Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


2023 Retrospect: Emotions and Politics

Blog #5 of the Psychology and its Antecedents series

As we look to the launch of a new year – a clean slate to create happiness – a review of the year just finishing seems to have exacted a toll through considerable swings in emotional experience. Certainly, all of us as individuals experienced joys and sorrows. Hopefully, more of the former so that we can ascribe to mostly happiness, meeting what William James called the goal of psychology. But, as a collection of societies that define our daily environments, we live in the world of politics, and 2023 may be described as an emotional roller coaster.

On the positive side, the environmental COP meeting in Dubai concluded with some strong sentiments about ending our dependence on fossil fuels, a direction offering a hopeful promise. In a similarly positive vein, the Vatican took some steps to acknowledge the authenticity of love between persons of the same gender. And, governments recognized the epidemic of fentanyl abuse and began serious policy initiatives, working with medical and psychological professionals to alleviate this scourge, with some evidence of success.

These are a few major examples of positive developments in our political world, and of course there are many local initiatives that better our lives through political policies that do not make the headlines. But an overall impression of 2023 seems heavily dominated by human suffering.

The numerous tragedies of war – in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name only a few. In addition, the dislocation of peoples because of government policies, such as in Myanmar, or because of natural disasters, such as in Türkiye, all have torn people from any sense of peaceful normalcy and created threats to survival, let alone happiness. Moreover, the tensions generated in various nations worldwide between often fragile democratic institutions and authoritarian appeals have threatened the short- and long-term stability of social infrastructures seemingly designed to facilitate the attainment of individual happiness.

All of these events from 2023 are expressed in our emotional reactions. And, since the writings of Plato and Aristotle of ancient Greece, emotions are recognized for their centrality in our psychological experience, and Psychology knows a lot about emotional health and well-being.

When we see videos of the injuries of victims of war, as in Gaza and in Israel, we know that serious long-term intervention in the treatment of such trauma is essential for these people. And we know that developmentally the impact of trauma is accentuated by age, so that we immediately empathize with the youngest of the victims. In addition to the psychological effects of physical injury, we understand that the psychological impact of hostilities will have predictable and unpredictable impacts on people who witness the violence and suffer subsequent disruption in their lives.

Looking Ahead

Based upon historical cycles, we believe that at some point the violence will end, and some period of rebuilding and reestablishing normalcy will ensue. Psychology, with its considerable knowledge base and trained specialists, must surely assume a major role in that process toward normalcy to have some hope of capturing happiness.

History and Systems of Psychology cover

History and Systems of Psychology, Eighth edition
James F. Brennan & Keith A. Houde

Catch up on the previous blogs from the Psychology and its Antecedents series:

Read Does Psychology Crowd Out Its Antecedents? Blog #1

Read That “Olde” Story: Faith and Reason Blog #2

Read Men, Masculinity, & Psychology Blog #3

Read Psychology’s Voice in Environmental Advocacy Blog #4

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