Farts and Friars, Rebellion and Wrath: A Response to Thomas Dixon

Paul Megna is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow with the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions, based at The University of Western Australia. He is currently developing a project on emotion and ethics in medieval and medievalist drama. He was awarded a PhD in English by the University of California, Santa Barbara, for his dissertation titled ‘Emotional Ethics in Middle English Literature’.

This is the latest in a series of posts about anger, and a second response to Thomas Dixon’s post ‘Angers past or anger’s past?’ The first response was by Kirk Essary. All three posts have also appeared on the ARC Histories of Emotion Blog.

In his recent post, Thomas Dixon argues that historians of emotion should avoid too readily conflating our contemporary understanding of anger with those espoused by the denizens of the past societies that we study. This is, of course, a crucial point and to argue against it would not only pay short shrift to the very real linguistic, phenomenological and ethical distinctions between our anger (or, since there are important differences between the ways that contemporary English-speakers conceive of anger, our angers) and angers past, but would also downplay the important cultural work of studying the history of anger in the first place. Nevertheless, I worry that too much focus on the divergence between our post-Darwin, post-Ekman understanding of anger and that of, say, Geoffrey Chaucer runs the risk of ignoring the equally important ways that angers past remain recognisable to us today.

Take, for example, a hilarious (at least in my humble opinion) moment in Chaucer’s Summoner’s Tale.[1] A greedy, sanctimonious friar is visiting his long-time patron Thomas, who lies on his deathbed. Thomas is angry with the friar since he has given ‘many a pound’ (III.1950–51) to friars, but never seems to fare better for his donations. After the Friar delivers a long, condemnatory sermon on the evils of wrath, Thomas becomes still angrier, but conceals his indignation and offers to give the friar yet another gift, as long as he agrees to split it amongst all of his brothers. Thomas instructs the friar to reach beneath his buttocks and, when the latter obeys, Thomas farts more loudly than any horse ever did, leaving the friar insane with anger, cursing Thomas through clenched teeth. My point is simple: modern readers both understand the friar’s anger and ‘get’ the Summoner’s joke. Even if we are totally unaware that friars were often lampooned in Chaucer’s time for spreading rage by usurping the sacramental business of local parsons, we grasp why the friar is angry because we would also probably be angry if we, upon being offered a gift, received instead a handful of farts. I daresay Thomas’s trick might enrage even the stoic Inuit Kigeak, Jean L. Brigg’s adopted father, discussed in another recent post by Thomas Dixon. Taken out of context, Thomas’s trick is not necessarily funny (it would not be funny if it happened to Kigeak), but I am able to laugh at the Summoner’s friar’s angry reaction to the trick because it proves him a hypocrite for preaching against the evils of anger. Despite arising from a radically different cultural milieu than my own, Chaucer’s depictions of anger and solicitations of laughter translate well, to borrow a phrase from Maxine Hong Kingston.[2] If they did not, I might have chosen a very different career path.


Figure 1: The Summoner in the Ellesmere manuscript of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

As Dixon points out, medieval Europeans strongly associated anger with the mortal sin of wrath. Medieval discourses on wrath, however, rarely conflate anger and sin entirely and often explicitly demarcate sinful anger from righteous anger. Elsewhere in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, in The Parson’s Tale,[3] we get a thoroughgoing definition of sinful wrath, as well as its remedial virtues. Although the Parson does not prescribe righteous anger as the remedy for sinful anger, he does introduce his discussion of sinful wrath by positing that not all anger is sinful: ‘Ire is in two maneres; that oon of hem is good, and that oother is wikked’ (X.537). Good ire, for the Parson, is ‘withouten bitternesse’ and directed at ‘wikkednesse’, rather than the purveyor thereof (X.538–40). Supporting his discussion of righteous anger, the Parson cites Psalms 4.4 (the translation history of which Kirk Essary discusses in his recent post): ‘Irascimini et nolite peccare’ (‘Be angry and don’t sin’). In discussing sinful anger, the Parson introduces another split, this time between sudden or hasty ire, which occurs ‘withouten [. . .] consentynge of resoun’ and is therefore a venial sin, and ‘wikked’ anger, to which reason consents, making it a mortal sin (X.540–42). Once again, the finer points of Chaucerian anger are caught up in a sacramental theology that is quite foreign to some, though certainly not all, modern readers. As Thomas Dixon puts it, ‘[t]here is a substantive difference – phenomenologically and emotionally, morally and metaphysically – between committing the deadly sin ira and expressing the modern emotion of “anger” as conceived by a psychologist like Paul Ekman’.

On the other hand, the Parson’s discourse on anger is not so different, I think, than that expressed in Martha Nussbaum’s new book,[4] which Dixon aptly summarises in yet another previous post. Nussbaum is characteristically not content with being merely descriptive (as is Ekman’s psychology of anger), but is also prescriptive insofar as she hopes to provide us a blueprint for building a better society by instituting a healthier, neo-Stoic emotional regime. Her project, therefore, is not so unlike that of Chaucer’s Parson. Although I would certainly stop short of conflating the two prescriptive philosophies of anger entirely, I do want to point out that Nussbaum, like the Parson, disapproves of almost all anger, especially insofar as it entails a desire for revenge, but she does leave room for a healthy, acceptable ‘transition anger’, as long as it fuels efforts for preventative reform. Nussbaum’s ‘transition anger’ strikes me as existing somewhere between the Parson’s righteous anger and his venial, hasty anger. Despite their very real differences, the discourses on anger offered by Nussbaum and the Parson contain an uncannily similar ascetic program for producing a better world by emoting well. Both are forgiving of impulsive anger and critical of seething anger that broods on vengeance.

I certainly do not mean to suggest that it is easy to reconcile medieval and modern discourses on anger. Dixon alludes to the work of linguists like Anna Wierzbicka who analyse the various semantic valences of Old and Middle English anger-words, none of which coincide entirely with that of the Modern English ‘anger’. Inherited from Old Norse, the Middle English anger, for example, can signify something roughly akin to our anger, but, like the Old Norse angr, might also mean a much more general sense of sorrow or displeasure.[5] Making matters worse, in a time before authoritative dictionaries, words were used differently by different folks (as they continue to be today, despite a plethora of dictionaries!) Chaucer, for example, uses ‘ire’, ‘anger’, and ‘wrath’ more or less interchangeably, relying heavily on adjectives to signify the moral status of the anger in question. While some taxonomically minded Middle English authors, like Reginald Pecock,[6] explicitly distinguish between ‘anger’ and ‘wrath’, making the former a passion over which one has no control and the latter a wilful, and therefore potentially sinful, deed, such careful semantic distinctions between anger-words are the exception, rather than the rule, in Middle English anger writing.

Royal 18 E I f.165v

Figure 2: ‘The Death of Wat Tyler’, in Jean Froissart, Chroniques, late fifteenth century. British Library, Royal MS 18 E I, f.175.

Making matters still more difficult for those of us interested in reconstructing medieval notions of anger is the fact that all we have to understand them is surviving texts, works of art and archaeological remains. As many historians have noted, this yields an uneven record, skewed towards those possessing the privilege to produce: churchmen, aristocrats and poetic social climbers like Chaucer and John Gower. This poses a distinct problem for those interested in peasant anger: we have a glut of sources depicting peasant anger as bestial and socially disruptive – like Book I of Gower’s Vox Clamantis – and a dearth of sources indicating how peasants conceptualised anger differently than their oppressors. [7] Despite this difficulty, historians and literary critics like Paul Freedman and Steven Justice have done a great deal to study medieval peasant anger, sometimes by reading aristocratic chronicles against the grain and sometimes by focusing on small scraps of peasant discourse preserved in hostile sources.[8] I’m thinking, of course, of Justice’s fantastic work on the Rebel Letters: Middle English lyrics which served as peasant communiqués contained in otherwise Latin chronicle accounts of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381.[9] In an article published a few years ago,[10] I argued that one of these short lyrics tells us a great deal about peasant anger without using a single anger-word. The lyric in question is called ‘The Letter of John Ball’ and is attributed to the radical priest of that name who rallied the Rebels at Blackheath with a rousing, proto-Marxist sermon. It derives from a common complaint lyric that bewails a world in which the Seven Deadly Sins run rampant:

Now raigneth pride in price,

Covetise is holden wise,

Leacherie without shame,

Gluttonye without blame:

Envie raigneth with treason,

And slouth is taken in greate season;

God doe bote, for now is time.

Unlike its sources and analogues, the ‘Letter of John Ball’ does not complain that the world is replete with wrath. In leaving anger conspicuously absent, Ball’s complaint implies that wrath is not a cause of the social inequality against which Ball preached, but a solution to it. The implicit endorsement of righteous anger contained in the ‘Letter of John Ball’ suggests that not all medieval laypeople adhered to the narrow understanding of righteous anger espoused by their confessors and that some recognised discourses on the deadly sin wrath as mechanisms designed to dissuade dissent. Sadly, the paroxysm of anger expressed in the 1381 Rising led to a draconian crackdown on peasant rights spearheaded by a young and preternaturally angry King Richard II. Nevertheless, John Ball and his compatriots Wat Tyler and Jack Straw continue to reside in the English proletariat imaginary as powerful symbols of righteous anger and dissent.


Figure 3: Frontispiece and first page of an early edition of William Morris’s A Dream of John Ball (London: Kelmscott P, 1892). Artwork by E. Burne-Jones, April 1888. Newcastle University Library, Special Collections, RB 821.86 MOR.

