Feelings are the most worthless things in a political world. But in our conflation of meaningful democracy with every possible participation, however meaningless, it is now acceptable to think one’s feelings mean something: that they both deserve protection and are indicative of rights respected. In televised popularity contests, average Americans are told their opinions count while the select few who run the games collect the money. In election years, Americans are told their votes count while the Electoral College does the real voting and corporate media controls the debate and pre-selects the candidates. On the internet, Americans are told their every thought counts, and all are deemed equal, “with a voice”, in a false leveling of false hierarchy. The apotheosis of mere feelings is but a further corruption in this trend of meaningless democracy, where the individual counts for so much and so little all at once.
The narcissism of the 20th century has bit-by-bit broken the individual down into the most useless pieces of information about him: the things he was born with, the things he cannot control, the feelings he has, what he takes offense to. The world has always turned on the axis of action, but action, as that most omnipotent of human options, plays a tertiary role in the culture of self-congratulation and self-aggrandizement. Much more important is what you happen to feel about a subject; and feelings — not action — are deemed sacred.
I do not lie when I say feelings have been apotheosized: the god of our world is feeling, and it is just as false a god as all the rest, and just as much a tool of control. Feelings are the beginning — they are the causa sui, they have no further root. Feelings are the end — they necessitate no further action, no response. Proclaim your feelings — what could be simpler? — and all must pay tribute to their whim, tip-toe in their presence, and bow to their omniscience. We are all Kings now, Kings of feeling and offense, sitting on the Throne of Inaction, admiring ourselves in the mirror, unchallenged.
What is most important about you? What you are creating? What you are becoming? Or who you are? When asked to spot your identity, do you look in — do you look even backwards? — or do you look around, even everywhere? What is most threatening to the man who would enslave you? What you do? Or what you feel? To embrace action is to embrace the way one relates to the world. In acting one refines theory and refines feeling, because the real world, the world outside your heart and your head, however big or small, does not have room for feelings — and that is the point of politics! To venture out of the self and into others, to break down walls, to conquer feeling and embrace the whole, to dare a great sea where such things are possible but not at all assured! To demonstrate through will that love is not a feeling but an act! That unity is not a shared feeling, but a struggle of wills!
But we will never know this if we imagine feelings are King, and let them sit on their internal throne, safe and warm on the shore, though surely also keeping eyes askance and trembling, trembling at a trembling sea. Retreating into the self while simultaneously exaggerating the self’s importance: this is the surest way to protect what is, the surest way to avoid conflict, the surest way to maintain the status quo of both the real, external world, and the fantasized, internal one. At least, until the sea swallows us. O, and I would have the sea rise now to swallow you, that your feelings be the least safe of all things! I would hear their drowning cries in “the tidal destruction, the moral melee”:
“All things are apart!“, cries feeling.
“All things are a part!” answers sea.
“This is mine and you have yours!”, cries feeling.
“All is a relation between us!“, answers sea.
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There is a pyramid of human behavior. At the top is action, for it is the most dangerous. Beneath it, theory, for it helps formulate effective action, but in itself is merely thoughts. And at the base is feeling, for it can inspire theory, and can inspire unconscious, reflexive, and, therefore, arbitrary action, but is itself two steps removed from posing a threat. Just as a pyramid spreads out from top to bottom, so does this one.
Feelings are like music in the head, existing in a real way, but not relating to the outside world. Most music that has ever existed has existed as feeling, and never made it any further — the pyramid has a wide base.
Theory, like music theory, can begin to shape those feelings into something potentially prepared for meaningful release. Music expressed straight from the mind without much theory can sound strange, crass, or even nonsensical. Though it may threaten in its sheer unpredictability, it cannot do so consistently — a kind of order is restored. Music with theory can conform to certain standards, or appropriately satirize, break, and conflict with standards to create art. But music in theory has still not been produced.
Action, like the actual creation of music, is what brings feelings and theory into the world to be condemned, embraced, ignored, revolted, loved, imitated, etc. Action, as music, can create new feelings in its listener, or even in the artist, expanding the pyramid and leading, with the combination of proper theory, to new action. Action is the most restricted of the pyramid both in terms of its occurrences — much music is felt, less actually theorized, and even less ever created — and its possibilities: one can imagine a beautiful score yet, even with profound knowledge of theory, have difficulty putting it into action. Action is therefore the most dialectical of the human behaviors: it both refines theory and feeling while simultaneously confronting the outside world, challenging its limits. It also challenges itself. It forces change all throughout the pyramid of the self and of others — unless, of course, action conforms to these things.
Simple music, say of the standard Top 40 pop variety, challenges almost nothing. It is action stripped of its potency. Neither feelings, nor theory, nor action itself, nor the external world, are challenged in a pop tune made for profit. At all stages, it panders, conforms, sustains. It is therefore encouraged, financed, and never stigmatized. Music that is culturally relevant is created through this process, and kept a close eye on. So, too, political action.
