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

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