In 1888, 507 years after John Ball was hanged, drawn and quartered for rousing rebel anger, the socialist reformer William Morris published a short serialised novel entitled A Dream of John Ball, which details a dream vision in which the protagonist, a nineteenth-century socialist lecturer, finds himself in fourteenth-century England. Morris’s dreamer meets a peasant rebel and recites snippets of a Rebel Letter to showcase his socialist sympathies. He then hears Ball give a radical sermon and witnesses a minor skirmish early in the Revolt. In the story’s concluding chapters, he conducts a long, private conversation with Ball in which he details the sad results of the Revolt, the end of feudalism, the industrial revolution and the rise of a capitalist mode of production that leaves the working class infinitely more disenfranchised than medieval peasants. Needless to say, Ball is not thrilled by what he hears. At one point, he even furrows his brow in anger. Although Morris’s nostalgic novel provides a markedly pessimistic counterpoint to the neo-medieval utopia imagined in News from Nowhere, A Dream of John Ball hints at a dream of a utopian future shared by Ball, Morris’s protagonist and modern readers of historical records of class struggle such as myself. Morris places John Ball’s peasant anger in dialogue with that experienced by the proletariat under industrial capitalism. In so doing, he allegorises the way that historical inquiry fosters connections between past and present political emotions. Just as Morris resuscitates Ball’s anger, so do the historians of emotion who study peasant anger to build an archive of class struggle.

Do I mean the exact same thing when I say ‘wrath’ as did John Ball when he said it, or strategically opted to not say it, more than 700 years ago? Of course not. I can neither fully grasp peasant anger, nor Morris’s socialist discontent, nor the anger felt by African Americans, many of whom feel persecuted and endangered by the justice system that is ostensibly supposed to protect and serve them. But the unknowability of other people’s anger, historical or contemporary, does not absolve me of responsibility to empathise with it and even partake in it, to the extent that I can or choose to. As historians of emotion, we need to both respect and transverse historical difference. We need to study the roots and analogues, not only of anger that we deem righteous, but also that which we deem toxic (or Trump-esque), in order to help others and ourselves manage and understand contemporary anger. Our task, therefore, is not so different than that undertaken by either Nussbaum or Chaucer’s Parson. Somewhere between descriptive and prescriptive lies the vital work of the historian of anger.

[1] Geoffrey Chaucer, The Summoner’s Tale, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), pp. 129–36.

[2] Maxine Hong Kingston, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts (New York: Vintage Books, 1989).

[3] Geoffrey Chaucer, The Parson’s Tale, in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd edn (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987), pp. 287–327.

[4] Martha Nussbaum, Anger and Forgiveness: Resentment, Generosity, Justice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016).

[5] I am grateful to Carolyne Larrington for helping me to trace anger’s transition from Old Norse to English.

[6] Reginald Pecock, The Folewer to the Donet, ed. by E. V. Hitchcock (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1924), p. 110.

[7] John Gower, Vox Clamantis, in The Complete Works of John Gower: Latin Works (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1902), pp. 3–313.

[8] See, for example, Paul Freedman, ‘Peasant Anger in the Late Middle Ages’, in Anger’s Past: The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Late Middle Ages, ed. by Barbara H. Rosenwein (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), pp. 171–88.

[9] Steven Justice, Writing and Rebellion: England in 1381 (Berkeley: The University of California Press, 1994).

[10] Paul Megna, ‘Langland’s Wrath: Righteous Anger Management in The Vision of Piers Plowman’, Exemplaria 25.2 (2013): 130–51.

Dumb Witnessing: Good Old Boys and Canine Grief

bold-2Margery Masterson is a Research Associate at the University of Bristol. She works on Victorian masculinity and the twin themes of militarization and memorialisation. She is currently working on the Victorian volunteers craze of the 1860s.

I often pass an old man with his dog on my usual evening walk. There’s a grey tinge to the dog’s tufted black fur, but his short-legged gait is still brisk, punctuated by frequent stops to allow his owner to catch up. With the shortening days, the dog wears a collar of flashing red lights to protect him from cyclists, making him look rather like a homemade Christmas ornament.

We exchange pleasantries and then I return to my audiobook. The shape of the man and the dog soon fades back into the gloom and all I can see are the blinking red lights. Now moving, now patiently pausing. I am currently immersed in The Forsyte Saga (1906-1921). After concluding a whirlwind plot of adulterous affairs and ruinous lawsuits in the first volume, John Galsworthy slows the pace almost to a standstill for the ‘Indian Summer’ of Old Jolyon.


John Galsworthy ©Getty Images;

At eighty five, Old Jolyon’s left alone at home while his family’s on holiday. Almost alone. Balthasar, a would-be Pomeranian, watches as Old Jolyon seeks out the company of the beautiful Irene. In his sudden, deep need for Irene’s company, Old Jolyon comes to resemble his animal (‘his eyes grew sad as an old dog’s’) and it is his dog who notices Old Jolyon’s rapid deterioration: ‘Only the dog Balthasar saw his lonely recovery from that weakness; anxiously watched his master go to the sideboard and drink some brandy, instead of giving him a biscuit .’ (Indian Summer of a Forsyte Chapter IV)


I was retracing my steps homeward when Old Jolyon shuffled outside with Balthasar to wait under a tree for Irene one last time. The impending ending flashed across my mind. ‘The dog placed his chin over the sunlit foot. It did not stir … suddenly he uttered a long, long howl.’ I echoed this howl with a sudden, unstoppable sob. My own reactive grief seemed wildly out of proportion to the peaceful death of a fictitious octogenarian. What was so sad about this scene?


Irene (Gina McKee) and Old Jolyon (Colin Redgrave), The Forstye Saga, ITV (2002)








The only time I can remember feeling such simple devastation was watching children’s films featuring old dogs. Memorable among these canines is the old bloodhound in Lady and the Tramp (1955) who, recovering his sense of smell, tracks the villain’s carriage only to be run over. Even more heartrending is the old golden retriever in Homeward Bound (1993) who, having crossed the entire United States to be reunited with his boy owner, is injured falling into a pit and cannot climb out. The old dog as an old man reaches its apogee in Disney entertainments. Old dogs literally speak in the voices of old man and display, especially in the animated forms, human movements and expressions.

Agatha Christie, Dumb Witness (1937) Christie dedicated the book to her own wire terrier Peter.

Agatha Christie, Dumb Witness (1937) Christie dedicated the book to her own wire terrier Peter.

The pedigree of this synthesis of human and non-human forms is far older than Disney. Novelists in particular have long been drawn to the idea that dogs are unique witnesses to human suffering and death. Modern detective stories have always been interested in dogs as witnesses to human death – and intrigued by the problem of a witness that cannot speak. From Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes short story Silver Blaze (1892) and the dog that famously ‘did nothing, Watson’ to Agatha Christie’s Dumb Witness (1937) where Hercule Poirot deducts who the real killer is by observing the dog Bob.

Real-life celebrity dogs of the period performed hyper-masculine action ‘heroics’, like those of the sled-dog Balto, but they also excelled, as Liz Gray has discussed in this blog, in the more passive rites of mourning like Greyfriars Bobby. Dogs often mitigate the loneliness and isolation of illness, but they also bear witness to it in ways that are not always easy for historians to access. Victorian novelists were fascinated by the ways in which dogs externalized the unspoken or un-witnessed suffering of humans.

Sol Eytinge, ‘Dora and Miss Mills’. Wood engraving from Dickens's David Copperfield in the Ticknor and Fields (Boston), 1867, Diamond Edition [Victorian Web].

Sol Eytinge, ‘Dora and Miss Mills’. Wood engraving from Dickens’s David Copperfield in the Ticknor and Fields (Boston), 1867,

Charles Dickens is a past master of this theme. Jip is more than the mirror of his silly and perpetually juvenile mistress, Dora, in David Copperfield (1849-50): his aging body gives expression to her own unspoken deterioration. Bill Sykes’s dog, Bulls-Eye, shares the same fate in Oliver Twist (1837-9), and Dickens gives Hugh, from Barnaby Rudge (1841), a mongrel cur that Hugh calls for as he is about to be hanged.

But this projection is a two-way process. The suffering humans also take on doglike qualities. Magwich in Great Expectations (1860-1), already ‘very like the dog’ in his rough mannerisms, becomes doglike in his lonely and futile longing for Pip’s regard and affection. In The Old Curiosity Shop (1840-1), Little Nell’s ‘panting dog’ of a grandfather visits her grave everyday for three months and then dies himself with doglike loyalty.

Collar of Keeper from Deborah Lutz, Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Collar of Keeper from Deborah Lutz, Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

Indeed, ‘doglike’ characters seem particularly easy to twist from menacing men into pitiable specimens. Heathcliff, likened to a ravening wolf early on in Wuthering Heights (1847), takes on the more pathetic traits of a domestic dog in his mourning of Cathy. Emily Bronte’s own chief mourner was her dog, a large male mastiff called Keeper. The mastiff was an integral part of Bronte’s funeral procession and became a ‘living monument’ to her afterwards.

Book cover of Where’s Master by Caesar the King’s Dog

Where’s Master by Caesar the King’s Dog (1910). For more on this story see Cambridge’s Tower Project blog.

Bereaved canines act less as gate keepers and more as gateways into private human grief. This was especially true of King Edward VII’s wire fox terrier Caesar. After he prominently walked in the King’s 1910 funeral cortege, a first-person account of Caesar’s intimate view of royal bereavement was anonymously published. Where’s Master? admitted commoners into the King’s bedchamber at the moment of his death, increasing the pathos of his passing but, perhaps, lessening the awe of the occasion.

So what is it about dogs and grief that humans find both so heartbreaking and so familiar? Marjorie Garber writes in Dog Love (1996) about this quandary over pet bereavement: ‘This, I think, is part of the poignancy of the relation between human being and dog: we sense in dogs so much in the way of sympathy for our moods, grief’s, losses – and that we are so powerless to explain loss, death, and sadness to them. (Garber, p.252)

funeral cortege of King Edward VII. 

funeral cortege of King Edward VII.

