Monday, 23 December 2019

Feel (is a word I can't explain)

So sang Paul Weller on The Style Council's fourth single, A Solid Bond In Your Heart, which had also been considered as The Jam's last single. It's partly a soul song about being a soul song, a self-reflexive enactment of the power of music to move:

'Feel is a word I can't explain/At least not in words that are plain/Making it easy to express/ But I'll try to do my best/ To hit you where it counts/I just want to build up/ A solid bond in your heart'

I've been thinking about 'feel' and feelings a lot in the period since the election. I'm now listening to a 60s/70s soul playlist and it's the kind of music that raises my spirit, because its intention is to move, physically and emotionally. 'Get On Up', JB is singing as I write; Curtis tells us to 'Move On Up'. 

'Feel is a word I can't explain': or, put another way, feeling isn't totally encompassed by language. This seems to me to be entirely the case in the last election, which makes all the blue-tick commentariat hot takes about Labour's policies being 'too far left' just scratching the surface at the same old liberal itch. Polling showed that Labour policies were and are popular; but people went out and voted Conservative anyway, or didn't vote at all. This wasn't just the 'Brexit election': it exposed very clearly that when it comes to voting, people aren't rational actors, but vote with their emotions. And I think the overwhelming emotions in this country at the moment are despair and anger.

Adam Ramsey wrote a very insightful and persuasive piece on Open Democracy about the strategy on the Tories' part to concentrate not on politics, but feelings, using simple messages and the negative connotations relentlessly associated with Corbyn himself. Ramsey suggests that voters now tend to believe that all politicians are liars; it's no surprise then, when the Tories renege on election promises 10 days later. It's to be expected, as everyone lies.

If that's true, then you can't believe anyone, or in anything. There's no hope. Things are bad; things will always be bad; there cannot be a better future. That's why Labour's strategy of trying to persuade people with policies to vote for a better life for themselves and others failed - people don't, or can't believe in it.

It's the horizon of Mark Fisher's Capitalist Realism tightened to the size of a noose.

All they can admit is the possibility of some kind of magical elevation out of all this: a lottery win. Or Brexit.

I understand depression and despair. I understand the pull towards it, the gravitational well of negativity. It's sometimes felt like I had a black hole right in the middle of myself. Life means nothing then. You yourself mean nothing, you value yourself at nothing. Nothing can be fixed, it's not worth even trying. You endure, and then you don't. And you break.

 This country, it seems to me, needs treatment. The Mass Psychology of Brexitism (to borrow a phrase) is negative hope, a kind of suicide: a leap off the ledge, out into something and somewhere else. And if you don't feel the landing, all the better.

I wrote a post about 'crying in the classroom' a couple of months ago, and how feeling is written out of the academic scenario. I think it's also written out of contemporary political analysis, which still operates as if we lived in a rational democratic moment. We don't. As Colin Crouch outlined 15 years ago, we live in a post-democracy, where spectacle takes the place of debate, and emotion takes the place of politics. Only Labour had any ideas in the election, but it didn't matter, because it was about how people feel. And those feelings were overwhelmingly negative.

 There's no solid bond in our hearts, to anything, even to ourselves.

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