Second Letter on Anxiety


To Al, Cara, Courtney, and Tim.

Well, you have probably all found out by now. Charmaine and I have broken up. We broke up last night. It was triggered by the fact that I quit another job. This is the second mechanic’s job that I have quit and I quit for exactly the same reason as I quit the first one – I was overwhelmed by a massive infliction of anxiety. I suppose I should have taken my own advice in the first letter I wrote to you all. You can only take so much incompatibility between you and your environment, however.

The kind of therapy I was advising in my first letter was a very stoic one. I was advocating accommodating yourself to your external environment, and trying to change your own will so that it better suits the demands of the external world. Hegel talks about the stoic consciousness in the second chapter of the Phenomenology of Spirit, Self-consciousness. He says the stoic consciousness retreats into itself and attempts to free itself from the external determination of the outside world. A famous American philosopher Donald Davidson came up with a very simple analogue in metaphysics – he called his philosophy of mind “Coherentism”.

Davidson claimed that “nothing serves as a justification of a belief except another belief”. This is exactly like the stoic phenomenological consciousness in Hegel because Davidson conceives the normativity of truth to be totallly divorced from the external world. The “world” does not constrain and interact with our perception of the world, on this account, because our minds are free to determine whatever judgement about our sense-data that we feel.

As Communists, we know that this philosophy is without any merit. We are not like the Conservatives, who say the traditions of the past are to be followed and accommodated, we know that if there is an injustice in the world around us, it is not us who needs to change, it is that the world is not yet correct, and that the world must change.

So where does this leave us, metaphysically?

If the world is not the force which impresses itself on our senses and demands that WE must change our will in order to be congruent with it, then surely the dialectical antithesis is also equally incorrect. We are not like magicians who can bend and manipulate the fabric of the world to our every whim. If we could just arise from our armchairs and shoot the roasted turkeys of our Communist philosophies into the mouths of the masses, then we would have arrived at a purely free society already.

So what is the answer? How are we supposed to deal with the nauseating reality of Capital and the State?

The answer is through the negation of the negation of stoicism: what Hegel designates as true freedom. Hegel’s monicker for the purest form of freedom is “absolute negation”. By this he means the ability to determine itself through another entity. The problem of unjust external determination and constraint from the outside world is not to be free from it, or to be free to transcend beyond it, but to be free with it.

This does not mean “coping” with unjust circumstances and bearing with them, it means to take the circumstances in which you find yourself and use them as the starting point for transforming the world and yourself into something, hopefully, eventually, perfectly just. There is an old cliche that is better to have loved and lost than never loved at all. This annoying phrase perfectly demonstrates the difference between freedom from and freedom with.

The most perfect form of relation of yourself to the objective world is through the process of mutual aid – through the co-determination you achieve through cooperating and assisting your fellow comrades, you set yourself free from anxiety.

The breakdown of this process of mutual aid, and transformation of human interdependence into an antagonistic form of competition is the root of all anxiety.

So the world is not an ineffable lump of matter like he positivists say. The world is there to be grappled with and challenged and built upon. The only way to exorcise your anxiety is to find a way of cooperating with your fellow humans in accordance with mutual aid.

The onset of stoicism is when this process has completely ground to a halt.

Anyway. I hope this letter finds you well :-)