Affect, History, and Politics

Scott: I am curious about the implications if we started writing history from the point of view of what effects were salient at the time.  

ChattyG: Writing history from the perspective of affect, as outlined in Tomkins’s theory of innate affects, would fundamentally alter our understanding and interpretation of historical events and figures. This approach emphasizes human behavior’s biological and psychological underpinnings, focusing on the innate, pre-linguistic emotional responses that guide our actions and reactions. Here are several implications of adopting such a perspective in historical analysis:

1. Humanizing Historical Figures

Historical figures are humanized by considering the role of innate affects in motivating actions. Understanding that leaders, revolutionaries, and ordinary people were driven by these universal affects—such as distress, interest, enjoyment, fear, and shame—provides a more nuanced view of their decisions and behaviors. This approach allows for a more profound empathy and understanding, recognizing that, despite the differences in context and culture, the fundamental emotional experiences are shared across humanity.

2. Reinterpreting Motivations and Actions

Events and movements could be reinterpreted through the lens of affect, providing new insights into the motivations behind significant historical actions. For example, the affect of anger-rage might be analyzed as a driving force behind revolutions and social upheavals. At the same time, interest-excitement motivates exploration, scientific discovery, and cultural Renaissance. This shift in perspective might lead to a greater emphasis on the emotional and psychological conditions that precede and accompany historical changes.

3. Understanding Collective Emotions

Analyzing history through affects would necessitate a closer examination of the collective emotional states of societies and groups. How did the shared experiences of joy, fear, or disgust shape collective identities, social norms, and movements? This approach could offer a deeper understanding of phenomena such as mass hysteria, social cohesion, and the emotional underpinnings of nationalism or collective trauma.

4. Redefining Historical Causality

Traditionally, historical causality often focuses on economic, social, and political factors. Incorporating affect into historical analysis adds another layer, considering how these innate emotional responses influence and are influenced by broader historical trends. It suggests that historical events are not only the result of rational decision-making but also of complex affective dynamics. This could lead to a more integrated approach to history that encompasses both the rational and the emotional.

5. Challenging the Objectivity of Historical Narratives

Emphasizing affects challenges the notion of objectivity in historical writing. Recognizing that historians themselves are influenced by their affects (interest, shame, enjoyment, etc.) when choosing subjects of study or interpreting evidence, this approach acknowledges the subjectivity and emotional engagement inherent in the practice of history. It encourages a more reflexive historiography, aware of the emotional dimensions of both the past and its interpretation.

6. Expanding Historical Sources and Methodologies

Adopting an affective perspective would also expand the types of sources deemed valuable for historical research. Diaries, letters, art, and other expressions of emotional life gain prominence, offering insights into the affective landscapes of past societies. Similarly, methodologies from psychology and neuroscience could be integrated into historical analysis, providing tools to understand the emotional dimensions of human experience more deeply.

In sum, writing history from the perspective of affect enriches our understanding of the past and challenges us to consider the complex interplay between emotion, behavior, and societal change. It opens up new avenues for research and interpretation, promising a more holistic and human-centered approach to history.

Scott: What do historians attribute motivations to if they don’t account for affect?

ChattyG: When historians attribute motivations without accounting for affect, they tend to rely on a combination of other factors, including but not limited to:

Rational Decision-Making: This approach assumes that historical actors made decisions based on logical analysis of their situations, weighing the pros and cons to determine the best course of action. It posits that individuals and groups act in their best interests, aiming for outcomes that maximize their utility or benefit.

Ideological Beliefs: Many historians examine how the ideologies of individuals, groups, or societies influence their actions. These ideologies can include political, religious, or philosophical beliefs that shape people’s worldviews and motivate their actions in line with those beliefs.

Economic Factors: Economic motivations are often cited as primary drivers behind historical events. Historians might analyze how pursuing wealth, resources, trade advantages, or economic power influenced decisions and actions.

Social Structures: The impact of social structures, including class, race, gender, and familial roles, is also a critical aspect of historical analysis. These structures can dictate the opportunities available to people and influence their motivations and actions within the context of their society.

Cultural Norms and Values: Cultural expectations and values play a significant role in shaping behavior. Historians may look at how cultural norms influenced what was considered acceptable or desirable behavior at different times and places, influencing historical events.

Political Power and Authority: The pursuit of political power, the maintenance of authority, and the dynamics of governance are central to understanding historical motivations. This includes not only the actions of leaders but also the movements of resistance and rebellion against authority.

Psychological Theories: Some historians incorporate psychological theories that do not explicitly focus on affect but rather on other aspects of psychology, such as personality traits, cognitive biases, or the influence of childhood experiences on adult behavior.

Environmental Factors: The role of the environment, including geography, climate, and natural resources, in shaping human activity and motivations is also considered. These factors can dictate societies’ challenges and opportunities and influence their historical trajectories.

Historians attempt to construct a multifaceted understanding of historical events and motivations by focusing on these aspects. However, integrating affect theory into historical analysis could provide a deeper understanding of human behavior’s emotional and physiological underpinnings, adding another layer to our comprehension of the past.

Scott: Let’s include all the positive motivators above. Are there any of them that would motivate someone to do something even if they didn’t feel like it?

ChattyG: Including all the positive affects mentioned—Interest-Excitement and Enjoyment-Joy—these inherently rewarding affects can motivate someone to take action even if they initially don’t feel like it. Here’s how:


This affect pulls individuals toward exploration, learning, and engagement with their environment or task. Even if someone doesn’t feel like engaging in a particular activity initially, the potential for discovering something new or intriguing can spark this affect, leading to increased motivation. For instance, the prospect of learning a new skill or uncovering new information can shift one’s initial disinterest. The gradual, manageable increase in neural firing associated with interest can transform indifference into engagement.


