In the late 1960s and early 70s, American psychologist Martin Seligman and his colleagues subjected dogs to inescapable electric shocks. Later, when the same animals were placed in a situation where the shocks were avoidable, they didn’t attempt to get away. If you can stomach the cruelty, the concept of learned helplessness derived from this research is a useful way of thinking about depression and – although I don’t recall ever seeing it referenced this way – the experience of a baby left to cry. Right now, British politics makes me feel like a dog given uncontrollable electric shocks and I can’t help thinking it’s a fascist plot to demoralise the Left.
Government wrings its hands and moves on to the main agenda of keeping the Tory party afloat. Promises, committees and public enquiries fill the space where restorative action needs to be. Crocodile tears stand in for compassion; and the only person the departing prime minister feels sorry for is herself.
After three years of being bludgeoned by Orwellian Newspeak – Brexit means Brexit, after all – for a self-harming EU withdrawal millions voted against, I didn’t think it could get much worse. But it has. With Theresa May’s forced resignation the Conservative party needs to elect a new leader and, sadly, one of these men in suits will be our next PM. I haven’t seen the job description, but believing in unicorns and being responsible for previous cockups appear to be among the main qualifications, whereas the usual leadership qualities of humility and reflectiveness are not.
No matter which of these characters wins, Britain will still be in a mess. And since only Conservative party members can have a say in who will be the next Prime Minister, it doesn’t matter which one I prefer. Yet the media bombards us with information about their “policies” and the TV licence fee goes towards pointless televised 'debates'. We can see we’re heading for disaster, and our powerlessness to prevent it is a slap in the face.
Or an uncontrollable electric shock. At the moment, I’m more angry than apathetic, but it’s an unfocused fury, closer to tears and expletives than affirmative action, although I hope to get beyond shouting at the television before too long. Because I’m not a dog strapped into a harness; I’m a human being with hands and feet and a voice.
But before I shout myself hoarse or get arrested for brawling, I need to exercise self-care. That means recognising where the pain is coming from and getting myself out of the box and into the spaces where the shocks don’t reach.
How are you resisting the right-wing onslaught of disenfranchisement? How are you looking after yourself and those around you? Remember, you’re not alone in seeking sanity. They can’t shock us indefinitely. It only feels that way.
But waiting for it to be over so that they can attend to the real business – if only! – is like waiting to see the dentist: you can’t leave until you’ve submitted to discomfort or pain. Some people manage to make a joke of it, but that doesn’t come naturally to me. Yet that’s where I’ve gone with this week’s flash fiction challenge:
“All our operators are busy at the moment. Your call will be answered as soon as one becomes available.”
Jingle jangle music.
“Your call is important to us. Please hold the line.”
Jangle jingle music.
“Thank you for your patience. We will answer your call as soon as an operator becomes available.”
Jingle jangle music.
“Thank you for calling Westminster Talent Limited. Apologies for keeping you waiting. How may I help you?”
“I need speak Boris.”
“I’m afraid Boris isn’t available right now. Can I be of service?”
“Can you tell please, his lunch left kitchen table. And phone.”