Search This Blog

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Emotional Freedom

Ok so I'm only doing this about 2 months later than intended. Sigh...

It is not enough for historians of emotion to merely document the emotional lives of those who have come before us. Questions must be asked that require judgement. For example, what system of government creates the best emotional balance in its individuals?

One of those questions which occupies historians is which societies have given us the most emotional freedom? And is that emotional freedom inherently a good thing?

Recently, a reader of the blog very kindly sent me a trio of interviews of three very prominent and respected historians of emotion, Professors William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns. The reader, Jan Plamper, had conducted the interviews himself - he's a research scientist at the Max Planck Centre for Human Development in Berlin and an expert in Russian History.

Prof. Reddy suggested that perhaps the best way of judging that is by considering which kinds of society gave rise to the least 'emotional suffering'. This seems a useful tool to measure a society's emotional welfare. After all, it may be harder to judge happiness and well being than to see the impact of that kind of suffering.

"I would say that it remains to be seen how best to ensure that each person’s capacity for emotional suffering is treated with equal dignity. If some Western democratic regimes have come closer to this ideal than earlier European monarchies or concurrent centralized socialist regimes, it has been at least in part by accident. There is quite a bit of emotional suffering involved in conforming to the norms of the rational, self-interested individual that these regimes, in principle, have set out to “liberate” as if such “individuals” were given in nature. The amount of suffering varies enormously by socioeconomic status; by racial, ethnic, and gender identity; by the economic conjoncture;and in accord with a variety of other circumstances. There are over a hundred thousand schizophrenics who live as homeless persons on the streets of the U.S. today, without medication or care—just to take one example."

Whilst a tyranny would not necessarily deny all emotional freedom, Reddy goes on to point out the more a society tries to impose an emotional system on people the more likely it is to be unstable.

What society has given us the most emotional freedom and why? Is there a tipping point where the looseness of the emotional system contributes towards the breakdown of the society. Will contrasting and contradictory emotional regimes lives side by side in one society or must we have enough shared emotional responses to maintain a critical coherency?

And will one's own view of politics colour the opinion of a successful emotional society?

ps excerpts ©2010 Wesleyan University. Excerpts reprinted, with permission, from Jan Plamper, "The History of Emotions: An Interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns,"
History and Theory 49, no. 2 (May 2010), 237-265.

No comments: