Last week was tough on the mental front. It wasn’t only the hours spent on the second draft thesis —which was relatively easier from the first one even though it meant I have to deal with the weird Microsoft Doc formatting again which infuriated me — but also strangely, UK elections.
This is what had been baffling me. Major elections — and by major, I almost always meant UK and US-centric because of how dominated these countries are in the media sphere, these privileged lot — always put me in an anxious state. I remember staying home from work during two epochal events of 2016, those were the Trump presidency and the announcement of Brexit. I remembered that stupid, anxiety-inducing needle during 2016 US election that made me unable to put my phone away, thus sent me spiralling me further while lying on bed, inciting more thinkpieces and op-eds about what a horrible, non-empathetic UX it was. Strangely, despite the political sphere in the home front, I wasn’t this anxious during Malaysia’s 14th general election last year. I remembered staying up watching the live telecast of the results, tweeting throughout the night. I remembered feeling elated as the new government was announced, ending a 62-year reign of the previous regime, marred with corruptions and wrongdoing. For once, there was hope.
Last week, I woke up to the news of the victory of the Conservative Party. I texted a one-liner text to a good friend who happened to be vacationing in the UK, “Well, fuck.” Hours later, presumably right after waking up, she texted back without any questions of context, “Same.” I didn’t know why I was so devastated, but I briefly wept. Around the same week or next, the Indian police stormed New Delhi’s Jamia Millia Islamia University and Uttar Pradesh state’s Aligarh Muslim University, wielding their batons and weapons against the students protesting against the contentious citizenship law — the law which grants citizenship to religious minorities from neighbouring countries, except Muslims. I saw in a state of helplessness as the videos of this violent confrontations circulated the social media. Around the same time, and ongoing, the Uighurs are being persecuted and incarcerated in ‘reeducation’ camps in China’s western Xinjiang region. Then there’s Hong Kong, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and many others which made my shoulders weary even thinking and keeping track of. I got so upset while working I accidentally snapped at my mother and yelled at my cats. I felt so bad.
Initially, I couldn’t pinpoint why I was so upset and anxious following the UK elections, giving that these happened miles away from my country and despite the claim that we might not be directly affected (which actually we will, but that needed further ruminations). But after letting it sit for a few days, I now understand why I felt so upset. The UK was just a trigger, a culmination of many events which had happened, some of them listed above, some might be personal. I realised I was upset because evil won, again. Personally it made me think of my school bully who is, according to their social media, is living their happiest life. They might have changed, I know, but here I am still trying to stay afloat. I couldn’t remember the last time when I wasn’t struggling — was it during the year in London? Probably because it was a year of escape and irresponsibility masked in a pursuit towards an MA, although despite it all I still managed to score a distinction? Anyway.
It made me realise that despite it all, we would still wake up in a world where evil thrives, racism has won, lies have won, xenophobia has won, look at what we had rewarded. Not only that, this also sends a signal to other fascists that they, too, can win (big!) and despite their lies and atrocities they had committed, people are still going to choose them. This I realised, was what sent me to weep after waking up to the news of the UK election results.
There were records of people feeling despair after elections — Toni Morrison after Bush was elected, Jenny Odell after Trump was elected where she retreated to her favourite rose garden in which she wrote most of her book How to Do Nothing, and Teju Cole turning to poetry during Bush and Cheney years. On social media, words and epigraphs were shared, dispensing comfort, reaffirmation, and a call for revolution. Someone on Twitter posted a quote by Antonio Gramsci which says, “the old world is dying, the new world is struggling to be born; now is the time of monsters“. It felt like a defeat. It felt like surrender. But also, Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings.” It’s the time of monsters, but it’s never too late for change. “This is precisely the time when artists go to work — not when everything is fine, but in times of dread. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilisations heal.”
So mourn, weep. But not too long, as the world is burning in flames — literally (hello climate emergency) and figuratively — we need to come together. Activist and writer George Monbiot wrote a handy guideline on how to fight back against misinformation and draw strength from mass movements, and while it was written in the context of UK, there are parts where we can adapt to other political situations. It was noted by Twitter user @bunnyrabble that “one of the biggest challenges will be to find time and energy to organise in a political atmosphere that will no doubt try to fill increasing amounts of our time with work — both paid and unpaid”, so it was important to conserve energy, redirect attention towards what really matters, and again harness the power of the collective whatever possible. As everyone’s situation is different — one might be socially anxious, disabled, financially unstable etc. that might prevent them from doing substantial mental and physical work in organising — Rivers Solomon offered some tips of what we can do in these situations. One of the comments in these threads mentioned, dismantling my scepticism of ‘be kind’ (it felt watered down because people kept saying that along with other faux positive affirmations e.g. ‘positive thinking!’, ‘chill!’ etc. without any analysis of the underlying root causes which lead people unable to ‘be positive’), was not to devalue the act of being kind in these tough times — “not the polite kindness that supports evil by looking away. But the active kindness that envelops communities and people with love, care, trust. and acceptance.” The vote is not the end.
Some related, some not:
- On the politics of tech platforms, although the title is a little misleading.
- Greta Thunberg warned against adults giving her fancy awards and not doing the job, yet they did exactly that. This obsession with charismatic leadership and not harnessing collective resources is exhausting.
- “Politics is being transformed, with campaigns adopting many of the tropes that have emerged on Instagram, in particular the culture of “staged authenticity”. They show how supposedly things “really are” backstage, away from the limelight, to make political leaders appear more “relatable” and humane at a time when their approval ratings have reached rock bottom.”
- I do not believe as some / that the vote is an end / I fear even more / It is just a beginning.
- Because times are tough(er) and we often turn to poetry in these times, here’s a second poem of the day: you were saved not in order to live; you have little time you must give testimony; be courageous when the mind deceives you be courageous; in the final account only this is important.
- Work: Submitted second round of thesis revisions. Should start working on proofreading, Turnitin screening, and final bound books.
- Reading: DNFed Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution. Picked up Rachel Cusk’s Transit and Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk for 80% off at the bookstore near my university, which was about to close down, how unfortunate.
- Viewing: The Astronomy Club on Netflix, an all-black sketch comedy show.
- Listening: My Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, which introduced me to a Tuareg band Le Filles de Illighadad (Daughters of the Desert) with their hypnotic sounds from their djembe, their drum kit, and their calabash.
- Food & Drink: Bought a bottle of kombucha and two chocolate rolls, which got me reminiscing about an evening in Melbourne and cute cafes in London with all their delightful pastries.