For those interested in influencing the behavior of large groups of people — and this is a storied quest of Western democracies — one must first be interested in limiting action. The way we think of democracy in the West, as elections, as access to “fair” elections, is very useful for funneling all political action into accepted time periods and accepted channels. You can vote, and thus you feel you have control and are important.
As the pyramid goes down, theory is allowed a greater diversity, so long as it funnels itself into appropriate political action, never questioning the premises of representative democracy and capitalism, of “the end of history”. To sum up: you have one way to express your political will (voting) and multiple ways to theorize how you might best exercise that vote.
Finally, at the bottom of the pyramid, feelings themselves, as largely harmless, are not just allowed a further diversity, but encouraged to seek it, because controlling feelings outright is less useful and more dangerous. As an animal, woman must be allowed her feelings, lest she rebel utterly, into action and void of theory. It is more useful, therefore, to harness feelings, and glorify them. The harnessing of feelings is very important to a capitalist economy which requires endless demand and endless consumption, and the glorifying of feelings is very important politically: to ensure those feelings never make the dangerous transition to theory, and then to action, their diversity must be glorified as a manifestation of that which action would seek to begin with: freedom. Feeling is freedom; feeling is you who you are; feeling is your identity; feeling is your politics; feeling is your right. “This is just the way I am.” Ah! Identity is not a struggle; it is a shrugging affirmation of unavoidable quality!
Thus the base of the pyramid maintains an extravagant, often arbitrary, diversity, and is told that this diversity is itself the teleology of action so that (1) action is unnecessary so long as feelings are protected; (2) action which offends feelings is to be shamed or criminalized; and (3) all action taken must be action to defend feelings. That which comes to us most easily — the tribe we were born into, the feelings we have, what offends us — is apotheosized as the beginning and the end of political will. That which is most difficult is not discussed.
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Another pyramid, more directly related to capitalism, while the one above more directly relates to representative democracy, emerges. Both systems encourage that behavior which rests at the bottom of the pyramid, cultivating diversity in its exercise and glorifying it as the primary identity-making process of the individual:
action > theory > feeling
creation > production > consumption
As feelings define the individual politically, consumption defines her economically.
As theory teaches and prepares the individual to take action effectively, it is limited in its ability to question fundamental premises. Production, likewise, as an act of false-creation, or creation only at the behest of capitalists or consumers, is granted less diversity, as the division of labor assures one role to each. Though production does teach one the possibility of creation (as theory informs action), one is cut off from that step by the realization that only one of these acts is economically viable. Also, a certain amount of ingenuity in theory, as in production, is necessary for profit. The academics are allowed their musings within the confines of agreed upon boundaries; the producers allowed their creativity within the confines of economic demand.
Finally action, like creation, is dangerous, and is thus the most controlled aspect of the pyramid. Any action allowed, or at the least non-stigmatized, is preferred as narcissism: the political vote, like the artistic creation, is defined as an act of self-expression. Action itself, art itself, becomes masturbatory. Nothing is relation, nothing is compromise, nothing is failure. All is pure achievement, and you should be proud.
The value of creation lies in the immediacy of its relation to others, but consumption is a masturbatory session of self-relation, and the sharing of consumption a sort of invitation to watch another touch himself.
The value of action lies in the immediacy of its relation to others, but feeling is a masturbatory session of self-relation, and the sharing of feelings a sort of invitation to watch another touch himself.
I will take it as granted that those who touch themselves wish more so to touch, and be touched by, another (though it should be noted: narcissism knows no bounds!). In this way the feelings of each are engaged dialectically, revealing what is and is not possible. Love, once more, is not a feeling of one, or two feelings together, but a conflict and unison of wills into willing: it desires action, it demands action, it is action.
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What in life is easiest to share? Oxygen and feeling. The foolish self approaches me, and says, “Here, my friend, I care for you deeply, and thus I bring you oxygen.”
I take my breaths and say, “Ah, my friend, excuse me, did I appear to be suffocating? Fine is your intent, but oxygen is everywhere and easily obtained. Your gift is worse than cheap.”
A pause, followed by the inside tears of inside woes, and I realize, “Sorry, my friend. I do not wish for you to cry invisible tears. I should have thought better of my retort, that it not offend you. I will leave you to your oxygen. I return to you your free gift.”
Would a smile crawl then across his foolish face? Would he return to happiness, having been re-gifted what he too-easily gifted me?
This is how society shall leave these foolish selves: smiling with their happiness, alone with their worthless gifts, gifts worse than cheap, with innocuous discoveries, touching themselves. And it shall laugh while they trade their worthless gifts and estimate their value — or even estimate them invaluable! — while they define, deepen, and defend their cheap boundaries, worse than cheap, while they pander their egos, fawning, feigning unity. But I know what would truly unite them: the sea. And if all would only drown their feelings, out of her depths there might emerge another feeling — or, yet still, another world — worth defending.