George Best, 1946-2005: Why he was loved

[George Best died 10 years ago today. I wrote this the day after his funeral.]

They buried George Best in Belfast yesterday. Half-a-million people lined the streets to see him pass by. He was 59.

George Best was a footballer (for Americans, a ‘soccer’ player) who played for Manchester United at their peak.

His hey-day ran from the mid-60s to the mid-70s. There followed an alcohol-fueled descent, through a handful of lesser clubs, and then a career as a celebrity drunk.

His drinking destroyed his own liver. He died as a result of complications brought on by drugs intended to help his body to accept a transplanted liver.

He hadn’t played football for more than 25 years. Britain’s public morality draped itself over his alcoholism, killing him with pity. Why, then, did Britons mourn his death in such huge numbers, and why did Ireland bury him as if he was a returning prince?

In short, why was George Best loved by so many people, most of whom had never met him?

Football is known as the working man’s ballet.

It is a game of angles, of rival geometries; athleticism and skill. At the higher levels, it combines cerebral intrigue and animal passion.

Certainly, there’s a similarity between football and ballet. There’s more than a passing resemblance between George Best and Rudolph Nureyev.

But it is more accurate to say that ballet is the bourgeoisie’s football. Passion choreographed and tamed.

Most things of human beauty are crafted out of some kind of pain. But Best came fully-formed, a football genius. With him, the pain—his and ours—came afterwards, when the beauty disintegrated.

Best was a young god and he moved like one.

This was a game of skillful and hard men, playing flat-out for 90 minutes, with no substitutions.

He was fearless, fast and perfectly balanced, almost impossible to upend. His ankles seemed double-jointed, the ball always close to his feet.

The length and geometry of his limbs, the balance, grace and courage in their movement‚ everything was just right. To witness him play was an aesthetic experience.

He was one of the few men you could call beautiful, without feeling foolish.

Best is often compared to other great footballers, such as Pele, Pushkas, di Stefano, Maradonna and Cruyff. But, really, the more instructive comparison is with an animal: Best in motion resembled a wild mustang, or a sublime race horse at play.


Emotion, we should remind ourselves, is rooted in Latin words referring to action and movement. The noun emotion once had a social and physical referent: ‘a moving, stirring, agitation, perturbation (in physical sense), a political or social agitation; a tumult, popular disturbance’ (OED). Emotions are primarily social and political things with visceral manifestations. No one who saw Best play would question that statement.

He played before capacity crowds, wherever he went, up to 50-60,000 strong. They stood out in the open, in all weathers, on concrete terraces; tens of thousands of them, living and breathing as one, singing in perfect unison. Packed like sardines, when the crowd moved, you moved. It would pick you up one place and put you down in another. Kids would dangle, their feet off the ground.

Best could move them like no other player. He made their hearts skip in unison, their breath catch as one. With the slightest movement, he could bend time and space and overcome what seemed to us like insurmountable odds.

We postmodern monads know little of this experience.

True, there are plenty of sports that attract large crowds, the NHL playoffs come to mind, but they are collections of individuals, seated in rows and columns, carefully segregated from each other.

We construe emotions as personal, psychological things, as if they exist in our head. That they can be social and political things is a memory.

In George Best’s case, this memory is passed down by word-of-mouth, from the millions who saw him play in the flesh. (Little of his play is on tape.) As memories should be.

Even at the end, as he lay on his death bed, we half-expected a feint, a body swerve and a burst of speed to get him out of trouble.

But it was not to be. He has gone. And we are on our own.

One thing’s for sure: George Best will live on, for centuries to come, in the emotional memories of the millions of descendants of those who were moved by his play.

George Best is one man, who, in death, exchanged life for immortality.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s near death experience

Reblogged from November 16, 2014 in the light of Isis leader “Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi ‘seriously wounded in air strike'”

The Business of Emotions

When Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had a narrow brush with death a week ago, I wasn’t at all surprised. He was due for one. The best way of breathing life into a fictional character is to threaten it with death. The timing was right too. What better way for a President to sell an unpopular decision—the announcement of 1500 more US troops bound for Iraq—than by reminding Americans of the price of not doing so. The President spoke Friday evening, November 7, always a good time to say something you don’t want scrutinized too much. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi nearly died from an American air strike only hours later. Or did he? No one really knew. Could be he was just injured. But that really didn’t matter. They almost got him and with this new ‘surge’ in troops they surely will. Al-Baghdadi’s role is to be always just one step ahead.