This affect fosters social bonds and well-being through positive interactions and achievements. The anticipation or actual experience of joy from completing a task or interacting with others can motivate someone to act despite initial reluctance. The decreased neural firing associated with relief or pleasure from joy can provide a compelling reason to proceed with an action. For example, even if one doesn’t initially feel like participating in a social event, the expectation of the joy from social interaction can be a powerful motivator.

These positive affects work by altering an individual’s internal emotional landscape. They shift the balance from a lack of motivation to a willingness or even eagerness to act. The key lies in the affective response to potential outcomes—learning, discovery, social connection, or the pleasure of achievement—that can override initial feelings of inertia or reluctance.


Of all the motivators you listed that were not affect, is there one or more that could motivate someone even if they didn’t feel like it?


From the discussion about affect, it’s clear that intrinsic motivators—those that arise from within an individual, such as affects—play a significant role in motivation. However, when considering motivators outside of the scope of affect, we typically look at external factors or cognitive evaluations that can also motivate actions. These include:

  • Rewards and Incentives: External rewards, whether monetary, social recognition, or tangible prizes, can motivate someone to act even if they are not internally motivated by interest or joy. The anticipation of receiving a reward for completing a task can push someone to engage in activities they might not inherently enjoy.
  • Goals and Aspirations: Setting personal or professional goals can be a strong motivator. The cognitive evaluation of the importance of achieving these goals can compel someone to act toward them, even without immediate interest or enjoyment.
  • Duty and Responsibility: A sense of obligation, whether professional duties, familial responsibilities, or societal expectations, can motivate behavior. The cognitive recognition of the importance of fulfilling these duties can drive someone to act against their current affective state.
  • Avoidance of Negative Outcomes: The desire to avoid negative consequences, such as failure, financial loss, or social disapproval, can be a powerful motivator. This is more about avoiding negative affects but can push someone to act even if they are not positively motivated.
  • Social Influence: Peer pressure or the desire to conform to group norms can motivate actions independently of personal interest or joy. The social context and the desire to be accepted or to maintain social relationships can lead to actions that are not initially desired.

These motivators operate through cognitive processes—evaluating the benefits and consequences of actions—and can override a lack of initial affective motivation. They work by appealing to an individual’s values, desires for outcomes, or avoidance of negative consequences, engaging different aspects of decision-making and motivation beyond the immediate affective responses.

Scott: Rewrite the above with this as a guide: 

ChattyG: (using the same guide as above)

Rewriting with the guidance on the foundational role of affect as described, it becomes clear that all forms of motivation, whether internal or external, are deeply intertwined with our innate affect system. Our actions are often driven by a complex interplay of affects that emerge from our biological and psychological makeup, combined with the nuances of our personal experiences and external stimuli. Recognizing this, let’s explore how external factors or cognitive evaluations, though not directly listed as affects, are nonetheless influenced by or influence our affective responses:

Rewards and Incentives: 

While these are external motivators, their effectiveness can be traced back to the anticipation of positive affects such as Interest-Excitement and Enjoyment-Joy. The prospect of gaining something desirable can trigger these affects, motivating actions without an immediate internal drive.

Goals and Aspirations

Setting and pursuing goals often stems from a combination of affects. Interest and excitement fuel our engagement with challenges and learning, while Enjoyment and Joy are anticipated in achieving these goals. The cognitive process of goal-setting is thus deeply rooted in our affective experiences, directing our actions by promising affective rewards.

Duty and Responsibility: 

These motivators connect closely with affects such as Fear-Terror, which helps avoid negative outcomes, and Shame-Humiliation, which helps maintain social bonds and prevent the impingement of positive affect. The sense of obligation or duty is a cognitive construct that mobilizes these affects to ensure compliance with social expectations or personal standards.

Avoidance of Negative Outcomes: 

The desire to avoid negative consequences leverages affects like Fear-Terror and Distress-Anguish. This motivation directly responds to the anticipation of negative affects, driving actions to prevent or mitigate undesirable situations.

Social Influence: 

Peer pressure and the desire for social conformity often engage a range of affects, from the positive reinforcement of Enjoyment-Joy in social acceptance to the avoidance of Shame-Humiliation in social rejection. Our social behaviors are thus significantly influenced by the affective responses elicited by our interactions and perceptions of belonging within a group.

Through this lens, it’s evident that even when we talk about motivators that are not explicitly labeled as affects, we are still discussing phenomena deeply entangled with our affective system. The affects—the maximizing of positive experiences or the minimizing of negative ones—underpin our motivations, shaping our actions, thinking, and decisions profoundly. This perspective emphasizes the inseparability of affect from all forms of motivation, highlighting the foundational role of innate affects in driving human behavior.

Scott: Given all this, what is the role of political ideology?

ChatGPT: Political ideology plays a multifaceted role in shaping individuals’ perspectives, actions, and societal structures, deeply intertwined with the affect system described by Tomkins. While political ideologies are cognitive constructs composed of beliefs, values, and attitudes toward the nature of people, society, and governance, they are also profoundly influenced by and influential on the innate affects that drive human behavior. Here’s how political ideology interacts with the affect system:

Amplification of Affects: 

Political ideologies can amplify specific innate affects, making them more salient in the consciousness of individuals and groups. For example, ideologies that emphasize individual liberty might amplify Interest-Excitement and Enjoyment-Joy effects by promoting personal autonomy and the pursuit of happiness. Conversely, ideologies focusing on societal threats or injustices amplify Fear-Terror or Anger-Rage, mobilizing individuals towards protective or corrective actions.

Guidance for Affective Responses: 

Ideologies provide a framework for interpreting events, actions, and policies that align with an individual’s or group’s affective experiences and expectations. This can influence how people feel about social issues, political figures, and governance, guiding their emotional responses (e.g., pride, outrage, solidarity) based on the ideological interpretation of information.