If this is true – and I think that it is – then so is the reverse. If humans pity dogs’ uncomprehending and inarticulate response to human death, we also find it particularly sad when humans are rendered similarly dumb – whether by their intrinsic personality or social conditioning. It is conspicuous that, at least in nineteenth and early twentieth century literature, female characters never suffer from ‘doglike’ grief whereas upper-middle class British men at the turn of the twentieth century, John Galsworthy’s speciality, typify an inarticulate, ‘canine’ response to bereavement.

If, as Charles Fraser has argued in this blog, ‘connection entails reciprocity’, then we must look for a genuine exchange between human and non-human animals rather than ventriloquism. I suspect there is a possibility for a human and a dog to share one another’s grief – the old man and the old dog shuffling around the house in silent communion – but I am suspicious of attempts to give a human voice to non-human animal emotions. I doubt that the ‘speaking’ sentimental canines of fiction and of history are anything more than a reflection of human emotion.

Yet, as Galsworthy shows, humans’ ventriloquism of dogs reflects real emotions. He extends the dog Balthasar’s life for a ludicrously long time so that the dog’s death can presage another family bereavement in the second volume of The Forsyte Saga. ‘What is it, my poor old man?’ says Young Jolyon to the dying dog. Later, turning to his son as they finish digging Balthasar’s grave, ‘old man, I think it’s big enough.’ (In Chancery, Part II, Ch. X) Hearing this, you simultaneously realize two things: first that the son will die, and second that his father will never be able to fully understand or express his sadness at this bereavement.

Young Jolyon will become, like his father, a sad old dog.

Want to read more posts about animals and emotion?

Try Thomas Dixon’s ‘Emotional Animals No. 1’ or Liz Gray’s ‘Loyalty and a Dog Called Bobby’ or check out our ‘Emotional Animals’ category.

Translating ‘Anger’ in the Sixteenth Century: A Response to Thomas Dixon (Kind Of)

Do psychedelics make the terminally-ill believe in the afterlife?

st-francis-measuredTwo new studies just published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology showed that a single dose of psilocybin (the psychedelic drug found in magic mushrooms) significantly reduces anxiety and depression in people with terminal cancer. You can read them for free here.

The first trial, by a team at NYU medical school led by Stephen Ross, found ‘immediate, substantial and sustained clinical benefits of reduction of anxiety and depression’ in participants who took a single dose of psilocybin, versus a control group. Many cancer patients suffer from depression, anxiety and existential distress. The NYU study found that, after the treatment, 80% were in remission for depression at 6.5 month follow-up, and 75% were also in remission for anxiety.

This is unprecedented for a pharmacological intervention. It’s twice as effective in reducing depression and anxiety as anti-depressants and, unlike them, only has to be taken once. The study notes:

This pharmacological finding is novel in psychiatry in terms of a single dose of a medication leading to immediate anti-depressant and anxiolytic effects with enduring (e.g. weeks to months) clinical benefits.

The second study, by a team at Johns Hopkins medical school led by Roland Griffiths, was similar in set-up and found similar results – a 78% remission rate for depression after six months, and an 83% remission rate for anxiety. Two previous studies, by UCLA and the Heffter Research Centre in Zurich, also found psychedelics significantly reduce anxiety in terminally-ill cancer patients.

The question is: how? How does a single dose of a chemical cause such dramatic and sustained changes in a person’s attitudes? The studies are somewhat coy, but they point to something called ‘the mystical state of consciousness’:

This finding suggests a potential psycho-spiritual mechanism of action: the mystical state of consciousness. The mystical experience is likely to be one of several mediators that transmit the effect of psilocybin to changes in anxiety and/or depression.

It’s strange to find the phrase ‘mystical state of consciousness’ tucked away in all the bland statistical analysis of the modern scientific journal article. Of course, ‘mystical states of consciousness’ are quite hard to define – indeed, one of William James’ definitions of them is they are ‘ineffable’. So how can scientists measure them?

The scientists in these studies used various psychometric tests to measure people’s subjective experiences. Some of them are fairly standard, such as the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), which measures how depressed someone is by asking them to what extent they agree with questions like ‘I sometimes want to kill myself’ – this scale is widely used to see if someone with depression is in remission after a course of therapy.

To measure mystical experiences, the scientists used a variety of scales. One is the Pahnke-Richards Mystical Experience Questionnaire, developed by Walter Pahnke, a religious scholar who did pioneering research into psychedelics and mystical experience at Harvard in the 1960s. The scale asks people to what extent their experience felt like the following (I’ll just give a sample of the statements):

teresaI. Internal Unity
26. Loss of your usual identity.
35. Freedom from the limitations of your personal self and feeling a unity or bond with what was felt to be greater than your personal self.
41. Experience of pure Being and pure awareness (beyond the world of sense impressions).
77. Experience of the fusion of your personal self into a larger whole.
83. Experience of unity with ultimate reality.

II. External Unity

14. Experience of oneness or unity with objects and/or persons perceived in your surroundings
47. Experience of the insight that “all is One”.
51. Loss of feelings of difference between yourself and objects or persons in your surroundings.
74. Awareness of the life or living presence in all things.

III. Transcendence of Time and Space

2. Loss of your usual sense of time.
12. Feeling that you experienced eternity or infinity.
34. Sense of being “outside of” time, beyond past and future.

IV. Ineffability and Paradoxicality
6. Sense that the experience cannot be described adequately in words.
23. Feeling that you could not do justice to your experience by describing it in words.
59. Sense that in order to describe parts of your experience you would have to use statements that appear to be illogical, involving contradictions and paradoxes.

V. Sense of Sacredness
5. Experience of amazement.
8. Sense of the limitations and smallness of your everyday personality in contrast to the Infinite.
31. Sense of profound humility before the majesty of what was felt to be sacred or holy.
80. Sense of awe or awesomeness.

VI. Noetic Quality
3. Feeling that the consciousness experienced during part of the session was more real than your normal awareness of everyday reality.
9. Gain of insightful knowledge experienced at an intuitive level.
22. Certainty of encounter with ultimate reality (in the sense of being able to “know” and “see” what is really real ) at some time during your session.

VII. Deeply-Felt Positive Mood
10. Experience of overflowing energy.
30. Feelings of peace and tranquility.
43. Experience of ecstasy.
60. Feelings of universal or infinite love.

Another scale is the Mysticism Scale, developed by Ralph Hood. It measures very similar attitudes – timelessness, sense of unity with all things – though in a slightly less obvious way. A third scale is the Spiritual Transcendence Scale developed by Ralph Piedmont (clearly if you want your child to be a mysticism researcher, call them Ralph). This scale measures sense of connectedness to humanity, sense of the unitive nature of life, and sense of joy from personal encounter with a transcendent reality.

These scales suggest that psychedelics give rise to some unusual beliefs about reality, such as the belief one is suddenly in touch with ‘ultimate reality’, the belief that there is ‘spirit in all things’, a sense one has reached ‘pure consciousness’ or the belief one is in touch with ‘universal love’. None of these beliefs could be exactly checked by science. Indeed, some of them might be outright rejected by traditional materialist science, such as the belief there is a spirit in all things.

The studies tip-toe around the big question: do psychedelics reduce anxiety and depression in the terminally ill by changing their beliefs about the afterlife? This, after all, is one of the most common insights from the mystics of the past – there is something in us beyond the ego which is immortal and divine. Contemporary psychedelic scientists, eager for acceptance in the mainstream scientific community, duck this metaphysical question by pointing to quantitative reductions in depression or ‘increases in the transcendence / mysticism scales’.

This sort of quantitative analysis would be well supplemented by qualitiative research – interviews with the participants where they describe their trip. UCLA’s earlier study of LSD for terminal cancer patients did more qualitative interviews, and sure enough, people said things like ‘For the first time in my life, I felt like there was a creator of the universe, a force greater than myself, and that I should be kind and loving’. There are also some interviews with participants of the recent Johns Hopkins study on YouTube – you can see them struggling to put their experience into words (they’re ‘ineffable’ after all).

Time magazine interviewed one participant in the Johns Hopkins study, who described her trip:

suddenly I saw my fear. It was a black mass inside my body. I felt a volcanic anger toward my fear and I screamed, “Get the f-ck out, I won’t be eaten alive!”As soon as I screamed at it, the black mass of fear disappeared. I began to feel like I was floating in the instrumental music playing from the headphones I had on, and I started to feel love. I felt like I was being bathed in love and it was overwhelming, amazing, wonderful.

This accords with the experience of Aldous Huxley, who famously took LSD on his deathbed. Psychedelics had showed him, he said, that ‘love is the central cosmic fact’. Again, not really an assertion one could scientifically test to see if it’s true.

When I attended Breaking Convention last year (which is the world’s biggest conference on psychedelics) I asked Thorsten Passie from Harvard, who has studied how LSD reduces anxiety in those with life-threatening illness, whether anxiety was reduced because people had new beliefs about the self and the afterlife. He replied: ‘We didn’t ask them, but I think so.’ I also asked Roland Griffiths of Johns Hopkins, lead-investigator of one of the new studies. He replied: ‘Not everyone necessarily becomes convinced there’s an afterlife, but quite often they become open to that possibility for the first time. That’s a big change to the total certainty they are facing annihilation.’

Walter Pahnke’s research on LSD with terminal cancer patients in the 1960s was less coy. He wrote:

Our experiments have indicated that deep within every human being there are vast usually untapped resources of love, joy and peace…these feelings are released most fully when there is comolete surrender to the ego-loss experience of positive ego-transcendence, which is often experienced as a moment of death and rebirth.

He added:

One of the greatest fears about human death is that personal individual existence and memory will be gone forever. Yet having passed through psychological ego-death in the mystical experience, a person still preserves enough self-consciousness so that at least part of individual memory is not lost.