You will find no firm…

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How Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp (innocent)

Perhaps I’ve been unfair to Oscar Pistorius. I thought I sensed emotional deception and—without really thinking—I reached for my Parabellum pen and blasted him with my invective. But what if he’s been telling the truth all along? Here I set out his emotional defence.

A theme of this blog, indeed the course to which it is linked, is that emotions are as much social as they are biochemical and neurological phenomena. The celebrity of the brain takes all the glory, but who we are, where we are and the society in which we live shape our experience of emotions. The brain mediates between the interior of our body and the exterior social world. It’s a social sense organ.

Pistorius is a young, white man living in Pretoria, South Africa. At the time of Reeva Steenkamp’s murder he was a respected and well-to-do celebrity athlete. He was widely admired for his courage and tenacity in overcoming his disability to become a world class athlete.

Post-apartheid South Africa is rife with violent crime, including murder and rape. Most of this crime occurs within and among the poor, and the poor are overwhelmingly black. Rich whites, the most fearful among South Africans, are actually the least endangered.

But that doesn’t stop them being afraid. We learn what to be fearful of and we learn how to react to it. We can be fearful of what is ‘out there’ and also what is ‘in here’, the memories, histories inside our head. Pistorius wasn’t just afraid of ‘an’ intruder, he was afraid of a black intruder.

The laager mentality of long-dead Afrikaners persists among some of these young men; they fear the threat of a nameless, faceless, armed and dangerous black intruder ‘out there’. In the spirit of those with no state to protect them, they feel honour-bound to defend ‘their’ women and family from the perceived threat, for rapes often accompany armed robbery and murder in South Africa. ‘I had to protect Reeva.’ Pistorius wouldn’t be the first white man to shoot family members thinking they were intruders.

This famous cartoon by Brian Duffy from 1985 helps illustrate how some white South Africans feel.

This famous cartoon by Brian Duffy from 1985 helps illustrate how some white South Africans feel.

These are the ingredients of chronic fear and constant vigilance. Every strange noise and unusual movement is regarded with suspicion. Instincts and reflexes are on a knife edge. Surrounded by an unseen but all-seeing enemy and fearing retribution for past wrongs, young men like Pistorius are inclined to get their retaliation in first and to act with an expectation of impunity. Having lost their legal superiority and entitlements, they feel morally entitled to shoot first and ask questions later just the same. This is the subtext to the Pistorius trial.

Presumably it was feelings such as these that led Pistorius to buy a home in the Silver Woods Country Estate, where he killed Reeva Steenkamp: a 90 acre gated community, protected by high walls, electric fencing, laser sensors, biometric locks; all overseen by closed-circuit cameras and security guards. This is where whites with money have taken refuge. The only black people in these gated communities are likely to be servants or security guards.

It might be thought that Pistorius would feel secure here. Crime was a rarity within the estate. But residents of such estates seek shelter there precisely because they are more aware of violent crime than the average South African. The objective risk to Pistorius had changed, reduced to negligible, but the ideas in his head and the twitchiness in his body hadn’t. As every soldier returning from battle knows, feelings of anxiety and fear can exist even though an individual is no longer in danger. Moreover, ‘they’ knew where he lived and that he was vulnerable. Gated communities are like islands. He was surrounded.

The fear defence was cleverly set out in his bail application affidavit: he shot Reeva in error, thinking she was an armed intruder and his life was in danger. It was an honest, though tragic, mistake. Some selected highlights (my emphasis):

I am acutely aware of violent crime being committed by intruders entering homes with a view to commit crime, including violent crime. I have received death threats before.

I heard a noise in the bathroom and realised that someone was in the bathroom.

I felt a sense of terror rushing over me.

I believed that someone had entered my house. I was too scared to switch a light on.

I grabbed my 9mm pistol from underneath my bed. On my way to the bathroom I screamed words to the effect for him/them to get out of my house and for Reeva to phone the police. It was pitch dark in the bedroom and I thought Reeva was in bed.

I noticed that the bathroom window was open. I realised that the intruder/s was/were in the toilet because the toilet door was closed and I did not see anyone in the bathroom. I heard movement inside the toilet. The toilet is inside the bathroom and has a separate door.

It filled me with horror and fear of an intruder or intruders being inside the toilet. I thought he or they must have entered through the unprotected window. As I did not have my prosthetic legs on and felt extremely vulnerable, I knew I had to protect Reeva and myself. I believed that when the intruder/s came out of the toilet we would be in grave danger. I felt trapped as my bedroom door was locked and I have limited mobility on my stumps.

