The other day I stumbled across a friend of mine (who works as a personal trainer) posting something about running reducing anxiety. Of course it was an argument in favor of running. I can imagine some dismay on the other end of the screen when I was the first commentator, saying “Poor anxiety, nobody wants it. Apart from us struggling artists. And Kierkegaard.” Great friend who just flips the argument on its head and says, maybe we should just live with anxiety. Maybe we can even make use of it. Her notion was “lets rid ourselves of anxiety”, whilst mine was “let’s live in a way where anxiety becomes productive and works for us”.
Few records portrays this better than Marvin Gayes ”Here my dear” or Björk’s latest ”Vulnicura”. The utter torment of life breaking apart in a divorce, turned into music, painful to hear, but at the same time beautiful, moving, and full of raw human emotion.
Unfortunately, sometimes anxiety is productive in ways that may not be positive at all, but where anxiety produces repressive politics. The growth of brown parties around Europe in pretty much all nationstates serves as a great example of this.
To be fair then, the better term is perhaps angst. Urban dictionary presents a definition of angst that is poetic, in all its misery:
Angst, often confused with anxiety, is a transcendent emotion in that it combines the unbearable anguish of life with the hopes of overcoming this seemingly impossible situation. Without the important element of hope, then the emotion is anxiety, not angst. Angst denotes the constant struggle one has with the burdens of life that weighs on the dispossessed and not knowing when the salvation will appear.
The construal gives me goosebumps. The problem for many (if not all) people is twofold. The humanity in not giving up hope, is in large part a co-producer of the sensation that things really are unbearable. Hope is a theological category, in that it is in many ways — looking at history as well as the present — directed towards God, YHWH, godheads, the pantheon or what have you. Thus, the notion that the involvement of god(s) will yield a life less excruciating actually produces the hope that makes the situation so angst-ridden. However, we can choose what stock we put in that which seemingly transcends the situation. But at the same time I would argue that the practice of hope transcending the contextual boundaries we’re facing is utterly human, and not something we should root out.
So what should we do? The scrutiny we must put ourselves up to is to separate our various forms and levels of anxiety and angst. I fully believe, maybe masicistically, that we ought to accept angst. No matter how much we try attempt to control life, it will always be fragile enough to break down when we least expect it. Sometimes, when we least can handle it. The response to this cannot be to project the blame for this onto others. Neither should we give up on hope. What kind of lives would we lead then?
However, if we are to indeed keep hoping, this may strengthen the sense that someone is accountable for the anguish we’re facing. And that this or these someones should take responsibility for the fact that life is still hard, and they have done naught to heal the hurts. This has been discussed in philosophy and political theory alike, under the emblem of ressentiment, (in the vernacular resentment, but if you wanna dive into literature, it’s good to know that ressentiment is the commonly used term).
One of the worst things we can do is to build politics on existential resentment. ”I hate my life, I can’t bare what I’m feeling and living through … and it’s your fault”. The scapegoating mechanism has been the basis of much repressive politics. The logic is seemingly simple; ”we have located the culprit(s) behind the hardships of life”. Add to this the hope that things could be different if only … and you have a potent and terrible basic presumption to work from.
Addressing European neo-fascism, I would like to stress the absurdity of this practice by turning some basic notions on its head. The general argument is that immigrants should be assimilated, and have very little say (if any) on the direction of politics and society. However, the angst stems from not only the non-reflexive attitude towards the fact that life is fucking hard but also because you pair the solution of your predicament with those you hate the most. Given that hope turns anxiety into angst, into something transcendent, you in fact place your hope in the immigrants. The immigrants become gods; those who by their particular standing are the only source which the cure from your ailments can emanate from.
So what does the good doctor(al student) prescribe? Running to lessen anxiety? My first suggestion is that you get your anxieties straight. Which ones are keepers? (Seriously.) Which ones are inevitable, albeit regrettable? Which one’s can you seriously admit are probably phenomena all humans experience and get crushed by? And if you cannot still see past how your angst is crushing you — then, you need to stop hoping. It may sound bizarre. And some say it’s the last thing that leaves us humans. But let it leave you. If you are truly unable to sort out your various strands of hardships, and take responsibility for them without turning them into repressive politics, then you could at least stop hoping.
Or perhaps you just need another God. Perhaps you need a God that some people have thought about, long and hard, written a few decent holy books about. Whilst the immigrants that you’ve let transcend their immanent situatedness have never promised you anything; have never written books full of promises and premises for your interactions, there are other gods out there that allegedly promise a great deal more.
So, either stop trying to topple the gods, those who never even ran for election to the god-office, those who did not seek to transcend their time and place and be responsible for your category of hope, get a new god, or simply stop hoping. You decide. If you cannot accept angst, then at least accept your anxiety. Then start running.