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Depressive capitalist realism

I recently received an email challenging some of my past comments on depression and public political theorizing. Here is the main gist of the email and beneath it is my response.

I'm a pretty recent listener of Other Life and I was interested to hear your most recent release about your book project Based Deleuze… I think I agree with you about the cultural left's refusal to be unrelentingly "real" with itself… I was a bit taken aback, though, by the whole notion that 'depressives shouldn't be forwarding political ideas/norms,' or whatever point you made to that effect. (Forgive me if that's a mischaracterization or unfair reduction…) I'm interested to hear more about why you hold this position, or maybe why you come off as so unrelenting in it… I’m not sure of your position on thinkers that circulate alongside people like Mark Fisher…

I probably can come off as too harsh, and I don’t want to, so that’s unfortunate and I would like to work on that. I have no interest in being a dick for edge-lord points, but I guess it is a real temptation in this new model I’m working. It’s weird. So first of all I appreciate push back here, it will keep me honest and based.

I do not mean that someone with depression necessarily has wrong political views, or should not speak in public, etc. I really don’t. Of course I speak so loosely and brashly that I am sure I have occasionally been over the top about it...

What I’m really trying to say is that many people on the internet, Twitter and FB in particular, present themselves as knowledgeable and convincing and powerful and charismatic, grinding sometimes atrocious political axes, but if anyone could see the current state of their mind/lifestyle/relationships — one would become way more mistrustful of their opinions. I really think this is a massive thing going on, and a lot of really bonkers people are affecting the opinions and judgments of other people who would be much better off if they discounted the ramblings of these types of people. So I think that’s a fair and not inhumane concern of mine. I’m sure I express it stupidly and like an asshole, so sorry about that and I’ll work on it…

The more delicate issue has to do with people like Mark Fisher. He was my friend, and of course I’m glad he wrote everything he wrote, like I would never for a minute want to stop or prevent his writings from having come into the world… That said, I do think there is something very difficult here, which is almost never talked about.

The truth is that depressive people can and very often do project things onto other people and the world. And it really can and often does pull other people into their depression. I have a dear family member who struggles with periods of anxiety and depression, and I know perfectly well that when they get low, they sometimes cannot help themselves from describing things to me in catastrophic and morbid ways. And it can pull me in, it can change how I see the world and convert me to a depressed mood. Especially if they are smart and articulate.

It might sound cruel, and I can work on being less cruel, but I really really do think a non-trivial portion of the fashionable rad-left intellectuals are actually very confused and sad individuals whose personal lives are quite bad (blame it on capitalism, sure, fair enough — but nonetheless) and a lot of their intellectualized outputs are depressive projections that produce real, depressogenic effects on others. I mean, there is a whole cottage industry of Left-theory “against wellness” for example lol. I get the critique, OK, but things like meditation and diet and CBT and exercise etc., these really can and do have transformative positive effects for many, many people. I’m sorry but I really think there is some evil beneath intellectuals who write whole books systematically turning people off to something like “wellness.” This is just one example. Anti-natalism is another example.

Many of these cottage industries are based on something they alternatively deny and glorify: that the authors are often quite miserable people with many significant personal shortcomings and resentments and projections. I do think more readers should take this information into account when evaluating fashionable ideas. It doesn’t mean depressed people shouldn’t write what they think, if that’s what they want to do. I just think the depressive nature of a particular author should be discussed openly, and I think readers should discount for authorial depression much more consciously — kind of like how food manufacturers have to tell consumers how much sugar they’re packing, and healthy people will avoid foods with a lot of sugar…

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