The Politics of Negative Emotions: Editor’s Choice.

Emotions seem increasingly to mark political movements and discourse. Anger, fear and sadness have, to varying degrees, been implicated in the outcome of the Brexit referendum and the rise of Trump, on the one hand, and the persistence of Black Lives Matter and the impact of the Me Too movement, on the other.

A philosophical tradition that stretches from Plato to Martha Nussbaum has urged us to keep negative emotions like anger and jealousy out of politics, and to instead nurture positive ones, like love and compassion. Yet, that must be confounding to minorities, the poor and other marginalized groups, whose political claims frequently originate in negative emotions and take the form of emotional expressions. Indeed, their marginalization and attendant suffering has been exacerbated by processes, such as medicalization, which prompt individuals to think of their anger, fear and other painful emotions as personal problems to be dealt with in the medical or some other ostensibly apolitical sphere.

But not everyone believes negative emotions must be kept out of politics. Some feminists have long defended the political value of anger. And, more recently, such thinkers as Judith Butler and Deborah Gould have highlighted the politically empowering and constructive role that other negative emotions can play as well. Moreover, a series of methodological discussions on the importance of affect have brought the role of emotions in research into sharp focus. But whether these newer perspectives can survive the popular trend of blaming our contemporary political problems on passions like anger and fear remains to be seen.

This Editor’s Choice includes three essays on the place of emotions in politics from the combined second and third issues of volume 10, essays which will be particularly relevant as we grapple with the political fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Fear has been among the dominant emotions in the public sphere this year. The first essay warns of the political abuses of this emotion. In ‘Moral economies of exclusion: politics of fear through antagonistic anonymity’, Søren Mosgaard Andreasen shows how fear has been used by the far right in Norway to legitimise exclusion, policing, and humiliation of Muslims, providing insights with significant implications for society more broadly.

As people have come to understand the unequal burden of Covid-19, with the most disadvantaged communities suffering the most, another emotion that has become increasingly salient is anger. In the second essay, ‘Anger fast and slow: mediations of justice and violence in the age of populism’, William Davies unpacks this emotions, borrowing Daniel Kahneman’s famous distinction between fast and slow thinking to develop a distinction between fast and slow anger. Whereas fast anger arises automatically, without deliberation, spurring physical action and reaction, slow anger accrues over time in response to perceived injustices; to conceive and enact lasting political change, Davies argues, we need a balance of both. 

The final piece draws our attention to an issue that will be central as we try to – in the words of the Biden campaign – ‘build back better’, namely, climate change. In ‘Green shame: The next moral revolution?’, Martha Claeys challenges political critiques of shame to argue that this emotion has a key role to play the greening of society. According to Claeys, green shame – the shame of behaving in ways that negatively impact the environment – can not only influence individual decision-making, but also drive sustained demands for policy changes. 

The Politics of Negative Emotions. Guest Edited by Dan Degerman is available here: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/bup/gd/2020/00000010/00000002;jsessionid=6cvdfpv4qhi7o.x-ic-live-01

Bangladesh: Why a Pandemic is More Than a Threat to Global Health

Leoni Connah,
Lancaster University

Covid-19, known to the world as “Coronavirus” has caused an unprecedented crisis as it threatens human life, irrespective of location, age, gender or ethnicity. In addition to the threat the virus poses to health, the economic implications of Covid-19 are on a global scale as countries fear recession. The media has centred upon the economic implications of the UK and the U.S. but what is Covid-19 doing to South Asian states such as Bangladesh?

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Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson have lost control of the fear factor

Matthew Flinders, University of Sheffield; Dan Degerman, Lancaster University, and Matthew Thomas Johnson, Lancaster University

Fear has a bad reputation. Nobody wants to live in a society of fear; it’s an emotion to be avoided. As such, the role of the modern state is driven by the public’s desire to avoid those fear-inducing elements of modern life.

But that does not mean the role of the state is to eliminate fear. Rather it needs to manage what might be termed the “fear factor”. This is the fine line between using fear to encourage public compliance with the law (i.e. fear of prison is itself a preventative strategy), while at the same time convincing the very same people that they don’t need to live in a constant state of dread, anxiety and fearfulness.

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Negative emotions in dark times

Dan Degerman

We have much to be emotional about right now. In writing moment, a pandemic is upon us, with attendant political and economic crises. Among the emotions this has evoked, fear is indisputably the most palpable and discussed. But there is also frustration and anger, for example, at slow or insufficient government actions. And those who have already lost loved ones will of course feel sadness and grief. These are indeed dark times, casting a deep shadow over, or perhaps shadowed by, our inner lives.

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Affective politics of the far right beyond negative emotions

Julia Leser & Florian Spissinger

Chairman of far-right AfD party parliamentary group in Thuringia Bjoern Hoecke speaks during a demonstration of the anti-immigrant Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the Occident), on February 17, 2020 in Dresden, eastern Germany. (Photo by STRINGER / AFP) (Photo by STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)

In Germany, right-wing terror is on the rise. In the past years, events such as the 2016 mass shooting in a Munich shopping mall, the knife attack on politician Henriette Reker in 2015, the murder of Walter Lübcke and the attack of a synagogue in Halle in 2019, and the most recent terror attack in Hanau in February 2020 have left the country reeling. In light of these events, a wide range of liberal to conservative politicians and observers have issued public statements that condemn sentiments of hatred that are thought of as motivating these violent crimes. ‘Hate is a poison that… is responsible for far too many crimes,’ said chancellor Angela Merkel after the Hanau shooting.  Others have explicitly accused the far-right populist party Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) of fueling hate that would lead to an increase in right-wing violence. The AfD should be considered ‘the political arm of hate,’ said Green party member Cem Özdemir in a recent interview, while AfD politicians have been vehemently protesting the accusations and denying any connections between their politics, the dissemination of hate and the rise in terror attacks in Germany.

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