Shaping Affective Valence towards Others: 

Political ideologies can shape how we feel about others, influencing social bonds and affective responses towards different groups. Ideologies emphasizing inclusivity and equality may foster Enjoyment-Joy and Interest-Excitement in diversity and cooperation. At the same time, those that delineate in-groups and out-groups may provoke Fear-Terror, Anger-Rage, or even Disgust and Dissmell towards perceived outsiders.

Motivation for Action: 

Through their affective influence, political ideologies motivate individuals to engage in political actions, activism, and behaviors that align with their ideological beliefs. This can range from voting and peaceful protests (motivated by beliefs in democratic engagement and social change) to more aggressive actions if driven by intense Anger-Rage or Fear-Terror induced by ideological beliefs about perceived threats or injustices.

Affect Regulation and Ideological Scripts: 

Political ideologies can also serve as scripts, in Tompkins’ sense, for regulating affects. They provide narratives and justifications that help individuals manage their emotional responses to societal events, reinforcing or challenging their ideological beliefs. For example, an ideology that values social welfare may offer scripts for understanding and responding to social distress, guiding individuals toward actions aimed at alleviating societal inequities.

In sum, political ideology interacts with the innate affect system by providing a cognitive, affective, and emotional framework through which individuals interpret and respond to the world. It amplifies specific affects, guides affective responses, shapes social relations, motivates actions, and offers scripts for affect regulation, profoundly influencing both personal identity and collective behavior. This interplay between affect and ideology underscores the complex dynamics of human thought, emotion, and action in the political realm.

When considering the role of political ideology through the lens of affect theory, as outlined by Tomkins and applied to motivation and human behavior, political ideology can be seen as a collective script that organizes and interprets our innate affects in a social and political context. It guides how societies manage the collective experiences of their members, aiming to maximize positive affects (such as Interest-Excitement, and Enjoyment-Joy) and minimize negative affects (such as Distress, Anger, Fear, Terror) at a societal level.

Political ideologies provide frameworks for understanding the world, shaping collective actions, and managing the complex interplay of individual and collective needs, rights, and responsibilities. They influence how resources are allocated, how conflicts are resolved, and how communities address common challenges and opportunities, all of which directly affect the affective experiences of individuals within the society.

Given the emphasis on maximizing positive affects and minimizing negative ones, the optimal political ideology for humans would be one that:

  • Promotes Social Bonds and Cooperation: 
  • An ideology that values and fosters social connections, mutual aid, and compassion would enhance Enjoyment-Joy and Interest-Excitement. This could involve policies that support community-building, social welfare, and inclusive participation in the political process.
  • Encourages Personal and Collective Growth: Facilitating the conditions for continuous learning, creativity, and personal development aligns with the affect of Interest-Excitement. An ideology that supports education, arts, scientific research, and innovation can help individuals and societies thrive.
  • Provides Stability and Security: Addressing basic needs and protecting individuals from harm minimizes negative affects like distress, anger, and Fear. An optimal ideology would ensure access to healthcare, food security, and safety, creating a stable environment where individuals can pursue their interests without undue stress or fear.
  • Promotes Fairness and Justice: Addressing inequalities and ensuring that all members of society can achieve positive affects can minimize Shame-Humiliation and Anger-Rage. Policies that promote equality, justice, and fairness can reduce social tensions and foster a sense of belonging and respect.
  • Encourages Expression and Resolution of Conflicts: The ideal ideology would recognize the importance of expressing and managing negative affects constructively and provide mechanisms for peaceful conflict resolution, dialogue, and reconciliation, acknowledging the importance of all affects in the human experience.
  • Supports Environmental Sustainability: Recognizing the connection between humans and their environment, an optimal ideology would promote practices that protect and sustain natural resources, recognizing that a healthy environment is fundamental for the well-being and positive affective experiences of current and future generations.

No existing political ideology perfectly embodies all these principles, as they often represent ideals that societies can strive for. The complexity of human societies means that ideologies often evolve, incorporating new understandings of human needs and the conditions that promote well-being. An optimal ideology, therefore, would be dynamic, capable of adapting to new challenges and insights while maintaining a core commitment to maximizing positive affects and minimizing negative ones for all individuals within a society.

Scott: In the broadest interpretation of “capitalism” possible, how would you combine it with the ideology you suggested as optimal for humans?

ChattyG: Combining the broadest interpretation of “capitalism”—a system where trade, industries, and the means of production are largely or entirely privately owned and operated for profit—with the optimal ideology for humans, as described through the lens of maximizing positive affects and minimizing negative ones, involves integrating the dynamic forces of capitalism with social and ethical principles that prioritize human well-being and sustainability. Here’s how such a synthesis could be envisioned:

Socially Responsible Capitalism: 

In this model, businesses and economic activities are driven not only by the pursuit of profit but also by social and environmental responsibilities. Companies are encouraged, or mandated, to consider the impacts of their actions on all stakeholders, including employees, customers, communities, and the environment. This approach aligns to maximize positive affects like Enjoyment-Joy and Interest-Excitement, by creating value that benefits society.

Inclusive Economic Growth: 

Capitalism is harnessed to ensure economic growth benefits everyone, reducing inequalities and providing equitable opportunities for prosperity. Policies such as progressive taxation, social safety nets, and public investments in education, healthcare, and infrastructure support the broader distribution of wealth and resources. Promoting fairness and justice helps minimize negative affects such as Distress-Anguish and Shame-Humiliation.

Encouragement of Innovation and Creativity: 

Capitalism’s drive for innovation can be directed toward solving societal challenges, such as climate change, healthcare, and education. By incentivizing research and development in areas that contribute to the well-being of society, capitalism can fuel the Interest-Excitement affect and lead to advancements that improve quality of life.

Environmental Stewardship: 

Integrating sustainability into capitalist practices ensures that economic activities do not deplete or harm natural resources. This can be achieved through regulations, incentives for sustainable practices, and investments in green technologies. Recognizing the environment as a critical stakeholder in the capitalist system aligns with maintaining a healthy and supportive environment for positive human affects.

