Sunday, September 4, 2022

Princess Diana's Emotional Revolution

Diana, Princess of Wales died in a Parisian underpass a quarter century ago last week. For some of us it feels like it was only yesterday.

Out of respect and in honor of a decorum that she never really cared to practice, we have refrained from commentary on her unfortunate life and tragic demise.

The latest information on the car crash under the Pont d’Alma was that if Diana had been wearing a seat belt she would have survived the catastrophe. Surely, we do not want to blame people for not wearing their seat belts, or even for not getting vaccinated, so in her case we can blame it on her bodyguards. One understands that being the people’s princess means never having to wear seat belts, or better, having a flunky to concern himself with such trivial matters.

Anyway, in honor of the occasion of Diana’s death, Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh offers up a few thoughts on Diana’s influence, especially on her promotion of what I and many others call therapy culture. Diana was a champion of the therapeutic life. She wore her heart on her sleeve and on various other articles of clothing. She was open and honest and shameless about exposing her emotions in public.

Some cynics might suggest that she make a public spectacle of her feelings because she was, for all intents and purposes, an imbecile. If you know anything about the British educational system, you know that no one with an ounce of intelligence could have duplicated Diana’s feat, of failing all of her O level exams-- O levels are taken after two years of high school.

One does not want to suggest that Prince Charles, the pathetic excuse for an heir to the British throne, was not at the same intellectual level-- so take that for what it’s worth.

Ganesh opens his column with a reflection of the fact that Diana won. By that he means, that her emotional incontinence, leading to the therapeutic life, has taken over Great Britain. For all I know, it’s one of the reasons that Britain has been sliding into desolation and decay over the past quarter century:

An email informs me that someone I have never met has had a child. A poster on the Tube declares that “feeling low” and “wanting to hide” are “OK”. “Because being human is OK.” OK. 

An adjacent couple at a restaurant devote 45 minutes and perhaps 80 decibels to what one of them calls, in an apologetic aside, “working through stuff”. The other weeps between bites of chu toro.

Diana may not have known it, but she was at war against propriety. She was certainly at war against the British royal family, a bastion of decorum and propriety. Can you imagine Queen Elizabeth making a public display of her emotions:

Diana won, didn’t she? … During the weeks after her death, two ways of going at life were pitted against each other. On one side, emotional candour. On the other, royal uptightness. In the end, the royals submitted. The pursed lip quivered. The bereaved sons, who might have preferred to be left alone, were brought out to meet public demand. “The logic of a Disney production and the enforcement of a Nazi state,” was one account of the atmosphere. 

Ganesh talks about the emotional opening up of the West, and he compares it to the sexual revolution. If one were inclined to less elegant prose, one would remark that Diana led the West into a freefall into decadence. And that we have still not recovered. Our civilization has descended into an obsession with feelings, especially useful and especially democratic when we no longer care to teach anyone how to think:

The emotional opening-up of much of the west has been a cultural change to rank alongside the sexual revolution. Some of it — the new frankness about mental health — is for the good. 

The rest, well, we shall see, shan’t we? We shall see if the spread of half-understood, pseudo-clinical jargon into everyday speech is healthy. Or where the change in news reporting, from the communication of facts to the airing of feelings, gets us. I catch myself doing it all the time. “How do you feel about . . . ” I ask, when I mean “What do you think . . . ” or just “What do you say . . . ”

For his part, and the point is worth considering, the Emotional Revolution is not as much about emotion as about method acting, about ginning up a bunch of pseudo-emotions in order to hide the fact that one does not know how to think or even to recite one's lines.

The case against the Emotional Revolution is often misrepresented. The point is not that showing emotion is wrong. 

The point is to question whether it is emotion. People with no wit tend to laugh at everything. People with no palate are liable to gorge. Well, perhaps those with no emotional depth are the most effusive about their inner lives. Some fail to distinguish feeling itself from the rote-learned expression of it: the jargon, the grammar, the concerned frown. Here is a rule of thumb, derived from years of personal experience: no one with much “empathy” uses that word.