I fired shots at the toilet door and shouted to Reeva to phone the police. She did not respond and I moved backwards out of the bathroom, keeping my eyes on the bathroom entrance. Everything was pitch dark in the bedroom and I was still too scared to switch on a light. Reeva was not responding.


He heard a noise, noise of a movement. This filled him with fear, a sense of terror and horror. He felt extremely vulnerable. He had to make some quick moral decisions. Their very lives depended on it. Isn’t this the very essence of Darwin’s position on the evolutionary value of emotions?

Every decision has its counterpart in the brain.  It combines information from different senses to create our perceptions of what is ‘out there’. A sound or a sight is really as much a function of our brains as our ears and eyes. And this brain was afraid, terrified, horrified. Fear makes the senses more sensitive. We don’t just hear a noise, we hear what the noise means, what it foretells. It is not what was objectively true that is paramount, but what he believed to be true. He shot at, not an intruder, but the noise behind the door, at the idea of the intruder.

Who are we to say different? Just as no two noses smell the same, no two people feel fear the same. And we weren’t there. Few of us get to feel that kind of fear.

Reduced to its simplest, his brain did it.  He was powerless to intervene. If he has some good neuroscientists standing by to provide expert testimony, this defence might just work.

[Thanks to Eben van Renen for his insights on life in South Africa today.]

Posing questions with a hammer: Pistorius as Hamlet

At the mere mention or sight of ‘what he has done’ Oscar Pistorius cries, retches or wails. This signifies what? We might take his emotional distress as signs of his emotional truthfulness. He submits this evidence of his emotional pain to counter the reasoned argument of the prosecution. ‘I suffer thus because I killed Reeva in error.’ There’s no arguing with emotion. Is there? Well, yes, there is.

The authenticity of emotions can be evaluated and tested. The sounds a person makes are evidence of the quality and nature of the emotions that lie within. The sound of a crystal wine glass when lightly struck testifies to the quality of the glass. A wolf knows much about a rival pack from their barks and howls—their age, gender, health and intentions. Like breathing itself, a scream or a cry connect the inside to the outside. Actual talking is overrated.

This is why the testimony of neighbors that they heard a blood-curdling scream of a woman in fear of her life is so damaging to Pistorius. That kind of scream cannot be simulated or mistaken. Nor can it be forgotten. It tells us that the person knows she is about to die. It was the very last act in Reeva  Steenkamp’s short life and it may be what condemns him.

There is something odd about his emotional outbursts. He emotes like a small boy who knows he’s in big trouble and fears the punishment he’ll receive when his father comes home. He squeals like a stuck pig. It’s full throttle, every time, all the time. He responds thus, not to any actual pain, but at the sight of the stick with which he is about to be stuck. The pig cries out in self-pity; the crying and wailing of Pistorius have the same ring.

Pistorius’ emotional outbursts conceal just as they reveal. While all this emotion is coming out, we cannot see in. His face crumples, his eyes narrow, he bends forward, as if in pain, his hands cover his face. It is next to impossible for us to see his actual inner emotional self. It seems in bad taste to even look at him. When he’s not emoting he conceals his inner thoughts and feelings with a protective stare.

But if we could, what would be expect to see? A young man kills his girl friend in the mistaken belief that she is a dangerous intruder. It was a disaster. It is a tragedy. Both were victims of the law of unintended consequences. Would we not expect a man who has experienced a tragedy to look tragic? Would we not expect to see an inner flicker of tragedy’s terrible wisdom, that there are forces greater than ourselves and that we are not the masters of our future?

It’s not as if this sort of thing has not happened before. Tragedy has been a theme in literature since the time of the ancient Greeks. Pistorius is in good company. Humans kill other humans in error on a regular basis. Sometimes they destroy entire societies with only a ‘oops’.

Need we look any further than Hamlet?

Hamlet kills Polonius, father of Ophelia and Laertes, by mistake. Ophelia is driven mad by Hamlet’s rejection of her (‘Before you tumbled me, you promised me to wed’) and by his murder of her father. She drowns herself on Valentine’s day. Oblivious to how his actions might have contributed to her death, at her funeral Hamlet throws herself into her grave, holds her in his arms and (much like Pistorius) insists ‘I loved Ophelia!’ An enraged Laertes invites Hamlet to some sword play. During a break, Laertes hands Hamlet a poisoned chalice from which he drinks. In error his mother, the Queen, also drinks from it and they both die. In fact, quite a lot of people die.