Democratic Participation and Accountability:

 Encouraging citizens’ active participation in economic decision-making processes ensures that the direction of economic development aligns with collective well-being. This involves transparency, accountability, and mechanisms for public input and oversight over corporate and governmental actions. Such participation helps foster a sense of belonging and influence, reducing feelings of alienation and powerlessness.

Cultural and Social Investment: 

Profits generated within a capitalist system are partly reinvested into cultural, educational, and social programs that enrich community life and support human development. This investment in public goods maximizes positive affects by promoting a vibrant, informed, and connected society.

This synthesis of capitalism and the optimal human-centered ideology requires balancing market forces and regulatory frameworks, ensuring that economic activities contribute positively to society. It advocates for a flexible, adaptive, and flexible capitalism attuned to the complex needs of human beings and the planet. It promotes a holistic approach to prosperity that values human experiences, well-being, environmental sustainability, and economic growth.

Scott: What would the best political system be for the above?


The best political system to support a synthesis of broad capitalism with an ideology focused on maximizing positive affects and minimizing negative ones, as previously described, would likely be a form of social democracy infused with elements of participatory governance and environmental stewardship. This system would combine capitalism’s efficiency and innovation-driven aspects with solid social policies and democratic engagement to ensure equitable outcomes and sustainability. Here are the key features of such a political system:

Mixed Economy: 

This system recognizes the benefits of a market economy for driving efficiency, innovation, and economic growth while acknowledging the state’s role in regulating markets, providing public goods, and redistributing wealth to reduce inequalities. It balances private enterprise with public ownership or control of critical sectors, such as healthcare, education, and utilities, to ensure universal access and prevent monopolies.

Social Welfare Policies: 

The system implements comprehensive social welfare policies to ensure all citizens have the foundation to pursue their interests and contribute to society. These include universal healthcare, affordable education, social security, and unemployment benefits, aiming to minimize negative affects like Distress-Anguish and Fear-Terror.

Environmental Regulation and Sustainability: 

Acknowledging the importance of a healthy environment for human well-being, this political system enforces strict environmental regulations and promotes green technologies and sustainable practices. It integrates ecological stewardship into economic and social planning, ensuring long-term sustainability.

Democratic Participation and Civic Engagement: 

The system encourages the active participation of citizens in the political process, not just through regular elections but also through participatory mechanisms such as referendums, citizen assemblies, and public consultations. This approach fosters citizens’ sense of agency, belonging, and responsibility, enhancing positive effects associated with social engagement.

Education and Innovation: 

Recognizing the role of education and innovation in societal progress, this political system invests heavily in education at all levels and research and development. It promotes a culture of lifelong learning and supports the creative and technological advancements that drive societal improvement.

Fair and Progressive Taxation: 

The system employs a fair and progressive taxation system to support social welfare programs and ensure equitable distribution of resources. Wealth and resources are redistributed in a way that minimizes inequalities, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to achieve positive affects.

International Cooperation: Understanding the global interconnectedness of economic, environmental, and social challenges, the system actively participates in international cooperation and multilateralism. It seeks to address global issues such as climate change, inequality, and peace through diplomacy and global governance structures.

This optimal political system blends the strengths of capitalism with the goals of social justice, environmental sustainability, and democratic engagement. It is adaptive and resilient, capable of addressing the complex challenges of the modern world while prioritizing the well-being and affective experiences of all individuals. Such a system is dynamic, continuously evolving in response to new knowledge, technological changes, and society’s changing needs and aspirations.

Scott: How would wealth be divided to maximize the benefit to all in this society?

ChattyG: In a society aiming to maximize the benefit to all, guided by principles that prioritize human well-being and sustainability alongside the dynamics of capitalism, wealth division would be approached with a focus on equity, access to opportunities, and the provision of essential services to ensure a high quality of life for all citizens. Here’s how wealth could be divided to achieve these objectives:

Progressive Taxation: Implement a progressive tax system where those with higher incomes contribute significantly more earnings than those with lower incomes. This approach aims to reduce income inequality and generate revenue for public services and welfare programs that benefit society.

Universal Basic Services: Allocate resources to ensure universal access to essential services such as healthcare, education, housing, and public transportation. By providing these services universally, society ensures that all individuals have the foundational support they need to thrive, regardless of their economic status.

Social Safety Nets: Design comprehensive social safety nets that include unemployment benefits, disability support, and pensions for retirees. Society’s collective wealth funds these programs. They are intended to protect individuals from poverty and allow them to maintain a decent standard of living in the face of life’s uncertainties.

Investment in Public Goods: Direct a portion of wealth towards investment in public goods that benefit all citizens, such as infrastructure, parks, libraries, and cultural institutions. These investments enhance the community’s quality of life and well-being and support positive social interactions.

Support for Innovation and Sustainable Development: Allocate resources to support research and development in fields that promise long-term benefits for society, such as renewable energy, medical research, and sustainable agriculture. Encouraging innovation in these areas drives economic growth and addresses critical societal challenges.

Economic Opportunities and Workforce Development: Use wealth to create economic opportunities and promote workforce development through vocational training programs, apprenticeships, and education. This helps ensure that all citizens have the skills and opportunities to participate fully in the economy.

Incentives for Responsible Business Practices: Implement tax incentives and grants for businesses that adopt sustainable practices, pay fair wages, and contribute positively to the community. This encourages companies to operate in ways that benefit society and the environment.

Global Cooperation and Aid: Commit a portion of wealth to international aid and cooperative efforts to address global challenges such as poverty, climate change, and disease. This acknowledges the interconnectedness of all nations and the importance of contributing to global well-being.

Wealth division in this ideal society is not just about redistributing income but also about creating an ecosystem where access to essential services, opportunities for personal and community development, and pursuing innovation and sustainability are prioritized. This approach recognizes that true prosperity comes not from wealth accumulation by a few but from creating a society where all individuals have the means to lead fulfilling lives and contribute to the common good.

