Monday, July 24, 2006

Unacceptable emotions

Good day today dodging security guards (even had a bit of a chase, cool) and then coffee with Mary - doesn't get much better than that. One of the things we talked about is something I've been thinking about for some time, although I'm not sure quite how far I've been getting.

Being smug about something is unacceptableIn life there are certain things we are meant to be and feel - deviating from that path is a rum do. Very rum. We can feel pride in a new born baby, but not jealousy of the attention that baby may receive, we can feel joy but never loneliness, and if we are such unfortunate genetic mutations that we do feel something unacceptable we must push those feelings down deep inside - and if they will not be pushed they must be medicated away.

But just as pain killers only mask the symptoms of a deeper problem the yearning for a happy life can only become a barrier to living an honest one. I also suspect that the expectation of happiness can, in itself, become a source of dissatisfaction when we fail to live up to these fake norms.

I remember once, when I left the SWP as it happens, one of my former comrades essentially refused to speak to me simply because I'd decided to leave (I didn't have a big bust up in the branch or anything). When telling a female friend of mine about this I started to cry, as I thought we'd been friends and it had hurt me to think that the friendship had been contingent upon my possession of a party card.

She was absolutely horrified and from that moment on thought I was about to burst into tears at the slightest thing. Once on the phone she accused me of crying when there was a slight pause in the conversation. I certainly don't feel ashamed that I valued that friendship, nor that I expressed the sadness at its premature ending - but for her I had gone from a normal person to one that cries, because of one incident.

Equally I've been feeling quite distressed at the situation in the Lebanon and Gaza and after the wacky leafletting today those feelings have definitely become much easier to live with. Whilst I'm not arguing that the main purpose of political activity is to make yourself feel better, I will argue that my feelings were telling me "do something" and were not to be alleviated until I did.

It seems to me that surely if you are sad or lonely it's your brain feeding you information about your life, information you may be able to act on, or is at least useful in coming to terms with new situations. If we pretend we don't feel envy, or hate, or a malicious need to gossip surely we are burying part of ourselves that will not be buried.

The sublimation of these unacceptable emotions can manifest itself in a variety of ways including the physical - but what will not happen is that these feelings simply go away.

This story at the BBC about the fate of the "slimmers of the year" I think is instructive.

cry baby, what do you mean your village has been bombed? pull yourslef together"An investigation into the weight loss habits of 70 slimmers showed that less than half had kept their weight off, with the remainder being overweight, obese or severely obese. Moreover, eight out of the 70 demonstrated indications of bulimia and 10 showed signs of Binge Eating Disorder.

"Fifty-one of them either binged or used compensatory behavior in the past month, such as taking water tablets/laxatives and hard exercise. Nearly three quarters of the champion slimmers had binged at least once - with some binging up to eight times - in the past month. One slimmer tells the programme: "All the time that I was at 'Slimming World', I was bulimic."

That desperate desire to be thin is, I think, a sublimated desire to be adequate or acceptable, and one that cannot be resolved through achieving a target weight.

I remember when Ginger Spice came out as having an eating disorder and elicited, rightly, wide spread sympathy - not a month had gone by and she had released her slimming and exercise video - saying on the advert "you too can have a body like mine", illustrating not just the prostitution of her soul but an inability to reconcile 'herself' and her outward persona.

Perhaps we should recognise the importance of these 'negative' aspects in our lives and be less concerned about how we are and are not allowed to feel.

Obviously if my girlfriend doesn't like me or my co-workers think I'm lazy they can keep that to themselves.


Louisefeminista said...

I would say I blame patriarchal capitalism but that would be glib, flippant and unhelpful BUT the society we live in plays an important part in ho we relate to each other.

My parents believed in a "stiff upper lip" approach to life and showing feelings was bad, very bad.. and that was a screwy way to grow up. Thankfully i ditched those kind of attitudes along with the protestantism a very long time ago. But people are alienated, isolated and atomised in this society.

Jim Jay said...

these are really interesting issues for me I guess because I had a 'respectable working class' upbringing where the protestant work ethic was very strong.

I think it was Marcuse who said that "capitalism is not to blame for every argument you have with your boyfriend" but obviously that is wrong - it is to blame, it just doesn't get you very far identifying that!

I totally agree that we are "alienated, isolated and atomised", particularly me - but I think one of my questions is - is this a zero sum game? Are we either alienated or not - or are there things we can do about the situation?

AN said...

It is an interesting point Jim

Perhaps the issue is not that we are not supposed to have some feelings, but that it is considered socially inappropriate to share them. As such it is a boundary thingie. Perhaps people feel embarrassed if others show emotions as they feel it is creating an obligation of intimacy that they don’t want to share. The complications occur at the boundaries where people are in a grey area between friends and comrades/colleagues. (we are at least spared the social minefield of the tu/vous, Du/Sie issue that French and Germans (and others have) – a lasting gain of the English revolution!). This of course also has the additional problematic of making people sometimes feel personally let down if friends of their take a different side in a political dispute.

Obviously anyone who makes whether or not they talk to you contingent on whether you are in the SWP has both got boundary issues themselves, and is also a complete sectarian!

But to a certain degree all the formalities and structures in organisations are there so that people can cooperate in wider circles than they can be friends or intimate with.

To me the interesting questions here are: i) to what degree the limitations on the numbers of people we can share true intimacy with are social, and to what degree a biological limitation; and ii) even in a socialist society with better social support mechanisms, will we choose to limit our circles of intimates (we may be biologically constrained to do this), in which case there may still be people who are “outsiders”

Jim Jay said...

Hmmm, if I look back at different periods of my life the number of close friends I've had has varied dramatically - and almost always due to my specific circumstances.

When I went to university I had an astonishing number of friends now I look back on it - and I do think these were genuine friendships (to a greater or lesser degree)

Currently, I have some friends who live in a housing coop and the atmosphere there is one that definately allows people to extend their social circle in a way that having 'normal' neighbourly relations does not.

In short I think social location does shape how easy it is to make attachments with others and the form in which that can take - so the implications for what effect radical social change might have on that are very wide I think.

I'm less concerned about the 'equality' side though - some people will tell better jokes than others, some will be more socially skilled, or may have gone through a bad experience that means they find it difficult to integrate. I don't think we should worry about the minutae of a potential new society as I don't think that helps us much.

I agree that there are feelings you are allowed but not allowed to show (you don't tell a stranger on a bus about your grief for example) - but I also think there are feelings you are not allowed to have without someone being a lesser person

stroppybird said...

Bloody hell, its like an Oprah Winfrey show on here....

Glad to see you boys sharing your feelings !

Anonymous said...

Jim, i agreed! Do what you should do and do what you think is right to do.

-Ooi, Malaysia

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