In other words, psychedelics appear to give people near-death experiences where their lifes aren’t actually in danger. They give people the experience of ego-death, and a sense that this is OK, that the universe / God loves them. And this helps them face the future prospect of their actual death, because they think there’s something beyond the ego – whether that’s described as ‘pure consciousness’, ‘mind at large’, ‘God’, or whatever. This is very similar to what happens in actual near-death experiences, for example after cardiac arrests – people come back with reduced anxiety about death, because they no longer think death is the end. Researcher Kenneth Ring says that reduced anxiety about death is ‘the most consistent finding in NDE research’.

Clearly, more research needs to be done on this, which directly explores how psychedelics change people’s beliefs about the nature of the self, the nature of reality, and the afterlife. It’s an interesting topic, because it’s not clear how science should treat these new mystical beliefs – as delusions, as placebo, or perhaps as insights that are potentially reliable. Does it matter if the insights are true or not, as long as they improve people’s moods?

I suspect psychedelics will soon be widely used in palliative care. How would that change our culture? How would it change our attitude to death? And to life? Could psychedelics play a role in a spiritual revival in our over-rational and materialistic culture?

Albert Hoffman, inventor of LSD, hoped that psychedelics could inspire a ‘new Eleusis’ – he was referring to the Eleusinian Mysteries, the great religious cult of ancient Greece, which existed for 2500 years, before it was shut down by the fanatical Christian emperor Theodosius in 392 AD. No one knows precisely what happened during the secret ritual – initiates were mystes, sworn to silence, which is where the word ‘mystical’ comes from – but participants apparently drank a potion, and then went on a terrifying trip to the underworld, before being reborn as children of Demeter. The philosopher Cicero said he thought Eleusis was the greatest single contribution of Greek culture to the world. It enabled people to ‘die with a better hope’ – just as psychedelics help the terminally ill.

Ergot, which contains lystergic acid, may have been consumed at the Eleusinian Mysteries

Ergot, which contains lystergic acid

In the 1960s, mycologist Gordon Wasson speculated that the Eleusinian potion contained ergot, a fungus that grows on corn which contains an LSD-type compound. Certainly, there are similarities between descriptions of the mystery rites and LSD experiences. Plutarch, who was a priest of Eleusis, described the inititation as ‘wandering through the dark … terrors, shivering, trembling … after this a strange and wondrous light, voices, dances and the majesty of holy sounds and sacred visions’. Compare this to the account of one participant in a 2014 trial of LSD for those with terminal cancer: ‘It was just really black … I was afraid, shaking … It was total exhaustion … like an endless marathon … Suddenly a phase of relaxation came … It became bright. Everything was light … It was really gorgeous … The key experience is when you get from dark to light.’

Quite similar, no?


Angers past or anger’s past?

Thomas Dixon is Director of the Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London. His new research – part of the Living With Feeling project – explores the history, philosophy, and experience of anger.  

In this, the third in a series of posts asking ‘What is anger?’, Thomas confronts the problems posed by the wide variety of terms that have been used to refer to anger-like emotions in other languages and other eras.

This post is extracted and adapted from a talk Thomas gave at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions Biennial Research Meeting in Adelaide in November 2016, and will be followed by two responses from researchers at the ARC Centre in the coming weeks. This post has been published simultaneously on the ARC Histories of Emotions blog.

In previous posts about anger, I have written about ideas drawn from philosophy and anthropology. In both cases I found myself fretting about the meanings of the word ‘anger’, and of some of the terms in other languages it has been used to translate. In this piece, I turn to linguistics and historical semantics to address this issue head-on.

The first phrase in the title of this post – ‘Angers Past’ – gestures towards the plurality of the emotional states, feelings and behaviours that are suggested by the singular English word, ‘anger’. In its second, differently punctuated form, the same phrase – Anger’s Past – was the title of an extremely valuable collection of historical studies edited by Barbara Rosenwein and published in 1998. The subtitle of that collection – ‘The Social Uses of an Emotion in the Middle Ages’ – reinforces the idea that ‘anger’ is the name of a singular emotion (albeit one with multiple uses). However, as the contents of the essays in that collection make clear, the English word ‘anger’ can be used to translate several different emotion words – including, to take just two examples, both ira and furor in Latin.
harris-cover2Turning to the classicist William Harris’s book Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity (Harvard University Press, 2001), a similar picture emerges. Harris’s work reveals a wide range of terms in both Greek and Latin for what he calls ‘anger-like emotions’ including, in Greek, mēnis, cholos, kotos, orgē and thumos and, in Latin, in addition to ira and furor, iracundia, indignatio, stomachari and dolor. In the past, as in the present, there have been many varieties of furious feelings and indignant passions – hence one might think about ‘Angers Past’ rather than ‘Anger’s Past’.

Historical and contemporary linguistic comparisons can be used to reinforce this point over and over. Consider, for instance, the research of Daria Izdebska into the history of words for anger-like emotions in Old English and Middle English. Izdebska has traced the history and semantic connections of a range of different words, including yrre, gram, wod, wroth and torn. Following Cliff Goddard, Izdebska criticises the attempt to capture the mental lives of other cultures in modern English terms as a form of ‘terminological ethnocentrism’, which ‘introduces distortion and inaccuracy because it imposes the perspective of a cultural and linguistic outsider’.[1]

I share completely the opposition of anthropologists and linguists to projecting modern English-language psychological categories on to past periods and other cultures. Anna Wierzbicka has also written persuasively and prolifically about emotions from a linguistic point of view, making similar arguments about ethnocentrism. In a chapter on anger, disgust and Paul Ekman’s theory of basic emotions in her book Imprisoned in English: The Hazards of English as a Default Language (Oxford University Press, 2013), Wierzbicka mentions several languages which lack any direct equivalent to the English term ‘anger’, looking especially at Wut and Zorn in German (which, incidentally, are both related to early English terms studied by Izdebska). Wierzbicka suggests that Wut is more like ‘rage’ than ‘anger’ and includes an impulse towards destruction rather than aggression.

As I have said, one could multiply such examples endlessly, but the basic point is that historians can join forces with linguists in arguing against ethnocentrism when it comes to emotion words. As I continue to grapple with the question of what my proposed history of anger is going to be a history of, I take away from my studies of the historical linguistics of the topic two clear ideas and one enduring puzzle.


Ira’: detail from The Seven Deadly Sins, and Four Last Things by Hieronymus Bosch, c. 1500; Museo del Prado, Madrid.

My first clear idea is that language is constitutive of emotional experiences and so a change of emotion words across time and space is not merely lexical. There is a substantive difference – phenomenologically and emotionally, morally and metaphysically – between committing the deadly sin of ira and expressing the modern emotion of ‘anger’ as conceived by a psychologist like Paul Ekman. One impressionistic way to imagine this difference is to compare the world of thought and experience represented in Hieronymus Bosch’s depiction of ira as one of the seven deadly sins (c.1500) with the contrasting world of thought and experience represented in the figure of ‘anger’ as one of five emotions controlling a young girl’s brain in the Pixar movie Inside Out (2015). These are not the same things. Deadly sins are labelled, defined, evaluated, interpreted and, crucially, experienced differently from basic emotions.inside-out-head

The second and closely related clear idea I take away from thinking about historical linguistics is that we need to separate the question of whether there are human universals of some kind underlying emotional experiences from the question of whether the ‘basic emotion’ theories of late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century Anglophone psychology have accurately picked out those universals. The former may be true, the latter is not. Even if there is some universal, physiologically grounded, evolved, instinctive state that underlies anger-like emotion-like experiences in all cultures, it is unlikely that that reality is the contemporary English-language psychological construct ‘anger’.

Then the enduring puzzle – which I am still puzzling over – is as follows. If we agree that ‘anger’ is not the same thing as orge or ira or Wut or Zorn – or any of the other states, behaviours and feelings picked out by other non-English words for anger-like, emotion-like things – and if we agree that a history of anger-like phenomena needs to be constituted through the words, concepts, categories and ideas of the historical actors of past periods, because those words were constitutive of their experiences and attitudes, then on what basis do we identify the words of theirs that we are interested in?

To put it another way, in writing a history of anger of the kind I wish to attempt, is there any escape from ethnocentrism on the one hand or reductionist essentialism on the other? If ‘anger’ is itself both a time- and language-bound concept and, by extension, a time- and language-bound phenomenal experience, then what is the history of ‘anger’ a history of (since ‘anger’ is the name for an experience available in full only to modern English speakers)?

One possible solution is to stipulate a definition of ‘anger’ and look for anything in past cultures and other languages that seems to fit the bill. William Harris attempts something like this. So, on the one hand, he argues strongly for linguistic, conceptual and experiential plurality, and tries to keep this plurality in readers’ minds by referring, as I already noted, to ‘anger-like emotions’ and ‘angry passions’ rather than just to ‘anger’ in the singular. In addition, however, to justify his inclusion of a wide range of different states with various Greek and Latin names within his remit, he offers a definition of the core phenomenon he is interested in, as follows: ‘a vigorous, temporary, emotional condition in which the subject desires the object’s harm, and/or desires to attack the object with words, because of some perceived failing’.[2] Like all attempts to define emotional states, this one falls apart fairly quickly. Let me just mention two of several problems. First, people – as Harris himself repeatedly points out – in both the ancient world and the present – can be gripped by slow-burning anger-like states over long periods of time. Angry passions are not necessarily either vigorous or temporary. Secondly, Harris’s inclusion of a desire for revenge (whether physical or verbal) excludes many ideas and experiences of rage, fury and ire, ancient and modern, which do not include such a desire. I wrote a bit more about orgē-anger and revenge in a previous post with reference to Martha Nussbaum.

