Don’t give in: an angry population is hard to govern; a depressed population is easy

Don’t let the bastards get you down – choose action over despondency when coming to terms with the general election result.

Hours after the Conservatives were re-elected, the government looked at cutting access to work schemes for the disabled. You’d think they’d at least have the decency to bring some flowers before shafting the vulnerable, but no. Not these guys. Not today. Today is not yesterday. Today, David Cameron does not just have the political will to slash welfare and widen the wealth gap: he has a mandate.

I have spent much of the past 48 hours lying in bed staring at the ceiling, reading despairing, four-letter posts on social media and trying to work out how on earth this happened, as if anyone with half a brain doesn’t know. The political elites closed ranks and capitulated to a politics of fear, first in Scotland, and then across the nation.

The muddled, equivocating voice of what was once the party of the left could not compete with the merciless message of austerity telling us we got what’s coming to us. We know what that is. More cuts to public services. More inequality. More lies. More of the old Cameron doctrine with no pratting about pretending we’re all in it together. The same great taste, now with zero liberals.

A lot of people are very depressed today, and with good reason. I think it’s important to talk about that depression. Talking helps. I read that in a pamphlet somewhere.

Depression is a physical and emotional illness with a profound sociopolitical component. It’s also a total bastard. Depression tells you that you’re lazy and worthless. That the bad things that may happen to you and your family are all your fault, and if you feel like dying, you’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population. Sound familiar?

There’s a reason depression and its precarious cousin, anxiety, are the dominant political modes of late capitalism. This is how you’re supposed to feel. This is how you do feel, if you accept their logic. You don’t need a nasty little voice in your head telling you you’re useless and deserve nothing. You’ve got Iain Duncan Smith. For five more years.

The Tories prey on the politics of despair, and I think we’ve let them do it. It’s not our fault. Depression is still a source of shame, especially in a country like this. When everything feels awful and out of control, it’s paradoxically easier to blame yourself and your neighbours than it is to direct anger outwards.

When things are getting worse very quickly, when society is getting meaner and more expensive, when your work is precarious, your housing is precarious, and precariousness itself has become an anxious daily reality, it’s somehow comforting to think that you and your community could have changed it all by making different choices. That it’s your fault for being lazy and sick. It may not feel good, but it feels safe – safer than facing the idea that so many decisions about your life are being made without your input, by people whose interests are so alien to your own they may as well be on a slab in a base in New Mexico.

The psychiatrist M Scott Peck is one of many experts to observe that depression is just anger, defanged and turned in on itself. That’s as true on a social level as it is on a political one. An angry population is hard to govern. A depressed population is easy. The new Tory government would really prefer it if our collective political position was “prone”.

It is no accident that, of all the public services that have been cut to the gristle by what we must now think of as the first five years of Tory austerity, the already-underfunded mental health system suffered most. The crisis in mental health in Britain is profoundly political.

The politics of the modern right are the politics of depression, and right now they are winning. What remains of the British left is flat on its back, staring at the ceiling in a mess of unwashed sheets, and shouting at it to get up is not going to help right now.

Read the rest at New Statesman.

Weird Tales and Writing News!

From 'Something In The Water.' Script by Laurie Penny, Art by Brett Parson for Vertigo.
From ‘Something In The Water.’ Script by Laurie Penny, Art by Brett Parson for Vertigo.

News!

Exciting news! News so knicker-wettingly thrilling that I’m having to exercise conscious bladder control while I type this!

So, I’ve been away, and I’ve been busy. Among other things, I’ve been working on fiction: comics, short stories, and more. And some of that fiction has just come out.

Firstly, ‘Making Babies’, a short story about marriage and technology, was published by Vice’s Terraform vertical last week. You can also read it in German at Der Spiegel!

Secondly, ‘Something In The Water,’ a short comic about mermaids, is out now as part of Vertigo’s POP collection, illustrated by Brett Parson. Here’s what I said in an interview for the website:

“Something in the Water” is a 21st-century reply to The Little Mermaid. That film came out when I was five, and it set the standard for the way women could rebel: sweetly, silently and always on someone else’s terms.

Sirena and her gang are people I know in real life. They’re the weird queer kids who don’t fit in, making a new world in the wreck of the old one. There’s a magic to that, and I wanted to celebrate it.

That’s all for now, but there’s more in the works. In July I’ll be returning to New Statesman as Contributing Editor, writing columns and features. I’ll be continuing to work on fiction stories at the same time. This is a new stage in my work, and I’m excited to see where it goes.