When did hard news take a backseat to personal writing? There's only one person you can count on to care about your 'feelpinion' - and that's you, writes Ben Pobjie.
As some of you may know, I suffer from depression. The reason you may know this is because from time to time I write on the subject. It’s always a difficult subject for me to write on though: not because it’s emotionally painful, but because I am acutely aware that there is no earthly reason why anyone else should care. I’m writing about my feelings, and the fact is, my feelings don’t matter – including the feeling of it being difficult to write about my feelings.
Don’t mistake this for charming self-deprecation: it’s not just my feelings that don’t matter. Your feelings don’t matter either.
Maybe that was too broad. There are people who care deeply about your feelings. Your family, your friends. But here’s the thing: the circle of people to whom your feelings are important stops dead once we reach the end of the list of your personal acquaintances – and possibly even earlier.
This would be fine if we didn’t live in an age in which everyone has not only the inclination, but the means, to share their feelings with the entire world. Because your average person, granted the ability to tell everyone how they feel, seems to develop a baseless expectation that everyone should therefore consider the information important in some way.
Here’s one example. Mem Fox doesn’t think people should have kids if they can’t spend time with them. Well, bully for Mem Fox. I hope she enjoyed her little judgment-gasm. But when she says, “It is the aloneness that is heartbreaking”, the only reasonable response is, “so frigging what?”
What possible reason could there be for anyone to give even the hint of a damn about Mem Fox’s breaking heart? You want to convince me that leaving kids alone with technology is damaging? Show me facts. Show me research. Show me a study indicating a 60 percent greater chance of your child growing up to rape horses if they spend an hour a day on an iPad. Show me anything that falls under the heading of “evidence” rather than the heading of “a great pain deep within Mem’s soul”.
If you ain’t got no evidence, then your feelings are as relevant to me as a psychic’s opinion that my shoes are out for revenge.
You see a lot of this unfounded elevation of feelings in the area of “offence”. A movie, TV show, book, song or video game comes out, someone gets upset by something in it, and is irresistibly compelled to tell the world. “I was upset,” they squawk. “I was offended. I was angry.” Congratulations on that – what do you want me to do about it? What if I just spoke to someone who absolutely loves the very thing you found intolerable? Whose feelings do I prioritise?
It’s not that I deny anyone the right to be offended – I just deny them the right to believe their offence means anything beyond the idiosyncratic reaction of their own brain chemistry to a certain stimulus. If you’ve got your undies in a wad over what you just saw on TV, that’s fine – but don’t expect your moaning to be a call to action for people you’ve never even met.
It’s not that feelings can’t be interesting, or entertaining. It’s that, unless they’re emanating from someone you’ve got a vested interest in, they can’t be important. I want to start a political party: the Your Feelings Don’t Matter Party. Its aim will be to prevent the formation of policy based on emotion, to block anyone who tries to impose rules or standards on anyone else because of what they “feel”. To ignore and marginalise any public commentary whose central theme revolves around the statements “I feel”, “I’m upset about”, “I’m distressed”, or “as a mum”. And to promote a society that makes its decisions with the backing of facts, not feelings.
I really feel that’s a cause worth getting behind.
Ben Pobjie is a writer, comedian and poet.