Every time I sit down to write about politics I end up writing about emotions, and every time I try to write something emotional it always seems to come back to politics.
I’m 21 years old, and have been hunting happiness since I can remember. Sometimes constructively, sometimes destructively, and pretty much always chaotically: I’ve experimented with drugs and sex and therapy, read all the self-help books I could get my hands on, seen herbalists, hypnotists, homeopaths and sociopaths; I’ve had my heart broken and I’ve run clod-footed over the hearts of others in search of emotional enlightenment. I’ve travelled continents with only a small back-pack half-full of rolled-up socks, poetry books and Polish vodks. I’ve been an anorexic, a starver, a self-harmer, an addict, a manic depressive, and have suffered from crippling anxiety attacks. I’ve been institutionalised, and I’ve soldiered through an Oxbridge degree, which is pretty much the same thing without the nurses, the locks on the doors and all the free biscuits.
The hardest thing I’ve had to learn in all of that time is how to sit with sadness.
What started me thinking about all this was nothing more than a scrap of conversation with a friend, and then, on the Picadilly line to college, watching a grown man in a sharp suit fighting back tears behind a copy of the Metro.
So much of modern life is about trying to buy things that will distract us from our problems, make us ‘happier’: up the interminable escalators to the spit-out point on the street, dozens of billboards try to tell us how to be wealthier, prettier, sexier, slicker, cooler – as if, somehow, all this would make us forget that we were angry, or hurt, or tired, or lonely, or sad.
Happiness, in fact, does not require the abscence of sadness. Real contentment, in fact, requires one to routinely sit down with sadness, one’s own or other peoples’, and acknowledge it, and allow it to pass through you.
Capitalist faux-democracy, however, does not allow for sadness. I shan’t, actually, apologise for talking feelings and politics in the same breath, because I’m convinced that the two can’t be separated like that. So: the capitalist political paradigm does not condone sadness, because if one is sad, and if one acknowledges and takes time to process and to sit with one’s sadness, then where are the profit margins? What can be sold to stopper that sadness, if one has suddenly decided to feel it and to let it go?
Note, of course, that I’m not talking here about serious depression, which is its own, frightening illness deserving of every medical, personal and psychological attention that can be thrown at it. I’m talking about low-level sorrow, fits of black dog, depressive days, dissatisfaction, loneliness, bad turns, the Blues. The sadness that everyone encounters on a reasonably regular basis because, hey, life’s not always amazing fun. The capitalist political paradigm tries to persuade us that these feelings can be squashed down or bought off. Actually feeling painful feelings and letting them go is antithetical to capitalist idealism, despite being generally essential to personal wellbeing. Actually being awake and aware of one’s own feelings, rather than numb to them, is a threat to capitalism. Sorrow, properly and unashamedly acknowledged, is a threat to capitalism.
Unfettered joy is also a threat to capitalism, because joy – spontaneous or self-supporting – needs no financial transaction to take place. Joy is a simple, visceral response to the unpriceable pleasures of life. Uncontrolled joy – like uncontrolled sadness – is not encouraged in our society, where one is, instead, expected to be neither too happy nor openly sad. Unrestrained joy is a threat because it cannot be controlled or adequately hung on to. It is a threat because automatically exposes one to the thing that capitalist thinkers fear most: loss.
Emotional fluency is, hence, deeply radical. I propose Emotional Anarchy.
I propose genuine psychological self-determination in which every emotion is valid and needs no apology. I propose adventures with independence, dependence and interdependence. I propose bravery in self-exploration, I propose being unashamed to express feelings on public transport, I propose radical kindnesses, considered excesses, dances with one’s own joy and despair. I propose Emotional Anarchy.
Emotional anarchy does not require you to run riot with your feelings, although rioting may be an unavoidable side-effect. It requires only honesty, self-expression, consideration and kindness. It’ll probably save the world. To conclude, before I disappear into my soft, damply pink teenage faux-political rectum, I’m reminded of a snipling from Blake’s ‘Songs of Innocence and Experience’, which says this better than I ever could:
He that binds to himself a joy/ Doth the winged life destroy –
He that kisses the joy as it flies/Lives in eternity’s sunrise.
From The Clod and the Pebble.