The Miserable Dialectic of Optimism and Despair

by Arran James

13 May 2015

Another five years of this. My newsfeed and timeline convulsed. A litany of disbelief and horror: How could this happen? This is a catastrophe! We didn’t expect it to be this bad. Except some of us did, or at least weren’t surprised by it. This is less a reaction to the election, more a reaction to the reaction that I didn’t expect.

As one tweet quoted in The Stage puts it, “I can’t be the only one realising I’ve constructed a social media world of decent kind people that’s clearly unlike the real world.” Honour Bayes reckons the art world is shocked because artists have insulated themselves from the reality of things, existing within the feedback of a liberal echo-chamber.

Surely leftists and anarchists haven’t done the same? But how else to explain shock than as what follows the traumatic encounter with a reality at odds with expectations? Affective over-estimation of the #GreenSurge, data on the popularity of leftist policies – garnered by means that lack reliability – the new prohibition on anything resembling, left-wing melancholia, the tribal nature of social groups, and the forgetting that fear  and dark irrational impulses are often more powerful motivators than hope or desire,all resulted in a feedback loop of delusional optimism. We always risk disappearing into our own simulations.

Aside from Scotland’s 71.1%, turnout was low. This is not a majority government. Even if you accept the parliamentary game this is not a legitimate government, and I am not suggesting buying into statist hallucinations. People have been angry. People have demonstrated. People have raged and exploded, shown solidarity, campaigned and occupied. However, most people haven’t – and many of those who have don’t belong to the left.

I think this is what makes the paroxysms of shock and despair possible. The left is (has always been?) marked by a strange affective bipolarity, swinging from dystopian to utopian, depressive to manic, catatonic to grandiose and back again.

This isn’t to say the left is useless, that nothing has been achieved. People have fought, but is has been for their survival.

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