Scott: How would education be maximized in such a society, with a focus on the economy, new tech development, an unwavering appreciation of the arts and humanities, and a priority toward creativity and free speech

ChattyG: The educational system would be comprehensive, adaptive, and inclusive in a society that aims to maximize education, focusing on the economy, new technology development, an unwavering appreciation of the arts and humanities, and a priority toward creativity and free speech. Here’s how such a system could be structured:

Holistic Curriculum: 

Develop a holistic curriculum that integrates traditional subjects with critical life skills, including financial literacy, environmental education, digital literacy, and media literacy. This approach ensures that students are prepared for the complexities of the modern world, able to navigate the economy, engage with new technologies, and appreciate the value of diverse forms of knowledge, including the arts and humanities.

Emphasis on Creativity and Critical Thinking: Incorporate pedagogical methods that emphasize creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving across all areas of study. Encourage project-based learning, where students can engage in hands-on projects across disciplines, including integrating STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) with the arts (STEAM), fostering innovation and creative solutions to real-world problems.

Universal Access to Education: 

Ensure universal access to high-quality education at all levels, from early childhood through higher education. This includes making education accessible or highly affordable, providing scholarships and financial aid for higher education, and ensuring that educational opportunities are accessible to all, regardless of socio-economic background.

Lifelong Learning and Adult Education: 

Promote lifelong learning opportunities for all citizens, including adult education programs, vocational training, and online learning platforms. This enables individuals to continually update their skills, adapt to new technological advancements, and pursue personal interests throughout their lives.

Cultural and Artistic Expression: 

Integrate arts education throughout the curriculum to foster an appreciation for cultural and artistic expression. Provide opportunities for students to participate in music, visual arts, theater, and dance, recognizing these activities as valuable disciplines on their own and essential components of a well-rounded education fostering empathy, creativity, and cultural understanding.

Freedom of Expression and Academic Freedom: 

Create an educational environment that upholds and protects freedom of expression and academic freedom. Encourage open discourse, critical inquiry, and the respectful exchange of ideas, preparing students to participate in democratic processes and engage with diverse perspectives.

Global Awareness and Cooperation: 

Incorporate global awareness into the curriculum, emphasizing the importance of international cooperation, understanding global challenges, and appreciating cultural diversity. Foster partnerships with educational institutions worldwide to facilitate exchange programs, joint research projects, and collaborative learning experiences.

Support for Educators: 

Invest in educators’ recruitment, training, and professional development. Recognize teaching as a highly valued profession, provide competitive salaries, and create supportive work environments that allow teachers to innovate and excel in their practice.

Technology Integration and Digital Literacy: 

Integrate technology into the classroom to enhance learning and ensure students are proficient in new technologies. This includes using educational software and online resources and teaching students about the ethical use of technology, data privacy, and the societal impacts of technological advancements.

Responsive and Adaptive Education System: 

Develop a responsive education system capable of adapting to new scientific discoveries, technological advancements, and societal changes. This requires ongoing research into effective educational practices, flexibility in curriculum design, and a willingness to innovate in response to emerging needs and opportunities.

By prioritizing a comprehensive, adaptive, and inclusive approach to education, such a society would nurture well-rounded individuals equipped to contribute to the economy, drive technological innovation, appreciate the arts and humanities, and actively engage in creative and free expression.

Scott: What would the role of corporations and businesses be in this society?

ChattyG: Corporations and businesses play a crucial role in a society that aims to maximize well-being, creativity, sustainability, and equitable economic growth. Their responsibilities would extend beyond generating profit for shareholders to encompass a broader commitment to social, environmental, and economic sustainability. Here’s how their role could be shaped:

Innovators for Sustainability: 

Businesses would lead the development and implementation of sustainable technologies and practices. This involves minimizing their environmental footprint and innovating in renewable energy, sustainable materials, and efficient waste management to contribute to global sustainability goals.

Employers of Choice: 

Corporations would prioritize fair labor practices, offering competitive wages, comprehensive benefits, and healthy work environments. They would invest in employee development and well-being, recognizing that a motivated, healthy, skilled workforce is critical to long-term success.

Community Partners: 

Beyond their economic activities, businesses would engage with their communities, contributing to local development through education programs, infrastructure improvements, and regional arts and culture support. This partnership approach ensures that the benefits of business success are shared with the broader community.

Promoters of Diversity and Inclusion: 

Embracing diversity and fostering an inclusive workplace would be essential for innovation, employee satisfaction, and social responsibility. Businesses would actively work to eliminate discrimination and ensure equal opportunities for all employees, regardless of their background.

Champions of Ethical Practices: 

Corporations would adhere to high ethical standards in all operations, from supply chain management to marketing and customer service. This includes transparency, integrity, and accountability, ensuring that they earn the trust of consumers, employees, and the public.

Collaborators in Public-Private Partnerships: 

Recognizing the complex challenges facing society, such as climate change, public health, and education, businesses would collaborate with government and non-profit organizations. They can contribute resources, expertise, and innovation through public-private partnerships to address these challenges effectively.

Advocates for Policy Change: 

Businesses can proactively advocate for policies that support sustainable development, social equity, and economic growth. This involves engaging in policy discussions, supporting legislation that aligns with societal goals, and being a voice for responsible capitalism.

Catalysts for Economic Diversification: 

By investing in new industries and technologies, businesses would help diversify the economy, reduce dependence on non-renewable resources, and create new opportunities for employment and growth.

Supporters of Arts and Humanities: 

Recognizing the importance of culture, creativity, and critical thinking for a healthy society, corporations would support the arts and humanities through sponsorships, partnerships, and programs that promote public access to cultural experiences and education.