Horatio sums it up:

And let me speak to (th’) yet unknowing world

Of carnal, bloody and unnatural acts,

Of accidental judgements, casual slaughters,

Of deaths put on by cunning and (forced) cause,

And, in this upshot, purposes mistook

Fall’n on th’ iinventors’ heads. All this can I

Truly deliver.

Hamlet avoided responsibility by simulating madness. ‘I essentially am not in madness, But mad in craft.’ (III. iv. 187-8.) To this day, he’s regarded as some kind of heroic victim, while Ophelia is remembered as some kind of overly emotional female.

Pistorius attempts to avoid responsibility for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp by simulating distraught innocence. This is ‘deep acting’ in support of the Pistorius brand. This is much more than pretending. He’s fooling himself as he attempts to fool us.

How can we know what is true and what is false about what happened that night when Pistorius is the only witness? I think Nietzsche’s words on how to philosophize with a hammer are helpful:

‘To pose questions with a hammer, and listen to the sound it makes. That which would like to stay silent has to become audible’ (Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols).

That’s what chief prosecutor Gerrie Nel is doing. Posing questions of Pistorius as if with a hammer, rendering audible ‘that which would like to stay silent’.



How Oscar Pistorius killed Reeva Steenkamp (Guilty)

The trial of Oscar Pistorius for the murder of Reeva Steenkamp resumed today. The prosecution has presented its case. Now is the turn of the defence. Oscar Pistorius is expected to take the stand.

Before the defence presents its case, here I want to reconstruct the prosecution’s case by drawing out the emotions integral to it. Later I will do the same with the defence. See which you find most persuasive.

First, a caution. This is commentary from afar. One has to be there, in the courtroom, in the country, to get a feel for the truth. Nevertheless, this blog aims to educate. Can an understanding of emotions help us understand what happened between them in the early hours of Valentines Day 2013? Conversely, what can this trial teach us about emotions?

Emotions are often thought to be irrational and unpredictable, as if they were beyond conscious understanding. But emotions have their own kind of rationale. They enable some actions and hinder others. ‘Emotion’ and ‘motive’ share the same root. They are causes.

Moreover, emotions exist throughout the body, not just the head. They influence all the senses, not only thought. We don’t just ‘have’ emotions, we are them and they us. Upon sober reflection, they can cause us to act against our own best interests. Upon active engagement, everything they cause us to do makes perfect sense at the time.

Pistorius claims that he and Reeva Steenkamp were in a ‘loving relationship’: ‘We were deeply in love and I could not have been happier. I know she felt the same way’ (Affidavit, 16.4) Why, then, would he kill the person he loved? Oh, for so many reasons. Being ‘in love’ with someone will not prevent us murdering them. Many a woman has been harmed and even killed by a man who professes his love for her. In fact, it’s practically obligatory.

It’s the old question, Do you love your beloved, or do you love the pleasant sensations he or she elicits in you? It’s quite common to believe the first but to practice the second. We like those pleasant sensations and want to keep them for ourselves. The light and airy romantic love has a dark, jealous underside. All it takes is the right (or wrong) circumstances for it to emerge.

In a futile attempt to capture this love for themselves, many men (and some women) attempt to control their partner. As the prosecution pointed out last week, Steenkamp’s phone messages told of his jealousy, possessiveness and proneness to fits of rage. Less than three weeks before he killed her, she told him: “I’m scared of you sometimes and how you snap at me. You do everything to throw tantrums. I am certainly very unhappy and sad”. Jealousy is a volatile cocktail of fear of losing her to another and anger towards her for allowing it. It can veer from one to the other and back in an instant.

Perhaps something happened between them that night to trigger one of those violent, jealous tantrums she talked of. Hurtful words exchanged. He responded badly. Afraid, she took refuge in the one room with a lock, the toilet and locked the door. (If she was not afraid, why would she lock the door?) Her two iPhones were discovered there. Perhaps she threatened to call for help. In a rage he battered the door with a cricket bat. There the matter may have rested until sanity prevailed. But he had a gun and guns do only one thing. When she wouldn’t come out, he shot her dead. If he couldn’t have her, no one would.

