Happy Thanksgiving everyone. Tonight’s post will be short, but that should not distract from the value of the essay in question. Montaigne here writes one of his most psychologically insightful pieces, noting that people often find a false object of anger or affection to stand in for real objects of emotional value.
This accounts for crazy cat people and hoarders, but also people who bring their troubles from home into the office, or vice versa. What I find most interesting about Montaigne’s insight, however, is its similarity to Freud in Mourning and Melancholia, his famous essay where he describes depression as anger turned inward.
What Freud argues is that the depressed person, having lost some object of love, feels enraged by this loss and takes out the rage on the ego — depriving the psyche of the ability to feel pleasure, and in a strange way, then to mourn the loss a bit less. This definition hasn’t fully survived the medical contemporary definitions of depression, but I do believe that Kurt Cobain’s “comfort in being sad” accurately describes the feeling of substituting depression for anxiety. Instead of anger turned inward, perhaps depression is anxiety rerouted.
What most interests me is how influential Montaigne’s psychological insights remain into the 21st century — and how many of his early essays dealt with the nature of depression, which we think of as a highly modern ailment.
It has become common for the losers of American elections to go through incredible mental gymnastics afterwards to deny the importance — or even the reality — of the results. I’ve been voting since 1984, which coincidentally was the last election that I can remember where the loser accepted reality and moved on. Four years later, Democrats cried foul over George Bush’s hardball tactics and the Willie Horton ad, while in reality, Michael Dukakis simply wasn’t equipped to compete on the national stage.
Bill Clinton’s election drove conservatives insane for many reasons, but the fact that Clinton twice failed to gain a majority of the popular vote became a common refrain for claiming his illegitimacy. The 2000 election, in my opinion, provided a genuine reason for the losing party to walk away wounded, but the Democrats did themselves no favors in 2004 by claiming electronic voting machine fraud in Ohio. The myth of stolen elections has grown since then and has become a hobby horse of conservatives, starting with the bizarre ACORN paranoia of the 2008 race and continuing with bizarre, unsubstantiated theories of fraud in 2012.
Why have the losers of American elections become such sore losers. Montaigne has an interesting theory:
There may be a momentary advantage in deception, but only those men acknowledge that they are beaten who know that it was neither by ruse nor mischance but by valour, soldier against soldier in a legitimate and just war.