So, if we cannot assume that ira, or orge, or yrre, are the same thing as ‘anger’, and if we are unable to define ‘anger’ in a satisfactory way, then what is left as a methodological starting point? Where I have currently got to in my thinking about this question rests on two metaphors: thinking about the history of emotions as a kind of anatomy combined with genealogy.


The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp by Rembrandt (1632); the Mauritshuis Museum, The Hague.

Looking at this Rembrandt painting, I think of us as historians of emotions doing to the historical experiences we are interested in what the students are learning to do to the human body – gently teasing apart the flesh from the bones, the nerves from the sinews, the blood vessels from the internal organs – to see how the whole is made, how it might function, and what each part contributes to the whole. Incidentally, extending the metaphor a bit further, I think of language as the skeleton rather than the skin in this image. The kind of components we all look out for when anatomising emotional experiences include words, categories, narratives, metaphors, images, beliefs, moral and religious attitudes, bodily responses and behaviours, public performances and subjective experiences, feelings and testimonies. Each of these separate components itself has a history. And those components can come together in different formations at different times to constitute different emotional categories and feelings.

I combine this idea of the anatomy of emotions with the conventional idea that all such cultural elements can be explored genealogically as products of a process of cultural evolution – of descent with modification. Taking these two ideas of anatomy and genealogy together, my suggestion is that the history of anger should be anchored not by an underlying basic emotion or natural kind, nor by a projection back of modern English-language psychological categories on to past cultures, nor even by stipulating a general definition of the phenomenon to be studied – but by demonstrating a chain of cultural and intellectual evolution or descent of the component parts of modern angry experiences. The criterion for inclusion should be ancestral connection.

So, in fact the point I have reached is to think of my project as an investigation both of angers past and of anger’s past. Those many and various anger-like, emotion-like categories and experiences of the past sometimes include within them the cultural ancestors of the components of modern anger – such as a tendency towards violence, or a feeling of boiling over, or a flaring of the nostrils, or a sense of injustice. But those components have their own histories that can be traced independently of the various emotional constellations they have been part of – constellations named variously in different times and languages.

What I have in mind is a contingent story and not a teleological one. It treats modern Anglophone ‘anger’ as what happened to be produced by the past, not the goal or inevitable result of the past, and not something universal or timeless, but as one emotional stage in a process of evolution which will develop in different directions in the future. In the anatomical genealogy, since it is the specificities of contemporary experiences and theories of ‘anger’ that will anchor my history then it must also be held together by some particular lexicon of anger and emotion – namely the lexicon of modern English – not because I wish to make the ethnocentric assumption that that lexicon carves nature at the joints for all time – but because my experience – and that of other users of the English language – is fundamentally shaped by modern English terminology – notably, but not exclusively, as deployed by the varieties of academic psychology and psychiatry.

I imagine I will continue to worry at this distinction between angers past and anger’s past as my project develops, giving rise no doubt sometimes to perplexity and anxiety, not to mention irritation, resentment, indignation or rage at my own intellectual struggles. And that, of course, raises the next puzzle, namely how to decide not only which historical non-English terms, but also which contemporary English ones, should be included within the semantic net of a history of modern anger. But that is a puzzle for a future post.

Read more of Thomas’s thoughts on anger on this blog.

Follow Thomas on Twitter: @ProfThomasDixon

[1] Daria Izdebska, ‘The curious case of TORN: the importance of lexical-semantic approaches to the study of emotions in Old English’, in A. Jorgensen, F. McCormack, F. and J. Wilcox (eds) Anglo-Saxon Emotions. Series: Studies in Early Medieval Britain and Ireland (Ashgate: Burlington, 2015), pp. 53-74 (p. 58).

[2] William Harris, Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), p. 40.

The Lingering of the Lost Self. Review: Deborah Lutz ‘Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture’

Tiffany Watt SmithTiffany Watt Smith is a research fellow on the ‘Living with Feeling’ grant at the Centre for the History of the Emotions.

She is the author of The Book of Human Emotions and On Flinching: Theatricality and Scientific Looking from Darwin to Shell-Shock


Deborah Lutz, Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture (Cambridge University Press, 2015) 

For four generations, my family has lovingly tended a ghoulish heirloom – a severed horse’s hoof, set in silver and turned into an inkwell. It originally belonged to the favourite nag of my great-great grandfather, who drove a London ‘growler’ or horse-drawn cab in the 1880s. When I run my fingers over it, unexpected emotions rise up in me. Sometimes I think I can feel a faint echo of the love felt between the animal and its original owner. Or the exhaustion they must have experienced as each new passenger boarded the cab. Perhaps this is mere fanciful nostalgia on my part. Could a horse’s hoof really contain a residue, a patina, of its emotional past?

Silver inkwell made from the hoof of ‘Anstey’ the horse of Colonel Guy Hamilton, © National Army Museum. http://www.nam.ac.uk/online-collection/detail.php?acc=1995-07-46-

Silver inkwell made from the hoof of ‘Anstey’ the horse of Colonel Guy Hamilton, © National Army Museum. http://www.nam.ac.uk/online-collection/detail.php?acc=1995-07-46-

Many of us inhabit lives crammed with belongings, with stuff. Yet, for all our apparent attachment to things, it can be hard to find a language to talk about the feelings objects arouse. It’s spooky enough to talk of a glove or book or inkwell as somehow harbouring the emotions of its previous owners. Yet, encounter some object from the past, and it may well feel as if some of its previous lives still pulse within it. Deep in the archives, a letter exchanged by two eighteenth-century lovers is not only thrilling for its content, but for its smudges, its marginalia, its wine stains (or are they splashes of blood?) that seem to re-animate long dead emotions. In our libraries and archives, the emotional resonance of such pieces – be they strips of flayed skin or locks of hair, pressed flowers or collections of feathers – are hidden behind their categorization as ‘3-D objects’ or ‘ephemera’. But if today, talk of objects having emotions seems eccentric at best, this was not entirely the case for the Victorians, who as Deborah Lutz has explored in her rich and fascinating Relics of Death in Victorian Literature and Culture, were at home with the emotional pull the inanimate world has on us.

Lutz, a literary theorist, is of course not the first to explore the importance of the material world in Victorian culture. Like Elaine Freedgood, Hermione Lee and many others, Lutz’s contention is that literature is capable of both reflecting and shaping our interactions with the inanimate. Her focus, however, is more specifically on the dead human body-turned-thing. She asks how hair, teeth, bones, skin and even organs were absorbed into the era’s elaborate rituals of grief, and in turn, influenced changing conceptions of subjectivity at that time.

For Lutz, body part relics are particularly intriguing, since they offer a clear example of what it means to think with ‘things’ as opposed to ‘objects’. In his much-discussed article on ‘thing theory’, Bill Brown explains that ‘we begin to confront the thingness of objects when they stop working for us’, escaping the boundaries of their expected function and becoming hard to define. Lutz argues that body part relics inhabit this blurry in-between. They are both actual and metaphysical, secular yet with a ‘dash of magic’. What’s more, body part relics have meaning precisely because of their authenticity – yet, as Lutz intriguingly explores, their provenance is often in doubt. Most of all, body part relics are part of peculiar transformations, muddling the boundaries between life and death. As Brown ponders, ‘Why…does death have the capacity both to turn people into things and to bring inanimate objects to life?’.

Lutz’s answer to this question begins with the tale of Shelley’s heart. Miraculously surviving the poet’s cremation in Italy (so the story goes), the heart was snatched from the embers by his friend Trelawny, and carried back by Mary Shelley to England where it was wrapped in silk, and stored in a copy of Shelley’s Adonais, and finally buried with their son Percy Florence in 1889. Lutz, while raising questions about the reliability of this tale (among others: how could Shelley’s apparently larger-than-normal heart be stored between the pages of what is essentially a pamphlet?), approaches Shelley’s heart as a ‘secular relic’, recalling the older European tradition of storing the severed fingers or bones, or withered heads of saints in ornate reliquaries. If saints’ relics could levitate, weep and cure the ailments of those who touched them, so for the Romantics, the lost genius of the poet lingered on in their bodies as much as in their writing.

Moving forward through the century, Lutz finds many other intersections of body and book. In the Brontë household at Haworth, everyday items such as a sofa, a writing desk and clothes are mementos through which ‘absence comes to feel material’ (encountering the material culture of these writers’ lives is the subject of her enjoyable recent book The Brontë Cabinet). The third chapter discusses posthumous representations such as death masks and waxworks, pitting these deliberate memorials against the unintended bodily deposits of sweat and skin. For instance, in Great Expectations, the walls of lawyer Jaggers’s office are ‘greasy with shoulders’, and there is a dark wash along the staircase from years of ‘shuffling up and down’. As Lutz puts it, ‘such leavings…provide an ever-present reminder of how bodies are not just the container for ‘selves’ but they are also substances that leak and rot…’, always transforming, always testing the limits between subject and object. The fourth chapter more tenuously discusses shrines and tombs as spaces which have ‘witnessed the living of the loved one’, linking these animated spaces to those enchanted rooms familiar from the mid-nineteenth century fashion for Spiritualism. The final chapter, however, returns squarely to the business of things, addressing the ubiquitous Victorian practice of hair jewellery (for a discussion of contemporary ‘hair-work’ see Bharti Parmar’s post on this blog).

Locket and chain, c. 1810 by John Miers, England ©Victoria and Albert Museum, http://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/artists-residence-va/hair

Locket and chain, c. 1810 by John Miers, England ©Victoria and Albert Museum, http://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/artists-residence-va/hair

Hair-jewellery, already established by the 17th century, flourished in the 19th, with brooches, lockets, watch fobs, earrings and buttons all featuring intricate designs woven out of a dead loved-one’s hair. It was a laborious process: boiling, cleaning, straightening the individual strands with weights, and then the weaving itself. Many families sent packets of curls away to jewellers with instructions of the design to be completed – and in turn, rumours began to circulate that unscrupulous jewellers were substituting the real hair for another person’s (or even animals’) locks, whose strands were thicker, and longer, and so easier to work with.