The violence of the gun shots and her deathly cries punctured his mood. His rational eyes saw what he had done and he was consumed with remorse. Again, this is a common reaction among perpetrators of domestic violence. He wanted her to live.  He really did. It had all been a mistake. But to knowingly shoot the person you love and then implore her to live is the epitome of madness. (Which is what it was.) The only rational explanation for what he had done was that he had mistaken her for an intruder and he adopted this explanation instantly and it became his legal defence.

After all, who knew but him? And there certainly was an intruder that night: his jealousy.

This explanation also became his emotional defence, from the moment he shot her. At the pretrial hearing a year ago, Pistorius simulated the emotional persona of an innocent man, hurt and indignant at being the accused. His body language was that of the penitent, a male Mary Magdalene. ‘See how I suffer.’ He may as well have been nailed to a cross. During this trial his body sobbed, retched and shook in revulsion at evidence of the horror of the crime. ‘Would I respond this way if I were guilty?’

Well, yes, you might.

You might be simulating what you take to be the actions of an innocent man. Simulating is not pretending, nor is it lying. When we simulate some condition or act we produce in ourselves some of its symptoms and characteristics. A lie can be found out; a statement is either true or false. But simulation erodes the very distinction between the ‘true’ and the ‘false’, the ‘real’ and the ‘imaginary’. And that’s what’s going on here.

But innocent men, I suggest, do not act like Pistorius. They behave with more dignity. What are intended as emotional protestations of innocence, come across as self-pity. This too is evidence.

I doubt that Pistorius himself is really sure what happened that night. The jealous intruder slipped away quietly, as if he’d never been there at all. Perhaps he hadn’t. Emotions can disappear as quickly as they arrive and leave little trace of their presence. It’s a fine line between ‘it was a mistake to shoot her’ and ‘she was shot by mistake.’ And he certainly was afraid— not fearful of an intruder—but afraid of losing her.

It’s not just the emotions he experienced that matter, but the reasons for them.

Finally,  ‘The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing’ (Pascal). Let us note that in this and all trials, reason looks down upon emotion and passes judgement.

Great moments in reputation management: Brand Pistorius mourns its terrible loss and makes sure we know it

Reblogged in the light of Pistorius’s testimony this week.

The Business of Emotions

Brand Pistorius’ strategy for getting their boy off this inconvenient murder rap seems to be to have him play the role of a penitent mourner in the hope that public opinion will swing their way and with it, the judge.

Hence today’s announcement on Oscar Pistorius: Official Website of The Blade Runner by Vuma Reputation Management (VRM) that that very evening, the Pistorius family would hold a private memorial service to commemorate the life of Reeva Steenkamp.

They’re not quite so crass as to advertise this private event without anticipating the obvious question (‘if it’s private, why make it public?’). Their hand is forced, you see, because some unscrupulous person has leaked news to the media. So they’ve no choice but to advertise it a lot more and make a plea to the media (as if VRM is not ‘media’) to please respect the privacy of the Pistorius family tonight.

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Team Pistorius Prepares to Defend the Brand

The Business of Emotions

Janine Hills of Vuma Reputation Management Janine Hills of Vuma Reputation Management

In When Human Brands Go Wrong: The Killing of Reeva Steenkamp and the Trial of Oscar Pistorius I drew attention to some features of his affidavit (its ‘text bridges’) and to Pistorius as a human brand.

In human brands reputation is everything. That’s why the reputation of Oscar Pistorius has now been placed in the hands of Vuma Reputation Management. All family statements are released through Vuma. His team of lawyers works with Vuma. Journalists’ questions must be directed to Vuma.

The first job of any reputable reputation management company is give the impression that it’s doing no such thing. This from its CEO, Janine Hills:

 “This is about an incredible, iconic star, a giant in the media,” she said. “Our role as a team really is to provide the information that the media is calling for, not to manage his image 

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When human brands go wrong: The killing of Reeva Steenkamp and the trial of Oscar Pistorius

The Business of Emotions

The killing of Reeva Steenkamp on Valentine’s Day in Pretoria and the arrest, bail hearing and forthcoming trial for her murder of Oscar Leonard Carl Pistorius hold some valuable lessons about emotions.

While this is but a hearing to determine bail and there is so much we do not know, romantic love, emotional deception, emotional branding come together here.

Simulating emotions is not pretending

If Pistorius murdered Reeva Steenkamp he is engaged in a high stakes act of emotional deception. But let’s be clear about what this entails. He is not simply lying or dissimulating, rather he is simulating innocence and hurt indignation. There’s a big difference between dissimulation and simulation. Baudrillard puts it like this:

To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn’t have. One implies a presence, the other an absence. But it is more complicated…

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The strange death of emotional authenticity

We learn how to experience and express emotions and every society in every age has its own style of doing so.

