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Publisher's Summary

Nervous States is a compelling and essential guide to the turbulent times we are living through.

Why has politics become so fractious and warlike? What caused the populist political upheavals of recent years? How can the history of ideas help us understand our present? 

In this bold and far-reaching exploration of our new political landscape, William Davies reveals how feelings have come to reshape our world. Drawing deep on history, philosophy, psychology and economics, he shows how some of the fundamental assumptions that defined the modern world have dissolved. With advances in science and medicine, the division between mind and body is no longer so clear-cut. The spread of digital and military technology has left us not quite at war nor exactly at peace. In the murky new space between mind and body, between war and peace, lie nervous states: with all of us relying increasingly on feeling rather than fact.

©2018 William Davies (P)2019 Highbridge

Critic Reviews

 "An absorbing book fizzing with ideas." (Observer)

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  • J. Drew
  • 24-03-20

A clear look at the state we’re in

“The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority, but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.”
Marcus Aurelius
We currently live in an age where society thinks that experts are fools and that only a celebrity should be believed or worshiped, that misinformation is truth and facts are lies. However, just because you feel something doesn’t make it real. We do need emotions to help us make judgements and decisions but it is best when they are accompanied by rational thought. But it’s very easy to change rational thought and perhaps we are seeing more and more of this occurring as we see the rise in populist politics and movements all over the world. A populist government conveys a simple message such as “take back control“ or “make our country great again“, then pedals a fear and that they alone can solve it and thus sell that to people and then convert with a simple solution to manage the fear and in this age of social movement media movement it is increasingly easier and easier to make the people more afraid than they need to be. We live longer, have better healthcare and in the UK, health and education are free, a home with central heating and luxuries that earlier generations would envy - it should be luxury but we feel somehow desperate, angry, rage, full of injustice and lost, finding control in hurting ourselves including cutting ourselves. However, anxiety and fear produce often inappropriate responses – especially when accompanied by misinformation. Many autocratic dictators like Putin know this and exploit this. In fact any well-known essay written by a Russian, one of the new tools of warfare, is to no longer declare warfare but to seek other methods in which to create distress and disorder in other countries, through misinformation and propaganda (or fake news as we now call it). The nature of warfare has changed and a Russian general once wrote, “war is politics by other means“. This book looks at all the above but it sometimes comes across as a bit of a dry read but once I got the idea that it was the book about ideas to help explain what is going on in our complex society, I found it easier to understand. It talks about how loneliness and pain which we might see in older people means that they become victims of a perceived injustice and make decisions that might hurt but younger people struggle to understand. Perhaps Brexit and the rise of Trump can be explained by these factors. And emotions can change a person's physical state such as cortisol rises to reduce stress but that in turn hardens the arteries within the heart. It’s not healthy. And what if we now see ‘war as an extension of politics by other means’. We have the war on drugs, the war on terror and so on. And the first casualty of war is truth so we now live in a world of alternative facts (which is just another word for propaganda or lies). Churchill said “a lie is halfway round the world whilst the truth is putting on his shoes.” And when we create a nervous world, where fear and mistrust and division rule, anything is possible and appear for the worse.

I used to speak of the wonders about the Internet in its early days but it seems to have become more a tool for control, data collection and surveillance. A few select companies can look at a few likes and will know more about you than your own spouse or even perhaps yourself. As few as 30 likes on Facebook can tell companies all about you and me and that they can go on to sell your information all about you and people of a similar age group on area of residence. They can then sell products and manipulate their own selling products or a political message. ‘Like’ a right wing post on Facebook and you can be selected to only receive a similar post from a far right group of a Russian Troll that you might resend to others of a similar persuasion. It creates division and hate to even close family members - Putin must be in heaven. Fairy tales, propaganda and lies are on the increase. As I write these words the current UK government is suppressing a government report on Russian interference during the last election. The only person Trump’s has never berated is Putin. And Putin models himself as a spy in the James Bond mould as well as a gangster who will lie and cheat in any way he wants to get what he wants.

Another interesting aspect of this book that I have struggled with understanding previously regarding the possible pain and financial cost regarding Brexit that others seek. However, there can be something noble in loss – look at how we celebrate Dunkirk, Scott of the Antarctic or the Battle of Britain in the UK. Or how a soldier will feel less upset at losing a limb in war (ie for such a noble cause). After all, even I, no matter what, I’m going to support West Ham no matter how many times they hurt me and lose as it’s my football team. It can be very difficult to change our belief system or favoured viewpoint if we are already totally committed, in blind faith.

In order to get people ready for war we need to get them worked up. That’s what politicians are doing brilliantly. Or trolls. And as Napoleon once said “it’s not what is true that matters, it’s what people think it’s true.“

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