In this growing suspicion about the provenance of hair jewellery for mourning, it is possible to see fractures in the idea – taken so much for granted earlier in the century – that to hold part of a loved-one’s body was to connect with that lost person. With the increasing medicalization of dying towards the end of the nineteenth century, the dead body became shrouded behind hospital screens, and the idea of plundering it for keepsakes perceived as unhygienic. The First World War is widely thought to have put an end to elaborate Victorian mourning rituals. As Joanna Bourke has explained, grieving became muted, with extended farewells not only impossible but also unpatriotic. Perhaps too, it was the spectre of anonymous graves, and fields in which blown-apart bodies mingled in the mud, that put an end the practice of retrieving body parts for use in mourning and memorial – and made any thoughts of a live and enduring connection between dead body and person seem, in the end, a kind of nostalgia.


Funded PhD studentship on ‘Living With Feeling’ Project

The Centre for the History of the Emotions at Queen Mary University of London invites applications from outstanding post-graduate students wishing to pursue doctoral research into aspects of the histories of emotions and health. The deadline for applications is 31 January 2017.

This studentship is offered as a core element of a Collaborative Humanities and Social Science research project funded by the Wellcome Trust. This interdisciplinary project is entitled ‘Living With Feeling: Emotional Health in History, Philosophy, and Experience’. Candidates can read more about the project at the ‘Living With Feeling’ website.

Telemedicine illustration

Applicants will normally have attained (or expect to attain by the end of the academic year 2016-17) a Masters qualification that will equip them to pursue doctoral research in this area. We particularly welcome applications from black and minority ethnic candidates, who are currently under-represented within QMUL at this level

The Centre for the History of the Emotions has a strong commitment to undertaking engaged research of a kind that connects with work in other disciplines and with many aspects of contemporary life, including the arts, education, healthcare, and public policy. We will especially welcome applications displaying a similar commitment.

Prior to completing an application, potential candidates should make email contact with Professor Thomas DixonDr Rhodri Hayward, or Dr Elena Carrera, to establish whether a suitable supervisory team will be available.

The studentship will include tuition fees, a budget for travel and research expenses, and a starting annual stipend of £22,278. The studentship will commence in September 2017 and run for three years.

In order to apply, candidates must complete a QMUL online postgraduate research application form, indicating their interest in the Wellcome Trust ‘Living With Feeling’ studentship, and including a CV, two references, academic transcript(s), a one-page personal statement and a 1,500-word proposal detailing the ways in which they plan to address the themes of the studentship.

Further Information about the ‘Living With Feeling’ Project

In the twenty-first century ‘emotional health’ is a key goal of public policy, championed by psychologists, the NHS, charities, and economists. Those lucky enough to enjoy good ‘emotional health’ are considered less likely to suffer from a range of mental and physical disorders, such as depression, addiction, anxiety, anorexia, irritable bowel syndrome, or heart disease.

But what is the perfect recipe for emotional health? Who decides which emotions we should feel, and when, in order to be healthy? Living with Feeling will explore how scientists, doctors, philosophers, and politicians – past and present – have engaged with human emotions such as anger, worry, sadness, love, fear, and ecstasy, treating them variously as causes or symptoms of illness or health, or even as aspects of medical treatment.

The project will connect the history and philosophy of medicine and emotions with contemporary science, medical practice, phenomenology, and public policy, exploring three overlapping meanings of ‘emotional health’:

  1. The emotional dimensions of the medical encounter between patients and doctors, including the experiences of those suffering from chronic conditions, and the roles of empathy and compassion within this relationship.
  1. The emotional factors influencing physical and mental health, focussing on emotions as contributory factors to both illness and wellness, engaging historically with recent findings in neuroscience, immunology, psychotherapy, and public health.
  1. Emotional flourishing, understood as a state of healthy balance in an individual’s emotions; including historically and politically contingent assumptions about meta-emotional capacities such as empathy, self-control, self-esteem, mindfulness, and resilience.

Normativity November: From Tears to Laughter. Normative Emotion and the Man of Feeling.


Helen Stark is a project manager on the ‘Living with Feeling’ grant in the Centre for the History of the Emotions, QMUL. She has a book chapter on the man of feeling forthcoming in the edited collection Jean-Jacques Rousseau and British Romanticism.


Avid readers of this blog might be familiar with Henry Mackenzie’s 1771 novel The Man of Feelingas Thomas Dixon wrote in September last year, while in the eighteenth century Robert Burns could describe it ‘as a book I prize next to the Bible’, by the Victorian period it was being published with an ‘index of weeping’, mocking its tear-sodden narrative.  So who was the man of feeling, and what provoked this change in his reception by British society?

Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling, ed. Henry Morley (London: Cassell and Co., 1886), pp. iv–v.

Henry Mackenzie, The Man of Feeling, ed. Henry Morley (London: Cassell and Co., 1886), pp. iv–v.

The man of feeling is a character who emerges in literature of the mid-eighteenth century characterised by his sensibility: his sensitivity, heightened emotional state, charitable nature and proclivity for tears. As Walter Scott wrote in 1805:

It is no doubt true, that a man of sensibility will be deeply affected by what appears trifling to the rest of mankind; a scene of distress or of pleasure will make a deeper impression upon him than upon another; and it is precisely in this respect that he differs from the rest of mankind. [Walter Scott, ‘Godwin’s Fleetwood‘, The Miscellaneous Prose Works of Sir Walter Scott, 1835]

What marks the man of feeling, is his vulnerability to being marked. Scott explicitly identifies him as a different kind of man – one whose masculinity is implicitly not normal. Let’s see what this kind of behaviour looks like. On his way home from visiting London, Harley, Mackenzie’s titular protagonist, encounters a returning war veteran who turns out to have be Harley’s one-time neighbour, Edwards. Edwards relates his woeful life story to Harley and Harley responds with the characteristic (and later, much-mocked) tears: ‘The old man now paused a moment to take breath. He eyed Harley’s face; it was bathed with tears’. Edwards’ story includes an account of a gang turning up at his house and forcing his son to join the army (a practice called pressganging) and Harley’s response is, as we might expect, extreme: ‘At these words Harley started with a convulsive sort of motion, and grasping Edwards’s sword, drew it half out of the scabbard, with a look of the most frantic wildness.’ He reacts with an excessive, uncontrolled, unconscious physical response – seemingly he has overly empathised with Edwards’ tale. Later Harley and Edwards locate Edwards’ grandchildren whose parents are dead and visit the tomb of Edwards’ son, the children’s father:

“Here is it, grandfather,” said the boy. Edwards gazed upon it without uttering a word; the girl, who had only sighed before now, now wept outright: her brother sobbed, but he stifled his sobbing. […] The girl cried afresh; Harley kissed off her tears as they flowed, and wept between every kiss.

It is important to note that the two other male characters in this scene either withhold their emotion (Edwards) or manage to master it (his grandson). It is Harley and Edwards’ granddaughter who cry, implicitly casting Harley’s tears as feminine and out of kilter with the responses of other male characters.

In general, the man of feeling’s emotional responses isolate him from society. Consider for example, Goethe’s Werther, protagonist of The Sorrows of Young Werther (1774, rev 1787). Werther is in love with Lotte, who is engaged (and then married to) Albert. Returning from visiting the pastor together, Lotte ‘scolded me for my too passionate sympathies in everything and that it would be the end of me, that I should spare myself’. Lotte’s insight into Werther’s character warns of the problems the man of feeling faces; his sympathetic identification with others erodes the boundaries between them and she foreshadows his suicide with her warning ‘that it would be the end of me’. Her attempts to moderate his excess are fruitless: ‘She has reproached me for my excesses – oh, in such a lovable fashion! Excesses! That occasionally I may let a glass of wine become a bottle’ (p. 76). Werther wilfully misinterprets her comments; Lotte desires him to curtail more than his wine consumption and later begs him to:

be more moderate. Your intelligence, your knowledge, your talents, what manifold enjoyments they offer you! Be a man! Turn this sad attachment away from a woman who can do no more than feel sorry for you. 

It is clear that Lotte considers Werther’s masculinity non-normative. His attachment to her demonstrates both an excess of inappropriate emotion and an inability to regulate his emotions and ultimately it unmans him. That she is policing his conduct demonstrates how William Reddy’s concept of an ‘emotional regime’ is manifested here. In The Navigation of Feeling (2001) Reddy argues that societies have a set of expectations about what constitutes normal emotional behaviour and how emotions should be expressed and that these are central to that society’s political regime. He defines it thus: ‘The set of normative emotions and the official rituals, practices, and emotives that express and inculcate them; a necessary underpinning of any stable political regime.’ There’s a conflict then between the kind of emotional response the man of feeling exhibits and the emotional regime of the society he is in.

Emotional regimes are not static and we see this change in what is considered normative emotion most clearly when we consider the reception of these novels. In The Great Cat Massacre (1984) Robert Darnton records the response of the Marquise de Polginac to reading Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Julie or the New Heloise:

I dare not tell you the effect it made on me. No, I was past weeping. A sharp pain convulsed me. My heart was crushed. […] My seizure became so strong that if I had not put the book away I would have been as ill as all those who attended the virtuous woman in her last moments.

