The psychopolitics of lockdown

I thought this was a particularly astute piece by Richard Seymour about the psychic drain of lockdown and how it is playing out in the political arena. It suggests the objective factors (the reliance on social media, a sense of threat in social space, uncertainty about the future and enforced social isolation) which play out in psychic lives during this crisis:

Depression is endemic in the British isles. The politics of the plague are inscrutable unless we face this fact and its full implications. The University of Sheffield published research in October showing that, during the first lockdown, reports of anxiety and depression abruptly tripled from 17 per cent to 52 per cent. Similar results have been found elsewhere. In India, almost sixty per cent of people have little pleasure in doing anything, and feel tired much of the time.

There is no mystery about this. The situation is objectively depressed. To be isolated, deprived of control over one’s life, deprived of the future, to live constantly in the short-term, in the eternal present, to be hypervigilant to threats – these are the conditions of anxiety-depression. Take back control, they said. No one is in control. The serotonin is down, the cortisol in the blood and saliva is sky-rocketing, we can’t sleep properly, we are more dependent on the social industry than ever, the doomscrolling is taking its toll, the regular news that someone has lost a cousin or a brother is provoking vicarious grief, and even the Zoom calls are becoming an effort. And the only connection to hope for relief is whatever optimistic scenarios are fed to us through what James Butler calls the “systolic thump of the news cycle”. Forget all the subjectivist crap for a moment: this depression is social, ecological and political.

It does make me wonder about the empirical questions here which are not exhausted by plausible characterisations of the affectivity for crisis: how are individuals coping with these conditions? What are the “small rituals, formulas, quirks” which they are relying upon? How are they making decisions about the future? What about the quarter of people who say their life hasn’t changed very much? This isn’t a critique of Seymour but simply a suggestion of how social and political theorising presents an agenda for empirical research.

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