There is a lot of anger in the news these days. Much of it appears in discussions related to politics; in the populist appeal of the Tea Party movement in America but also here in Canada. While powerful emotions are normally considered the stuff of irrationality and a lack of self-control, a generation of philosophical thought and neuroscience now combine to suggest that emotions – pernicious or otherwise – are an essential element of politics and political discourse.
Upon quick reflection the claim seems obvious; astute politicians are able to prey on public fears, hopes and prejudices to ensure their own election - and use increasingly sophisticated suppression techniques to ensure the outcome by turning political deliberation into the kind of shouting match that turns people away from the ballot box.
More positively, emotions serve as a rallying force that attends legitimate grievances and drive political mobilization, protest movements and ultimately social change (although Alex Himelfarb thinks there is no progressive capacity to deal with the current public mood)
Politics - and in particular electoral politics - relies on timeworn techniques of voter manipulation and the cultivation of a kind of unthinking self-interest – the kind of interest made salient through appeal to the so-called basic emotions such as greed, resentment and even sometimes pride. But perhaps a subtler vision of political emotions is found in the authority of anger. Continue reading