Similarly, in 1771 the anonymous reviewer of The Man of Feeling in the Monthly Review claimed that ‘the Reader, who weeps not over some of the scenes it describes, has no sensibility of mind.’ There’s an implied criticism here of the reader who does not cry. Yet by the 1820s, Lady Louisa Stuart had found that the response to the novel had changed. Reading the novel with her friends: ‘Oh Dear! They laughed’. The man of feeling no longer elicited tears but instead laughter. Both his behaviour and the reader’s tearful response to it, represented a model of emotional response that was no longer recognised or understood in 1820s Britain. The decline in popularity of the man of feeling is normally attributed to the French Revolution and anxiety about the dangers of sensibility and associated revolutionary fervour spreading to Britain. But while this narrative accounts for a change from tears to fear, there doesn’t seem to be space in it for laughter.

This post is part of our ‘Normativity November’ series which explores the concept of the normal as we prepare for our exciting Being Human event ‘The Museum of the Normal’ tonight, 6pm-9pm.

Normativity November: Defining the Archaeological Normal

This is a guest post by Stacy Hackner. Stacy stacy_skele-copyis a PhD researcher in bioarchaeology at UCL, investigating the influence of activity on bone shape in ancient Sudan. She also works as a student engager for UCL Museums, focusing on bringing public engagement and interactive learning into unexpected spaces.


The history of archaeology in the late 19th and early 20th centuries can be read as the history of European men attempting to prove their perceived place in the world. At the time, western Europe had colonized much of the world, dividing up Africa, South America, and Oceania from which they could extract resources to further fund empires. Alongside this global spread was a sincere belief in the superiority of the rule of white men, which had grown from the Darwinian theory of evolution and the subsequent ideas of eugenics advanced by Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton: not only were white men the height of evolutionary and cultural progress, they were the epitome of thousands of years of cultural development which was superior to any other world culture. According to their belief, it was inevitable that Europeans should colonize the rest of the world. This was not only the normal way of life, but the only one that made sense.

In modern archaeology, we let the data speak for itself, trying not to impose our own ideas of normality and society onto ancient cultures. One hundred years ago, however, archaeology was used as a tool to prove European superiority and cultural manifest and without the benefit of radiocarbon dating (invented in the 1940s) to identify which culture developed at what time, Victorian and Edwardian archaeologists were free to stratify ancient cultures in a way that supported their framework that most European=most advanced. “European-ness” was defined through craniometry, or the measurement and appearance of skulls, and similar measurements of the limbs. Normality was defined as the average British measurement, and any deviation from this normal immediately identified that individual as part of a lesser race (a term which modern anthropologists find highly problematic, as so much of what was previously called “race” is culture).

In my research into sites in Egypt and Sudan, I’ve encountered two sites that typify this shoehorning of archaeology to fit a Victorian ideal of European superiority. The first is an ancient Egyptian site called Naqada, excavated by Sir William Matthew Flinders Petrie in the 1890s. Petrie is considered the founder of modern, methodological archaeology because he invented typology – categorizing objects based on their similarity to each other. As an associate and friend of Galton and others in the eugenics circle, he applied the same principle to categorizing people (it’s likely that his excavations of human remains were requested by Galton to diversify his anthropometric collection). Naqada featured two main types of burials: one where the deceased were laid on their backs (supine) and one where the deceased were curled up on their side (flexed). Petrie called these “Egyptian” and “foreign” types, respectively. The grave goods (hand-made pottery, hairpins, fish-shaped slate palettes) found in the foreign tombs did not resemble any from his previous Egyptian excavations. The skeletons were so markedly different from the Egyptians – round, high skulls of the “Algerian” type, and tall and rugged – that he called them the “New Race”. Similarities, such as the burnt animal offerings found in the New Race tombs, present in Egyptian tombs as symbolic wall paintings, were obviously naïve imitations made by the immigrants. However, the progression of New Race pottery styles pointed to a lengthy stay in Egypt, which confused Petrie. Any protracted stay among the Egyptians must surely have led to trade: why then was there an absence of Egyptian trade goods? His conclusion was that the New Race were invading cannibals from a hot climate who had completely obliterated the local, peaceful Egyptian community between the Old and Middle Kingdoms.

Of course, with the advent of radiocarbon dating and a more discerning approach to cultural change, we now know that Petrie had it backwards. The New Race are actually a pre-Dynastic Egyptian culture (4800-3100 BC), who created permanent urban agricultural settlements after presumably thousands of years of being semi-nomadic alongside smaller agricultural centres. Petrie’s accusation of cannibalism is derived from remarks from Juvenal, a Roman poet writing centuries later. It also shows Petrie’s racism – of course these people from a “hot climate” erased the peaceful Egyptians, whose skulls bear more resemblance to Europeans. In actuality, Egyptian culture as we know it, with pyramids and chariots and mummification, developed from pre-Dynastic culture through very uninteresting centuries-long cultural change. Petrie’s own beliefs about the superiority of Europeans, typified by the Egyptians, allowed him to create a scientific-sounding argument that associated Africans with warlike-invasion halting cultural progression.

Henry Wellcome surveying the excavation. Courtesy Wellcome Collection.

Henry Wellcome surveying the excavation. Courtesy Wellcome Collection.

The second site in my research is Jebel Moya, located in Sudan, south of Khartoum, and excavated by Sir Henry Wellcome from 1911-1914. The site is a cemetery that appears to be of a nomadic group; dating to the Meroitic period (3rd century BC-4th century AD). The site lacks the pottery indicative of the predominant Meroitic culture, therefore the skulls were used to determine racial affiliation. Meroe was seen as part of the lineage of ancient Egypt – despite being Sudanese, the Meroitic people adopted pyramid-building and other cultural markers inspired by the now-defunct Egyptian civilization. Because many more female skeletons were discovered at this site than male, one early hypothesis was that Jebel Moya was a pagan and “predatory” group that absorbed women from southern Sudanese tribes either by marriage or slavery and that, as Petrie put it, it was “not a source from which anything sprang, whether culture or tribes or customs”. Yet, the skulls don’t show evidence of interbreeding, implying that they weren’t importing women, and later studies showed that many of the supposed female skeletons were actually those of young males. This is another instance of British anthropologists drawing conclusions about the ancient world using their framework of the British normal. If the Jebel Moyans weren’t associating themselves with the majority Egyptianized culture, they must be pagan (never mind that the Egyptians were pagan too!), polygamous, and lacking in any kind of transferrable culture; in addition, they must have come from the south – that is, Africa.

These sites were prominent excavations at the time, and the skeletons went on to be used in a number of arguments about race and relatedness. We now know – as the Victorian researchers reluctantly admitted – that ruggedness of the limbs is due to activity, and that a better way to examine relatedness is by examining teeth rather than skulls. However, the idea of Europeans as superior, following millennia of culture that sprung from the Egyptians and continued by the Greeks and Romans, was read into every archaeological discovery, bolstering the argument that European superiority was normal. Despite our focus on the scientific method and attempting to keep our beliefs out of our research, I wonder what future archaeologists will find problematic about current archaeology.

This post is part of our ‘Normativity November’ series which explores the concept of the normal as we prepare for our exciting Being Human events ‘Emotions and Cancer’ on 22 November and ‘The Museum of the Normal’ on 24 November.


Addison, F. 1949. Jebel Moya, Vol I: Text. London: Oxford University Press.

Baumgartel, E.J. 1970. Petrie’s Naqada Excavation: A Supplement. London: Bernard Quaritch.

Petrie, W.M.F. 1896. Naqada and Ballas. Warminster: Aris & Phillips.

How the alt-right emerged from men’s self-help

000d241f-800Like a lot of people, I’ve been scrambling to make sense of the Trump victory and what it says about public attitudes in the US and western culture generally. I’ve spent this week researching the alt-right movement and reading some of its literature. We don’t yet know to what extent the alt-right helped Trump to victory, and to what extent its beliefs appeal to the general population. But let me suggest some points about alt-right philosophy, and the way to engage with it at a grass-roots level.

Aspects of alt-right culture overlaps with men’s self-help, and with classical virtue ethics like Stoicism.

This may come as a surprise to those who think of the alt-right as gamer-nerds and illiterate meme-fanatics, but a lot of it appears to be driven by disaffected young college-educated men looking for a code to live by. Some of them are drawn to classical virtue ethics like Stoicism because it offers a way to feel strong in a chaotic world. Clearly, they misinterpret ancient philosophy. But their interest in it offers a way that educators can engage with them.

If I was Muslim I would be engaging with young men drawn to toxic variants of Islam, to try and steer them away from it, for their good and the good of my culture. I think that’s necessary with the alt-right too – we should engage with those young men who are genuinely looking for a path to self-improvement, to try and steer them away from the toxic aspects of alt-right culture, such as white supremacy and misogyny.

What is the alt-right?

Pepe the Frog - one of the alt-right's favourite memes, as found on anonymouse image-based websites like 4Chan.

Pepe the Frog – one of the alt-right’s favourite memes, as found on anonymous image-based websites like 4Chan.

The best intro I found was from the Breitbart news site, formerly edited by Steve Bannon, Trump’s new senior advisor, which styles itself as an alt-right platform. It features ‘an establishment conservative’s guide to the alt-right’, by Milo Yiannopoulos and Allum Bokhari. This article divides the movement into four groups.

Firstly, the ‘natural conservatives’ – those who, in social psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s formulation, naturally feel disposed to an emotional politics of order, honour and harmony, as opposed to a leftist emotional politics of justice, fairness and equality. Secondly, the ‘meme gang’ – young men on the internet who spend hours joyfully constructing memes to support Trump and shock liberals. They don’t necessarily believe in Nazism…or anything, they just like to shock and get lulz. This group has been associated with trolling campaigns like gamergate or the harassment of the female Ghostbusters cast. Thirdly, the ‘1488-ers’ – straight-up Neo-Nazis, so-called because of the 14 words uttered by the founder of the American Nazi party – ‘We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children‘ – and the two 8’s at the end represent the letters HH, Heil Hitler.

