In the previous miserabilism comments thread, a reader made the great point that the “miserabilism” apparent in these feminist attitudes can be found in many other ideological communities. The reader brought up a church as an example, and boy, do I know how true that is. I’ve told the story on this space before about how in my own experience the often justifiable anger traditionalist Catholics have about the post-Vatican II Church can sometimes overtake a particular traditionalist community, and banish the joy and life that is supposed to be the point of Christian worship in the first place.
Another reader, in the thread about devotion to a Cause overtaking the basic humanity of people, brought up an example about a woman in his or her Unitarian Universalist congregation who was so enraged at Republicans that her UU faith, at least in that particular case, was built more around hating the Other than the irenic values the religion proclaims.
I can think of pro-life activists I’ve known who allowed themselves to become so wrapped up in the righteousness of their cause that they were unnerving to be around. Whatever they stood for, compassion didn’t come through. And I’ve known political people on the Left and the Right whose relationship to their political creeds manifests as, well, a form of indignant miserabilism. You can’t imagine why any normal person would be attracted to their cause, if they are the exponent. At the end of my years as a Catholic, I had allowed anger over the abuse scandal to become almost the only way I could relate to the Catholic Church. I had become a miserabilist, and burned out. My wife saw it coming in me even before the scandal happened, gently chiding me one night on how the only time she saw me and my friends speak with passion about our faith was when we were complaining about this or that thing going on in the Church. It’s not that we were wrong, necessarily, but that we allowed our fault-finding to displace the things about Catholicism that made us fall in love with it in the first place.
I think this happens to some miserable couples who have been married a long time. You wonder how in the world they manage to stay together, and it occurs to you that spiting each other has become the passion that gives meaning to their lives.
What is the thread that unites miserabilists? It’s got two strands, I think. One is utopianism, which means coming to love ideas so much that the abstraction blinds the true believer to the imperfect humanity they encounter in the everyday. It tells them that justice is not only more important than mercy, it’s the only thing. When people like this get into power, you have Robespierre. A second strand is people for whom anger is the animating force behind their cause. I don’t mean that all people who are angry about things wrong with the world are like this. If you never felt anger over injustice, or desecration, or cruelty, you wouldn’t be human. But if all you feel is anger, and hatred is the primary source of life to your approach to your creed, then however right and true your faith, your cause, your belief, you are bound to be a miserabilist. Susan Faludi’s long but riveting New Yorker piece on the life and death of the radical feminist Shulamith Firestone offers a classic case.
Some people are flat-out miserable by nature, and immiserate everything they touch. It’s not the church, the movement, the party, or the cause that makes them miserable; rather, it’s they who make the church, the movement, the party, or the cause miserable.
Is there anything that would make Morrissey happy? No, because he is a born miserabilist.