Mass Emotion, Societal Repression, Collective Action

I saw an interesting documentary about the Beetles’ coming to Australia. We saw the screaming and almost hysterical devotion of the young girls who came to see them. One of the people who did this, who is now an older woman, made an interesting comment. She said “We could, of course, not do this kind of thing singly, but as a group! Something else happened.’


I started to think about other occasions of mass behaviour that were like this. The death of Princess Dianna evoked a similar outpouring of emotion. This time it was an outpouring of grief, not of devotion, but what joins these two events is the process of collective outpouring.


But then there is also the constant ‘low grade’ kind of collective outpouring. I remember when everyone was suffering from Repetition Strain Injury. No one suffers from it now. I think that the reason this response is different now is that we are used to computers! The RSI epidemic came at the same time as people were required to learn new technology, and raise their level of functioning. Repetition Stain Injury was an allowable form of mass resistance to this change, to which we have now all adapted.


From these three stories I am thinking that it might be possible to say something about repression and oppression in a society. Here it is: if you want to know where a society is either repressed or oppressed, look for these mass outpourings.


You could say that the Western world was very repressed, sexually, after the long period of austerity since the depression. Along comes the contraceptive pill in 1961, along with the Beetles soon after and bingo: an acceptable way of ‘cutting loose’ presents itself, and everyone takes it up.


It is also possible to make the case that in the UK, after the Thatcher years, there was an awful lot of sadness about: sadness about loss of jobs; sadness about the loss of community; sadness about the changes in the economy that removed people’s sense of security.


Because it is the employers who offer the jobs, it is very difficult for individuals to complain or to make their unhappiness known. The object of the emotion changes, but the emotion itself does not.


Karl Marx, when making his critique of religion says that religion functions in this same way. He says that religion is ” the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”


This to me is the attractiveness of some forms of Pentecostal Christianity. While being conservative politically, it offers an emotional release, and healing of things that make a big personal difference, but do not make much of a social difference.


This is not in itself bad. I love it that in Church I can also offer my devotion by the singing of hymns and so on.


But repression cannot be dealt with simply by a mass outpouring of emotion, helpful though that might be. All the flowers laid at the gate of Buckingham Palace, or all the screams of a young girl will not bring back one lost job, or help a young person grow into a sexually mature adult, with new control over their reproduction.


What is also needed is the channelling of this emotion into well thought out collective action, in the right direction.


But looking at today’s readings it is clear that the Reign of God is about the fact that loving God with all our heart is about how we respond to the claim of our neighbours upon us.


The letter of James has this really well when it says “If you see your brother in need, and shut up your heart against them, how does the love of God dwell in you?”


I remember the movie ‘Women in Love” In one scene, Gerald Creitch gallops away on his horse and Gudrun asks “Well, he has get up and go, but where does his get up and go go to?”


That is the right question. It is proper that we are able to identify our places of repression and oppression. It is right that we look for places to ‘cut loose’ so that we can ‘flow’ as people, emotionally, but it is vital that we also look, in the cold light of day, for the proper way to direct our actions. Emotions can be the signal that something has captured us. Emotions can be the energy that will drive our action. But in the long run it is ‘In as much as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters’ that we will be judged.


About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
This entry was posted in Religion and Society, Uncategorized, Weekly Reflections From Coller Crt. and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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