Models of Corporate Citizenship: 

Ultimately, in this society, businesses would be viewed as corporate citizens with responsibilities that extend beyond profit-making. They would be expected to contribute positively to society, the environment, and the economy, aligning their operations and strategies with the broader goals of sustainable development and human well-being.

In this vision, corporations’ and businesses’ roles are integrally linked to the broader societal goals, operating within a framework that values economic success, social justice, environmental stewardship, and the overall quality of life.

An affective account of history, focusing on the nine innate effects, introduces a profound layer of understanding to studying history, especially in humanizing historical events and figures. This perspective enriches historical analysis in several ways:

Humanizing Historical Figures and Events

Distress-Anguish: Understanding this affect, evident from birth as a cry for help, illuminates the motivations behind historical figures who acted out of perceived desperation or need. Leaders initiating reforms, revolutions, or wars might have been driven by a deep sense of personal or collective distress, pushing them to drastic measures in hopes of alleviating a dire situation.

Interest-Excitement: This pull toward mastery and discovery can reframe our understanding of explorers, scientists, and artists throughout history. Their pursuits, often framed purely in terms of achievements or contributions, can be seen as driven by a fundamental affective response to curiosity and the thrill of discovery, which fueled their relentless pursuit of knowledge or creation.

Enjoyment-Joy: Recognizing this affect’s role in forming social bonds and commitments helps to appreciate the building of alliances, communities, and movements. The shared joy in successes or communal activities can reveal the underlying emotional bonds that unite people behind a cause or a leader, strengthening their collective identity and resolve.

Surprise-Startle: History is replete with moments of sudden change or unexpected events. An affective account recognizing surprise-startle as a reset button offers insights into how societies and individuals responded to unforeseen challenges or opportunities, momentarily pausing their usual activities to address the new situation.

Anger-Rage: As a demand to fix an overwhelming situation, this affect can shed light on the emotional underpinnings of conflicts and upheavals. Understanding historical disputes through collective anger or rage against injustices, oppressions, or threats can provide a deeper comprehension of the forces that propelled these events forward.

Fear-Terror: Identifying this affect in historical contexts helps explain the mechanisms behind defensive actions, retreats, or the collapse of societies facing existential threats. The intense desire to survive that fear can illuminate why certain decisions were made under pressure, often prioritizing immediate survival over long-term considerations.

Shame-Humiliation: The role of shame as an impediment to positive affect can explain the social dynamics within groups or the actions of individuals aiming to avoid or redress shame. This affective lens helps understand the stigma, social ostracization, or the lengths to which figures went to maintain honor or reputation.

Disgust and Dissmell: These affects, related to the impulse to expel or avoid noxious items, can metaphorically apply to societal rejection of specific ideas, practices, or groups. Analyzing historical aversions or reforms through these affects can reveal the emotional basis behind social changes or the marginalization of communities.

Implications for the Study of History

Integrating Tomkins’ affect theory into historical analysis humanizes historical figures and events and encourages a multidimensional approach to understanding history. This approach transcends traditional analyses focused on economic, political, or ideological factors, incorporating a crucial layer of human emotion and biological response. It necessitates a broader range of sources, including personal letters, art, and diaries, which may offer insights into the affective landscapes of past societies.

Moreover, this perspective champions an interdisciplinary approach, drawing on affective neuroscience to better understand the role of emotions in historical dynamics. It challenges historians to consider human behavior’s innate, biological aspects central to the motivations behind historical actions, leading to a richer, more nuanced understanding of the past.

Incorporating affects into historical analysis expands our comprehension of history and fosters a more profound empathy for the people within it. By recognizing the fundamental emotions that have driven human behavior across ages, we can better relate to those who lived in vastly different times and circumstances, bridging the gap between the present and the past.


Let’s focus on shame and humiliation. What likely critical historical events were 1) most likely shame-based, and 2) what is the likelihood that shame-based motivators do not mark any historical events?


Focusing on the role of shame and humiliation in history, we find these emotions deeply intertwined with countless pivotal events. As Tomkins understands, shame arises from thwarting positive affects such as interest-excitement or enjoyment-joy. It’s not just a personal emotion but a social one, influencing groups, nations, and cultures.

1) Historical Events Most Likely Shame-Based

Several critical historical events can be interpreted as being significantly influenced by shame and humiliation, both on individual and collective levels:

  • The Treaty of Versailles (1919): This treaty, which ended World War I, imposed harsh penalties and reparations on Germany. The national humiliation and economic burden it placed on the German people contributed to widespread feelings of shame and resentment. This emotional climate played a crucial role in the rise of nationalist movements, including the Nazi Party, leading to World War II.
  • The Fall of Constantinople (1453): The capture of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire marked the end of the Byzantine Empire, a significant event that symbolized a loss of Christian dominance in the Eastern Mediterranean. For the Byzantines and the wider Christian world, it was a moment of profound shame and humiliation, significantly altering the region’s political and religious landscape.
  • The Cultural Revolution in China (1966-1976): Initiated by Mao Zedong to preserve ‘true’ Communist ideology by purging remnants of capitalist and traditional elements from Chinese society, the Cultural Revolution involved widespread campaigns against the “Four Olds” (old customs, culture, habits, and ideas). Public humiliations, struggle sessions, and purges were daily, profoundly affecting the national psyche and altering social structures.

2) Likelihood of Historical Events Not Marked by Shame-Based Motivators

Given the complexity of human emotions and the multitude of factors driving historical events, it’s challenging to pinpoint events entirely devoid of shame-based motivators. However, some events may be less directly associated with shame:

  • Scientific Discoveries and Inventions: Many of the key moments in science and technology, such as the discovery of penicillin, the invention of the printing press, or the first moon landing, are primarily driven by curiosity, the pursuit of knowledge (interest-excitement), and the joy of discovery (enjoyment-joy). While the competitive aspect among scientists or nations can introduce elements of shame in being “second,” the core motivators are often positive affects.
  • Artistic and Cultural Renaissances: Periods of significant cultural flourishing, such as the European Renaissance, are driven by a revival of interest in the arts, science, and humanism. These movements are generally motivated by positive affects related to creativity, learning, and social connection. However, societal shifts can create contexts where shame and humiliation influence specific outcomes or reactions to art and ideas.

