I went to the doctor last week, a rare and difficult feat for me, and while the nurse was asking the standard medical history questions, he said, “Do you have any depression or anxiety?”
I didn’t want to give away too much about my deviant mental states lest my physical symptoms be overshadowed diagnostically, so I shrugged and joked, “Yeah, anxiety, but doesn’t everybody?” He shrugged back.
According to anti-capitalist group Plan C, my deflection actually held a deeper truth. They call it our public secret:
“Each phase of capitalism has a particular affect which holds it together. This is not a static situation. The prevalence of a particular dominant affect is sustainable only until strategies of resistance able to break down this particular affect and/or its social sources are formulated….every phase’s dominant affect is that it is a public secret, something that everyone knows, but nobody admits, or talks about.”
The first part of the last century was dominated by misery, then post-war Fordism shifted us into boredom, but now, “Today’s public secret is that everyone is anxious.” We only talk about anxiety in disorder terms though, as if it is an anomaly to be treated by medicine, a bug, but not a feature.
This collective anxiety is due to a couple things, first, “the multi-faceted omnipresent web of surveillance,” and second, our constant “performance in the field of the perpetual gaze of virtual others” on social media.
“In this increasingly securitised and visible field, we are commanded to communicate. The incommunicable is excluded.”
Exclusion is the punishment of our age, the thing we all fear most: “from ‘time-outs’ and Internet bans, to firings and benefit sanctions — culminating in the draconian forms of solitary confinement found in prisons.”
Another way the authors define the anxiety of our age is precarity: “a type of insecurity which treats people as disposable so as to impose control. Precarity differs from misery in that the necessities of life are not simply absent. They are available, but withheld conditionally.”