Politically-emotionable readers, lend me your ears!
I ask you to lubricate your imaginations, to climb into your (fully-electric) time machines and come forward in time with me to the night of the day (let us say it is March 26) of the looming federal election.
The night's trickle of incoming results becomes a cascade. Then at about 10.07pm Antony Green (the authoritative god of psephology) trills that Scott Morrison's coalition has been exorcised from government and that Albo's Labor Party has been elected to power. At that moment, politically-emotionable readers, which primary emotion will be stirred in your bosoms? Will it (inexplicably) be sadness at ScoMo's defeat or will it (understandably, rationally, decently) be happiness at Labor's victory?
But wait! Whichever of those polarised emotions you are possessed by, will the words "sadness" or "happiness" really do that emotion justice as a descriptor, as its label?
In this supercalifragilistically etymological context your columnist, a words-intoxicated wordmonger, is delighting in a new online piece by Meghan Racklin called Show Some Emotion.
Racklin looks at attempts (some of them delightfully modern and new-word inventing) to categorise and label human emotions. All these attempts fail, she argues respectfully and amiably (and correctly, too, in my opinion), since our emotions are too amorphous, elusive and complex for mere words to ever properly get a grip on them. We might as well try to catch the wind.
In these unusually emotional times, discussion of the emotions seems especially necessary. I've just singled out the labels sorrow and happiness because they famously star in research psychologist Paul Ekman's famous list of the six "universal basic emotions". He later added an invaluable seventh - contempt - without which lots of us might struggle to label our feelings about prime minister Scott Morrison.
Ekman's basic list of anger, surprise, disgust, happiness, fear, sadness and contempt will strike some of us (especially those of us who are always our emotions' playthings because we have tender, poetic sensibilities) as an unsatisfactorily short shortlist. No wonder then that other respected researchers, building on Ekman's pioneering model, have since come up with lists of as many as 27 emotions.
But is even 27 nearly enough? I am routinely shirtfronted by up to 12 or 13 hard-to-label emotions by an average ABC TV 7pm news bulletin. To watch the news today is always, because of everyday news of COVID's grim reapings, to feel oodles of Ekman's shortlisted emotion of fear. Then, stoking galaxies of other emotions, there is the news's heartbreaking litany of the world's woes.
Then, because my lucky and privileged life allows me lots of Ekman's shortlisted happiness and because I am a grateful counter of my blessings, some of my happinesses in life seem to me to come from umpteen sub-species of happiness.
Just one morning last week beside a billabong in the National Arboretum there was the emotion of bliss (for I have always loved fine music) in listening to the calls of frogs, the emotion of delight at watching dozens of bright blue damsel flies skimming to and fro above the water, the emotion of joy in the company of the good friend who was with me, the aural-emotional thrills given by the swishings (more music) of the leaves of trees, the emotional gratitude felt at having legs that although they are a gnarled 76 still indulge me by taking me out and about to such lovely places.
And while we're out in nature - one link in Meghan Racklin's piece takes us to someone's invention of a new word, blissonance, to identify the mixed emotion of feeling bliss in a green and leafy place (like the aboretum) disrupted by the understanding of how the place one is in will soon be witheringly impacted by climate change.
On May 18, 2019, my aforementioned legs (those wizened twins), took me out to a polling place. That night, as ScoMo's reptilian coalition slithered to victory, some of us experienced a teeming emotional sub-species of Ekman's shortlisted surprise, disgust, sadness and contempt. Sadness alone seemed to shapeshift into the extra emotions of despair, hopelessness, anguish and melancholy.
Soon the same venerable legs will gambol me out to vote. Then, that night, should the people exorcise ScoMo from government, Ekman's basic label "happiness" will fall pathetically short of capturing, cataloguing and defining the zillion bright, elusive, emotion-butterflies of ecstasy that the election result sets fluttering in the bosoms of the brightest and best emotionable Australians.
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
Ian Warden is a Canberra Times columnist
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