Acknowledging that shame and humiliation can play critical roles in many historical events is essential. Human history is also marked by events driven by a complex interplay of affects, including positive motivations like interest, excitement, and joy. However, the pervasive influence of affects means that even in events not primarily motivated by shame, the nuances of human emotion still play a significant role in shaping outcomes and human behavior.

Scott: I’m curious why affects do not play a significant role (if any) in studying history. Why might this be the case? Is it a political/ideological issue? Or a psychological one?

ChattyG: The relative sidelining of affects in studying history is intriguing, given their undeniable influence on human behavior, decision-making, and events. Several factors contribute to this oversight, blending political, ideological, psychological, and methodological considerations:

1. Historical Focus on External Events and Figures

Traditionally, history has concentrated on tangible external events, political movements, wars, treaties, and the actions of notable figures. This approach often emphasizes observable outcomes and decisions over the internal emotional states that motivate them. Affects, internal and subjective experiences, are more challenging to document and analyze with the same level of objectivity attributed to external events.

2. Methodological Challenges

The study of affects involves interpreting subjective experiences, which are only sometimes explicitly recorded in historical sources. Unlike political alliances or economic changes, affects are often inferred rather than directly observed, making applying the same empirical standards in other historical analyses challenging. Historians rely on written records, artifacts, and other tangible sources that may only sometimes capture the full spectrum of human emotions and motivations.

3. Perceived Dichotomy Between Emotion and Rationality

There’s a longstanding dichotomy in Western thought that contrasts emotion with rationality, often valuing the latter over the former in historical narratives. This bias can lead to an underestimation of the role of emotions in shaping historical events, as decisions and movements are often analyzed through the lens of rational, strategic considerations, sidelining the emotional drives that underpin human actions.

4. Psychological Complexity

The complex nature of affects and their relationship with cognition and behavior presents a challenge for historians. Affects can drive actions in ways that are not straightforward, influenced by individual personalities, cultural norms, and social contexts. Disentangling these influences requires a multidisciplinary approach, integrating psychology, sociology, and neuroscience with traditional historical analysis, which may only sometimes be feasible or within the scope of historical studies.

5. Political and Ideological Sensitivities

Acknowledging the role of affects can bring to the fore uncomfortable truths about historical figures and events, challenging national narratives, hero myths, and cultural identities. For instance, recognizing the impact of shame and humiliation in the rise of totalitarian regimes or colonial conquests can complicate traditional narratives of glory, honor, and rational political strategy. This sensitivity may deter historians from delving deeply into the affective dimensions of history.

6. Recent Shifts in Historical Scholarship

Despite these challenges, there’s a growing interest in the role of affects in history, driven by the broader emotional turn in the humanities and social sciences. This shift acknowledges that understanding people’s emotional lives in the past can offer deeper insights into their behaviors and decisions, leading to a more nuanced understanding of historical events.

Incorporating affects into historical analysis involves navigating complex methodological and interpretive challenges, but it also offers the promise of a richer, more human-centered approach to understanding the past. This emerging perspective might reveal new dimensions of historical events and figures and bridge the gap between human behavior’s emotional and rational aspects, offering a more integrated view of history.

Scott:  Bring up Jacques Attali’s theories. Do they help us understand the question I asked?


Jacques Attali, a French economist, writer, and political adviser, has developed several theories across his career that span economics, culture, and history. These theories focus on how societies evolve and how future scenarios can be anticipated through patterns of music, noise, and societal structures. One of his most notable theories is presented in “Noise: The Political Economy of Music” (1977), where he suggests that the evolution of music reflects the broader socio-economic structures of society and can predict future social and economic orders.

Attali’s theories, especially his concepts of “sacrifice,” “representation,” “repetition,” and “composition,” offer a unique lens through which to consider the role of affects in history. Although Attali does not explicitly focus on affects, his work implies their underlying presence and influence in several ways:

Sacrifice and Representation

Attali discusses music in its early phase as a form of “sacrifice,” where it is intertwined with violence, rituals, and the affirmation of community bonds, reflecting collective affects such as fear, awe, and a sense of belonging. As music evolves into “representation,” it mirrors societal structures, embodying its time’s power dynamics, beliefs, and emotional states. This transition suggests that collective emotions and affects are foundational to societal cohesion and transformation, underpinning the rituals and representations that define cultural identities.


In the “repetition” phase, Attali points to the commodification of music and its role in reinforcing the status quo, reflecting and shaping societal desires, fears, and aspirations. The mass production and consumption of music serve not just as entertainment but as a means of controlling and directing societal affects, channeling them in ways that support existing power structures. This aspect of Attali’s theory highlights how affects are managed, amplified, or suppressed through cultural products, influencing collective behavior and identities.


Looking to the future, Attali envisions a phase of “composition,” where individuals regain agency over the creation and dissemination of music, fostering a more participatory, creative, and decentralized culture. This vision suggests a society where affects and emotions are not merely shaped by external forces but are actively engaged and expressed by individuals, pointing to the potential for a more affectively aware and responsive societal structure.

Connection to the Study of History and Affects

Attali’s theories can indirectly help us understand the importance of affects in history by illustrating how cultural forms like music reflect and influence society’s emotional and affective underpinnings. His work suggests that to comprehend historical dynamics fully, one must consider not only the political and economic factors but also how cultural expressions embody, evoke, and manipulate collective affects. Attali’s emphasis on the transformative potential of culture and technology hints at how societies might evolve by recognizing and harnessing the power of affects.