The manosphere

Finally, there are the ‘intellectuals’. Yanniopoulos and Bokhari write: ‘The so-called online “manosphere,” the nemeses of left-wing feminism, quickly became one of the alt-right’s most distinctive constituencies.’ I studied three particular writers in this ‘manosphere’, who connect the alt-right with male self-help: Mike Cernovich, author of ‘The Gorilla Mindset’ and ‘The MAGA Mindset’; Jack Donovan, author of ‘The Way of Men’; and Roosh V, pick-up artist and editor of a popular men’s website called Return of Kings. Cernovich has been called ‘the meme mastermind of the alt-right‘, Roosh now distances himself from the alt-right but actively supported the Trump campaign as a means to patriarchy, while Donovan speaks at white supremacist forums like American Renaissance.

All three offer a form of self-help for young men looking for a strong identity.

All three believe that masculine identity is in crisis in the west. They believe it’s been emasculated by feminism, threatenend by multiculturalism, enfeebled by corporate and consumer capitalism, and betrayed by older men who failed to provide strong role models. As a result, they say, western men have ended up miserable, weak, lonely, addicted and suicidal.

And who speaks for these wretched men? Every other interest group has their spokespeople and their movements. Feminism has its consciousness-raising circles, its heroines, its academic conferences. And men? The closest thing is a new and small field in academia called ‘masculine studies’ . But ‘masculine studies’ academics mainly wring their hands about traditional male identity and try to make men more like women.

Watch the documentary ‘The Mask You Live In’ (or the trailer, here), which is about the ‘male crisis’. It’s made by a woman, features more female experts than male, and focuses entirely on the problems with masculinity: men don’t show emotions, men binge drink and take dangerous risks, men play violent video games, men are drawn to casual sex, men are addicted to online porn, men humiliate women in ‘locker-room talk’, men are taught only to value sports and not other activities. And so on. Masculinity is apparently a disorder. And the solution to masculinity disorder is to become more like a woman, perhaps literally, like Grayson Perry, the transvestite artist and author of a new guide to What’s Wrong With Men.

Into this ethical vacuum step alt-right preachers of ‘neo-masculinity’, like radical Imams, if radical Imans were also pick-up artists.

The alt-right antidote to the ‘decline of men’ is to celebrate male identity and look for a code of living that leads to male strength and pride.

Like me, some alt-righters in the manosphere are drawn to ideas from classical philosophy and modern therapy, which help people take control of their emotions. Roosh V, the pick-up artist and editor of Return of Kings, has frequently written on classical Stoicism as a ‘means to serenity’. He’s also written on ‘neo-masculinity’, a movement which looks to classical philosophy for an ethical foundation. Mike Cernovich’s Gorilla Mindset re-packages techniques for emotional self-management from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Stoicism, and mixes in some evolutionary psychology. And Jack Donovan has written on the need for a male virtue ethics, which emphasizes traditional values like courage, honour and self-discipline.

_77646868_3patrolHowever, there’s also an aspect of alt-right neo-masculinity that is less drawn to virtue ethics and more to a sort of primitive tribalism or gang-culture. In the Way of Men, Jack Donovan defines male identity in the context of the male gang – men seek identity through the approval of other men, and through finding their place in the gang hierarchy, as chimpanzees do. Men are judged, Donovan says, by the extent to which they are a ‘real man’ – i.e, would they be good in a fight, can they defend themselves and others, do they defend their or their group’s honour, or are they a cissy?

The principle mission of the male gang, Donovan writes, is to secure the perimeter, and defend Us against Them – the outsider tribe. It doesn’t entirely matter who They are – Muslims, Jews, Republicans, zombies. They are really a means to Us bonding as a gang. There’s some confusion about who exactly Us is. Are neo-Nazis us? Or gays like Donovan or Yanniopoulos? Or non-whites like Roosh? The alt-right smooths over these anxieties by focusing on Them: feminists and Muslims.

Where do women fit in to the male gang world? For Jack Donovan, who’s gay, they’re purely a means to an end – men need them to reproduce and keep the tribe / gang going. He’s inspired by chimpanzee culture, in which he notes rape and female battering is common. Women are breeders, that’s all. For Roosh, they’re playgrounds and trophies.

Fight Club - violent apocalypse as the means to male bonding

Fight Club – violent apocalypse as the means to male bonding

At the extreme, Donovan looks forward to the collapse of civilization and the flourishing of gang war, because then men can finally be men. Peace and prosperity make life boring, miserable and unheroic, he thinks. Bring on the apocalypse, as an exercise in male bonding. War is the game men play. Violence is the test, the means to ecstasy. War makes men. Peace makes half-men.

This ideology seems to me the white version of Jihadism – the sense of cultural grievance, the ‘elimination of the Gray Zone’ into Us versus Them, the desire for a global projection of heroic male strength, and the desire for a battlefield where one can play at war, not just in a video-game, but for real.

I can’t really engage young Muslim men, because I’m a kafir, an unbeliever, and I don’t really know the Koran. But I can engage with young men drawn to classical philosophy and self-help, because I was also drawn to this when I was a miserable and alienated young man. So how could one engage with this group? Here are some possible talking points:

  1. We are more than chimpanzees. There is more to male strength than just brute force. Jack Donovan says we all admire immoral strong men like Al Pacino’s Scarface, but that’s not true – some adolescent boys do, but most grow out of that. Humans have the capacity to reflect on what’s right and wrong and to agree on a code of ethics. That’s what makes a tribe strong. When a tribe throws out its ethical culture and descends to the level of animal brutality, as the Nazis did, it doesn’t last long.
  2. Women are, on average genetically, just as intelligent as men. They also, on average, score higher on empathy – a trait conspicuously lacking in the manosphere. Look at the cultures where women are encouraged to participate in public life, and the cultures where they’re not. Which cultures are stronger? Which are doing better? How strong and successful do you think Saudi Arabian culture is, or Afghan culture? At an ethical level, do you really want your daughter / sister not to have the same capacity to flourish as you or your son? There’s a weird paradox in the alt-right – on the one hand, they see themselves as the defenders of western civilization against Islam, on the other hand, they actually want to make western civilization more like Shariah cultures like Saudi Arabia (more patriarchal, less democratic and with less respect for the rule of law).
  3. All the classical philosophers that some alt-righters claim to revere put virtue before brute power. The Stoics, in particular, were cosmopolitans – they believed in a universal moral code that transcends race, gender or nationality. Some, like Plato and Musonius Rufus, argued for the equal education of men and women, two and a half millennia before it occurred. They did not believe ‘might is right’ – Thucydides criticizes precisely that attitude for leading to the undermining of Athenian influence during the Peleponnesian War. The Roman Empire flourished partly because it had an amazing army, but also because it offered a universalist culture – the Pax Romana – which other ethnicities and tribes could join. Likewise both Islam and Christianity expanded because they offered a universal society transcending race. A culture based on ethnicity, by contrast, or on the brutal power of a despot, is a weak culture, it won’t attract cohorts, it won’t last.
  4. Strong man cultures – in which a strong leader is revered and given all power – have typically not done well, they haven’t lasted. They may initially lead to a wave of conquests but they then rapidly collapse. Strong cultures that last are based not on personalities but institutions (what survives of Napoleon is the Napoleonic Code).
  5. Alt-righters in the manosphere are obsessed with honour and reputation, with being perceived as alpha men, not beta weaklings. But Stoicism believes male strength comes from virtue, not honour or reputation. If you’re incredibly prickly about your honour, you’re weak and insecure – you fly off the handle at any perceived diss. You’re no better than hysterical campus liberals scanning for ‘micro-aggressions’. Honour cultures – like, say, Pakistan, or Sicily in the past – have traditionally been weak, because the men are constantly killing each other or their wives and daughters for any perceived slight to their honour. Strong men are secure enough in their self-respect to ignore a diss – unless something genuinely threatens their person or their culture, in which case they act.
  6. If you’re obsessed with winning other men’s approval and appearing Alpha in their eyes, that’s not strength, that’s weakness. You’re enslaving yourself to their approval. Your whole life becomes an attempt to impress others – you pump iron to impress other men, you pull women to impress other men, you end up miserable and alone all because you spent your life trying to impress other men. Strong men don’t obsess over how Alpha they appear to other men.
  7. If you think western culture has become a ‘culture of grievances’, as Milo Yiannopoulos put it, that doesn’t mean masculinity has to give in to victimhood as well. Marcus Aurelius wrote, ‘the best revenge is not to be like that’.
  8. Trolling is a desperate bid for attention. Again, that’s not strong at all, that’s weak.
  9. European culture went from rag-tag gangs in the Dark Ages to a powerful civilization that spread across the world partly through the invention of chivalry – strong warriors were persuaded to obey a moral code, which protected the weak. Alt-righters mock chivalry, but that makes their culture weak – who wants to join a chimpanzee culture that only values force? The foundation of Judeo-Christianity is also love for the oppressed and the weak – again, alt-righters like Steve Bannon describe themselves as heroic defenders of Judeo-Christian civilization, but they’re really more Nietzschean in their contempt for the weak.
  10. If you really want to risk your life in a heroic adventure, join the army. Test yourself by fighting ISIS, not by harassing women on Twitter. That’s not being a man. Join the army. When you’re in it, you’ll find yourself fighting side by side with people of other ethnicities – 30% of the US military is non-white – and you might decide you can trust and bond with men whose skin is a different colour.

Those are some of the talking points one could use. One should not go in with name-calling, one should recognize the emotional hurt beneath the toxic ideas. Epictetus wrote: ‘A guide, on finding a man who has lost his way, brings him back to the right path—he does not mock and jeer at him and then take himself off. You also must show the unlearned man the truth, and you will see that he will follow. But so long as you do not show it him, you should not mock, but rather feel your own incapacity.’