Hans Holbein portrait of Sir Thomas More.

Thomas More



Reason directs us to keep our minds as free from passion and as cheerful as we can, and that we should consider ourselves bound by the ties of goodness and humanity to use our utmost endeavors to promote the happiness of our fellow men. For never was there a man so morose and severe a pursuer of virtue, and so great an enemy to pleasure, as to lay down hard rules for men to undergo much pain, many watchings, and other rigors, and yet at the same time not to advise them to do all in their power to relieve the miserable, and who did not represent gentleness and good nature as amiable dispositions. Thence they infer that if a man ought to advance the welfare and comfort of the rest of mankind—there being no virtue more kindred to our nature than to ease the miseries of others, to relieve them from trouble and anxiety, and to furnish them with the comforts of life, in which true pleasure consists—nature will more strongly incline him to do all this for himself. A life of pleasure is either a real evil—and in that case, we ought not to aid others in their pursuit of it, but on the contrary, to deter them from it all we can, as from a thing most hurtful and deadly—or if it is a good thing, so that we not only may but ought to help others to it, why then ought not a man to begin with himself?

Hans Holbein portrait of Sir Thomas More.

We crave hearing that we’re all right, we’re not alone, we’re accepted in spite of our flaws. Belonging is an essential human need. Loneliness, it turns out, negatively affects not only our psychological well-being but also our physical health. And yet we have apparently chosen, via liberal democracy, to live according to a system of social organization that requires us to be jumpy paranoids, suspicious of everyone and terrified of our own potential mistakes. Believers in capitalist liberal democracies may cluck at the over-the-top Maoist inquisitions devoted to revolutionary self-criticism, but our society encourages us to practice the same extravagant self-loathing, only privately. That’s why America’s vast therapeutic brain trust has steadily eradicated the language of solidarity and class consciousness, honed through collective struggle, and replaced it with exhortations to “do what you love” and “live your best life.” Both aphorisms imply that what we’re currently doing is not enough.

Given that we spend most of our waking hours in an alienated, desperate grind to obtain or maintain a life-sustaining job, blaming ourselves for every snag along the way, gospels of reassurance and self-care are precious cargo. We are denied the ability to seek comfort from colleagues, neighbors, or—heaven forbid—comrades, because neoliberalism has turned them into our competition. Instead, disaffected souls are relentlessly steered back into the thrall of a marketplace where we can access, individually, little hits of succor.

© 2018 by Miya Tokumitsu. Used with permission of The Baffler and Miya Tokumitsu.

Related Reads