The Empowerment of Emotions: How Emotive Power is Sidelining Physical Security


Fear. Empathy. Exhilaration. Insecurity. Joy.


Emotions. Emotions are naturally bound up within human instinct and are essential to the way in which individuals engage and live their daily lives. However, expression of such emotions is often met with denial. The fear of not being able to control a sensory and reactive experience empowers emotions within the realm of international affairs, whether it be rousing the troops through national sentiments or otherwise empathetic responses to humanitarian disasters. However, in the new technological era where imagery has become the core correspondent of relaying news from across the world, do emotions take on a new empowered role? Does its partnership with imagery render military capabilities and genuine physical power less effective on the world stage?

Image courtesy of Pixabay, ©2014, some rights reserved.

Within the current unipolar international structure, projections of military capabilities and physical power take a back seat to the manipulation of a viewer’s perspective. This, alongside current affairs imagery as a tool of policy, highlights a new understanding of the impact emotions have upon security. Indeed, a move towards ‘presidential’ politics centred on party leaders and animated one-upmanship, rather than attempting to deal with the pressing political situations, places emotions at the centre of political affairs. Recent examples of this contention included heated discussions of Prime Minister Theresa May’s dancing ability and its influence upon the image, position and power of Britain. This example is important in terms of its engagement with wider audiences and how fact and political information has become second to artistic representations of imagery, video and easily accessible media.

The new technological era has empowered emotions as never before, imagery serving as a repetitive reminder of current affairs and an easily accessible way of tapping into goings-on around the world. In other words, it becomes the means by which the global populace gain information and develop their understanding and reactions to current events. Contrary to previous transactional uses, the use of emotions opens an array of interpretations and narratives through images and viewer response. This creates a new dynamic and fluid meaning to how a state can provide security, and indeed how we define what security is. Is it a physical empowerment or is it rather the actual emotion or feeling of being secure? Moreover, its alignment with imagery out-balances the power of physical capabilities as it merely becomes a representation and interpretation of what an individual holds as important to their beliefs of security. Indeed, background knowledge and contextual understandings of an event are bound up within emotional responses. Therefore, emotions undermine the common belief of security arriving from projections of strength and military capabilities and advance that the feeling of being secure is a vastly more complex notion which political leaders and heads of states can manipulate and presents further issues for the future of state security.

A key example of this shift can be seen through the United States engagement within the ‘War on Terror’. Indeed, under President George W Bush a movement to binary comparison of ‘you are either with us or against us’ alongside patriotism and signs of physical power were prioritised as the core focus of ways to tackle terrorism. However, President Donald Trump’s explicit use of Twitter alters this perspective by both placing the President on the same speaking platform as his audiences and in turn making him nominally more accountable to his audience. Moreover, it provides an alternative way of engaging with and discussing current affairs and encourages an environment where emotion increasingly serves as a substitute for fact.  President Trump has used Twitter to reduce terrorists to ‘losers’ showing a further shift towards emotive politics, in this case arguably a substitute for physical security policy. In addition, his continuous rhetoric of “Make America Great Again” and “America First” is inherently bound up within assumptions of attempting to unite the country and strengthen it through creating the coherent ‘inside’ group against the binary opposition of an ‘enemy’. Earlier this month Trump tweeted of migration;

“There are a lot of CRIMINALS in the caravan. We will stop them. Catch and Detain! Judicial Activism, by people who know nothing about security and the safety of our citizens, is putting our country in great danger. Not good!”

The movement towards emotional manipulation and the capacity for emotions therefore becomes extremely influential in terms of constructing individual perceptions of events. Indeed, with social media being the main output of current affairs, it reduces the importance of physical state power. Rather it equates security with the softer emotional realm, no longer limited to concerns of physical power but how individuals are able to define multiplicities and complexities of security within the state through their ability to react, emotionally engage and mould security issues.

Therefore, strength and security are no longer primarily acquired through traditional projections of military capabilities but through tapping into and acknowledging the potential which resides in the emotional connotations of security. Moreover, the empowerment of emotive imagery undermines orthodox power by allowing the masses greater representation and centrality. However, is dangerous side-effect is the regular blurring of fact and fiction. There is no true and universal answer to emotion. In this regard there can be no expected truths to security. Ultimately this makes our information-based digital world an increasingly difficult place to project conventional strength. In going forward within a world defined by imagery and reactionary responses it is important that recognition is given to the power of emotion in moulding understanding of security and undermining the influence of traditional military capabilities. In other words, that fear, empathy, exhilaration, insecurity or joy that one feels within everyday life needs to be grasped, embraced and decoded in understanding what is at stake within current international security.

Banner Image: Image courtesy of Pixabay, ©2017, some rights reserved.