human rights.

Perhaps the most difficult feeling for us to cope with is simple rage, at Trump himself as the perpetrator of the Big Lie and at those who support him. We experience their behavior as immoral to the point of obscene. One commentator describes his own feelings toward Trump and Big Lie accomplices like Marjorie Taylor Greene as “something between rage and anger” to a degree he has never felt toward public officials before. He wonders how to get rid of such disturbing feelings.

My immediate answer is not to get rid of them too quickly. There can be an animating relation to rage of a kind I have described in past work for animating guilt. Just as Vietnam Veterans could convert feelings of guilt into an anxiety of responsibility with focused opposition to the war, so can American defenders of democracy channel their rage in ways that convert it into forms of nonviolent activist outrage.

Many people experience a sense of alienation from society and attempt to distance themselves from political and other forms of involvement. They seek to separate themselves from the larger society and its widespread complicity with the extreme Trumpist immorality. That alienation can become an immobilizing form of personal “stuckness.”

To overcome such alienation one must allow oneself to undergo the societal pain that affects one’s immediate environment, as opposed to protecting oneself from that pain. Going further, one must acknowledge the pain in others. And translate the pain into new actions.

Of course, people struggle to divert themselves from these seemingly unmanageable emotions, whether holding to ordinary personal and family routines, traditional cultural events, or passions for sports. But the tsunami of threat and loss can break through whatever protective actions the self may undertake.

I myself have gone through this sequence of pain, acknowledgement of pain of others, and using it to fuel new action. I remember how during the Vietnam War I could share some of the pain students were experiencing in connection with being drafted and possibly killed in a war they despised and opposed. As a Yale professor, I found myself writing letters to draft boards, explaining how problems with authority could render particular students unfit for military service. I was struggling to find a truth that I might express in a way that could be helpful to these students.

I went further in performing civil disobedience and organizing a group of professionals and intellectuals who could share that commitment. Now, with loosened ties to a university, I can resist a sense of alienation through writing and taking stands with others. None of this frees me from periodic feelings of alienation but it does enable me to avoid stuckness.

These emotions—astonishment, confusion, helplessness, fear, despair, rage, and alienation—are expressions of self-defense in the face of the onslaught of falsehood. But they can also be sources of truth that are mobilized and transformed into actions that combat the Big Lie and its conspiratorial claims. For that to happen, for us to recover collective forms of reality based on evidence, we must acknowledge and address the emotions that we experience.온라인카지노

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