Leo Tolstoy opens Anna Karenina with, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” And it’s true: when you see a family squabbling at Disneyland, there are any number of things that could have brought them to that particular moment. An affair? A recent miscarriage? Secret involvement in a drug cartel? A death in the family? An alcoholic older brother? But see a happy family at Disneyland, and your mind goes nowhere.
A tear is a universal sign. Since ancient times, philosophers and scientists have tried to explain weeping as part of a shared human language of emotional expression. But, in fact, a tear on its own means nothing. As they well up in our eyes, or dribble down our cheeks, the meanings of those salty droplets can only be tentatively inferred by others, and then only when they know much more about the particular mental, social, and narrative contexts that gave rise to them.
Politics is inescapably emotional. Political ideas – such as freedom or equality – are often talked about as if they’re dry concepts, sandpapered down in a seminar room or a theoretical conversation. But political ideas involve feeling.