The last point is worth the column. People who sprinkle the word “empathy” in their conversation, as though it made them creatures of deep care and feeling, most often have none.

In truth, Ganesh says, we are not suffering from a paucity of emotion, but from a lack of social connection:

Nothing says sincerity like Elton John repurposing a song about one woman for another. But if it wasn’t emotion on show a quarter of a century ago, then what? A striving for social connection, I think. By 1997, church rolls were small and dwindling. Thatcherism had broken up the big class blocs. The choice conferred by satellite television had made for fewer and fewer national moments. An atomised society’s quest for collective experiences: Don DeLillo saw it coming in Mao II and other novels. There was always a giggling Private Eye sort of view that Diana’s mourners were naff suburbanites. Another way of putting this is that they were first-generation middle class: the least anchored people of all.

So, how are things in Once-Great Britain today? We open today’s paper and discover that the nation is suffering an energy shortage. The Daily Mail calls it Blackout Britain.

I will not share all the details, but here are a few:

The scale of energy rationing that may be required at home, in the NHS, schools, care homes, shops, pubs and on the streets of Britain because of surging energy prices and the threat of blackouts is laid bare today.

Experts have told MailOnline there is 'no escape' for the 66million people in the UK who will be encouraged to cut their use of gas and electricity this winter and even turn off the lights when the wind drops. 

Kathryn Porter, from consultancy Watt-Logic, fears that the crisis will cost lives in the coming months and told MailOnline: 

'We should keep our fingers crossed for a warm and windy winter'. Ms Porter has said that it's 'very possible' the UK will see plans for energy rationing, despite Liz Truss, the likely next prime minister, absolutely ruling it out, but the energy expert added: 'It would be voluntary, asking people to make a small sacrifice to avoid blackouts'.

Today it emerged that Britons could be asked to limit energy use this winter to head off blackouts by avoiding using gas and electricity at peak times in a move that will hit every part of life.

At home people may be encouraged not to use washing machines, dishwashers and ovens between 2pm and 8pm while charging cars before 9pm is also not advised when similar measures were imposed in the US this year. Abandoning the family weekday dinner at 6pm or the Sunday roast at 5pm may be required and moved to after 8pm or swapped for a cold dinner or leftovers.

Whether it has anything to do with Britain’s idolizing Diana and turning life into therapy, we still note, with some chagrin, that at the onset of the Ukraine War, the engaged parties floated a peace proposal. Who was it who shot it down? Not senile Joe Biden, but the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson himself. Nothing like fighting for democracy to the last Ukrainian. Nothing like making a show of strength, a show of stern belief in certain values, when one is weak.

How much more decadent can you get than pretending to impose tough sanctions on an evil regime, only to discover that the people who are suffering the most, aside from the Ukrainians, are your own?


Anonymous said...

One of the great airheads of the 20th century who appears to have passed the trait to at least one of her sons.

IamDevo said...

I have been listening to a fascinating, albeit disturbing podcast by popular historian Dan Carlin, "Supernova in the East." (I listen whilst pedaling around on my bicycle for exercise; a great way to combine mindless physical activity with a bit of mental stimulus.) At any rate, while listening to the litany of suffering endured by all the participants in the Asian theater of war (interesting phrase that--"theater"), I could not help but contrast their situation and more to the point, their reactions to that of our contemporary youth. The contrast is beyond my ability to describe. While those ancient warriors were enduring suffering that beggars description, inflicted upon them not only by their enemies but the "Green Hell" of the jungles in which the combat was taking place, our suffering Gen Z'ers caterwaul incessantly about things like misgendering, failure to use correct pronouns, cultural appropriation, etc., ad nauseam. Were it in my power, I would transport each and every one of them to the jungles of New Guinea in 1942, or the beaches of Tarawa in November, 1943, or for that matter, the city of Nanking (excuse my anachronistic spelling) in 1937.

Deserttrek said...

I never understood the Diana fascination and never will