In conclusion, while Jacques Attali’s work does not directly address the role of affects in history, his theories provide a framework for understanding how cultural phenomena, particularly music, can serve as a mirror to societal affects and emotions, shaping and reflecting the underlying dynamics of human societies. His insights into the evolution of music and its socio-economic implications offer a unique perspective on the interplay between culture, power, and emotion, enriching our understanding of the affective dimensions of historical change.


So, help me understand the role affects would play according to him. Is it that affects are expressed through music and other artistic expressions?


According to Jacques Attali’s theories, mainly as explored in “Noise: The Political Economy of Music,” affects indeed play a significant role, albeit implicitly, in how societies express themselves, evolve, and understand their histories. Although Attali primarily focuses on music as a cultural and socio-economic phenomenon, his insights can be extended to other forms of artistic expression and their relation to affects.

Music as a Mirror and Molder of Affects

Attali suggests that music reflects society’s current state and is a harbinger of future social and economic structures. In this sense, music can be seen as both expressing and shaping societal affects:

  • Expressing Affects: Music encapsulates individuals’ and societies’ emotional and affective states. It can convey complex emotions and feelings, from joy and love to despair and anger, that might not be easily expressed through other forms of communication. Music, in its various forms throughout history, has mirrored the collective anxieties, aspirations, and moods of the societies that produced it.
  • Shaping Affects: Attali argues that music also has the power to influence and shape the affects of its listeners. Music can reinforce societal norms and values through repetition and commodification, evoke specific emotional responses, and manipulate desires and behaviors. In this way, music becomes a tool for societal control and potential liberation, depending on how it is produced, distributed, and consumed.

Affects in the Four Stages of Music’s Evolution

Attali’s delineation of music’s evolution into stages of “sacrifice,” “representation,” “repetition,” and “composition” also suggests different ways in which affects are involved:

  • Sacrifice: In early societies, music was closely tied to ritual and collective identity, directly engaging with the community’s fears, hopes, and sense of belonging. These rituals were affect-laden, fostering communal bonds and collective identities through shared emotional experiences.
  • Representation: As music becomes a representation, it reflects society’s hierarchical structures and power dynamics, often embodying the dominant culture’s ideals and aspirations while hinting at underlying tensions and conflicts.
  • Repetition: In the mass production and consumption era, music reflects and shapes consumer desires and identities, often manipulating affects to reinforce the status quo or sell commercial products. However, it also holds the potential for subversion, as repetitive forms can become sites of resistance and alternative affective expressions.
  • Composition: Attali envisions a future where individuals regain control over music production, suggesting a more democratized and participatory cultural landscape. This phase implies a society more attuned to and expressive of diverse affects, where individuals actively shape their emotional and affective environments through creative acts.


While Jacques Attali does not explicitly focus on affects, his theory implies that music and other artistic expressions play a crucial role in articulating and influencing human societies’ emotional and affective dimensions. Through music, societies express complex emotional states, negotiate social bonds, and envision future possibilities. In this light, understanding the role of affects in history and society requires attention to how art and culture both reflect and shape human emotions across time.

Scott: Does Ferdinand Braudel help with this?

ChattyG: Ferdinand Braudel, a leading figure of the Annales School of historical writing, introduced a groundbreaking historical approach that significantly diverges from traditional event-based narratives. His methodology emphasizes the longue durée, or the long term, focusing on the slow and often imperceptible forces shaping history over centuries, such as geographical, social, economic, and cultural factors. While Braudel’s work doesn’t directly address the role of affects, in the same way Jacques Attali does with music and cultural phenomena, his approach offers a complementary lens through which the importance of affects in history can be understood.

Braudel and the Longue Durée

Braudel’s concept of the longue durée invites us to consider how deep, structural forces influence human behavior and societal developments over time. These forces include the physical environment, material culture, social and economic systems, and prevailing ideologies. While Braudel himself did not explicitly focus on affects as a subject of historical analysis, his methodology suggests that affects, as enduring aspects of human experience, could also be understood as part of these deep, underlying currents that shape societies over the long term.

Affects Within Braudel’s Framework

If we integrate affects into Braudel’s framework, several connections emerge:

  • Geographical and Environmental Factors: The physical environment influences human emotions and behaviors, shaping collective identities and cultural practices. For instance, the harshness of a landscape might foster a communal spirit of resilience or a particular attachment to a place, which in turn affects historical trajectories.
  • Social Structures and Everyday Life: Braudel’s focus on the quotidian, or everyday life, suggests that ordinary people’s routine interactions and social practices are vital to understanding the broader fabric of history. Affects play a crucial role here, as they are woven into the fabric of daily life, influencing social bonds, hierarchies, and cultural norms.
  • Economic Systems and Material Life: Economic conditions can profoundly affect emotional states and collective moods, from the anxieties wrought by economic downturns to the aspirations driven by economic opportunities. Braudel’s attention to material culture and economic systems as foundational elements of societal change implies that the affects associated with these domains are also significant drivers of history.

Complementarity of Approaches

While Braudel might not provide a direct analysis of affects, his historical methodology complements approaches that do, such as Attali’s. Where Attali might emphasize the expressive and predictive power of cultural phenomena like music in reflecting and shaping societal affects, Braudel’s framework helps us understand how these expressions are grounded in deeper, slower-moving historical currents. Together, these perspectives suggest a layered understanding of history, where immediate events and cultural expressions are seen as part of broader, longer-term processes that include the enduring influence of affects.


Incorporating the concept of affects into Braudel’s longue durée approach encourages us to consider how deep, structural forces and everyday practices shape and are shaped by human emotions and affective experiences over time. Though Braudel does not explicitly address affects, his methodology opens up avenues for exploring how they underpin the slow-moving currents of history, from geographical and environmental conditions to social and economic systems. This approach can enrich our understanding of history by highlighting the complex interplay between structural forces and the affective dimensions of human life.