Emotional styles are easier to recognize in the distant past. There is even pleasure to be derived from it. Jane Austen’s characterization of the culture of sensibility among the lower reaches of the English landed gentry in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park still pulls in readers and viewers. 

The drama, of course, lies in detecting real feelings beneath a veil of sentiment. In real life, for women especially, much depended on being able to distinguish between truth and lies, realities from appearances.

For a counterpoint to Jane Austen, consider Dangerous Liaisons, a 1988 movie staring Glenn Close and John Malkovich. It is based on Les Liaisons dangereuses a novel by Pierre Choderlos de Lacios, first published in 1782, i.e., during the last years of the Ancien Régime.

Via a series of exchanged letters, it tells the story of the two rivals and ex-lovers, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquise de Merteuil. They seduce and humiliate others and then glory in their manipulative skills. Their favourite victims are the virtuous and innocent.

In the movie, Glenn Close, as Merteuil, spells it out. She paid attention to ‘whatever it was that people were trying to hide’. She became ‘a virtuoso of deceit’:

The movie, like the novel, runs the gamut of emotions, from jealousy and revenge to guilt and grief. Both of the main protagonists come to a sticky end. Valmont dies following a duel, but not before revealing the letters which destroy the reputation of Merteuil. She retreats to the countryside where she contracts smallpox and loses sight in one eye. It is a morality tale about the depravity of the Ancien Régime. And the moral is?

Pride and Prejudice and Dangerous Liaisons have one thing in common: For those who cannot distinguish between appearances and reality all liaisons are potentially dangerous.

And today? What is the emotional style of ‘modern’ society? How will it be depicted by writers and artists of the future?

This is an age of simulation. Whatever can be simulated is. This includes emotions. This includes emotional authenticity. We feign the emotions we sell at work (emotional labour) and we consume the simulated emotions we buy (emotional branding).

It is no longer a matter of being able to distinguish between faces and masks, reality and appearance, for simulation dissolves these very distinctions. In Western, capitalist societies, simulation is the new reality—and it’s not much of one.

The characters of Jane Austen and those in Dangerous Liaisons were acting, dissembling, pretending. Now face, now mask. They thrived or perished on their skill in deceiving and detecting deception in others.

But simulating is not pretending, it is not acting. It is something else entirely.

‘To dissimulate is to pretend not to have what one has. To simulate is to feign to have what one doesn’t have. One implies a presence, the other an absence’ (Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, p. 3).

To simulate an illness, for example, can produce some of its symptoms. Hamlet simulates madness. ‘If he’s this good at acting crazy, it’s because he is’ (Baudrillard, ibid. p. 4). In the same way, to simulate emotions can produce some of their symptoms. But that doesn’t make them real or authentic. Where feelings used to be there is just an inner emptiness.

Emotional authenticity is dead. We no longer deceive and are deceived. This simulated society deceives us all. To paraphrase Trotsky on the dialectic: ‘You may not be interested in simulation, but simulation is interested in you.’

What are you feeling, right now?

It’s usually difficult to say, because we’re simmering emotional cocktails capable of experiencing a range of feelings at the drop of a hat. We have to say or do something to get some idea of how we feel.

‘Emotives’, a concept developed by William M. Reddy, helps explain what’s going on. While working on the recent posts about President Hollande, Valerie Trierweiler and Julie Gayet, I reread his ‘Sentimentalism and Its Erasure: The Role of Emotions in the Era of the French Revolution’, Journal of Modern History; 72; (109-152).

Let me simplify his theory of emotives:

  1. Not all statements are descriptive or referential. There is another class of statements: performatives.
  2. ‘Performatives’ are statements people use to perform or accomplish something. These statements are neither true or false. Statements about a speaker’s emotions are performatives.
  3. Performatives are not descriptive because emotional claims cannot be independently verified. We never know for sure how the person really feels.
  4. To speak about how one feels is to make an implicit offer to negotiate; to establish a relationship, alter or end it.
  5. Performative emotional statements have a feedback effect on the speaker. One can say ‘I love you’ and only then realize that you don’t. Or one can say in a state of anger, ‘I could kill you’ and realize that you probably could.
  6. So it’s not just a matter of having an emotion and then giving voice to it. Giving voice to it changes it.

Often we don’t know what we really feel until we hear ourselves emote and witness the react in others. Like this: