THE PHILOSOPHY OF EMO

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In his master work, I and Thou, the existentialist philosopher, Martin Buber, wrote “In the beginning is the relation.”

This was not a new idea. The first known Western philosopher, Anaximander (Greece, 5th Century BC) had a similar concept. He believed that the world we experience exists solely because of relationships. And not just any relationships!

For Anaximander, a whole world comes into being when we let others live their lives while they are doing the same for us. Sounds simple enough. But there’s a catch. This can’t be the result of some sort of negotiated pact; it only works if each of us is letting the other live, freely and of our own accord, with no expectation of any sort of pay back.

Buber’s idea is also found in Christian scriptures. The Gospel of John begins with the famous line, “In the beginning was the Word…” John’s “Word” is Jesus but, as we find out later, Jesus is love and love is freely allowing others to develop to their full capactiy, even if they make mistakes along the way. Same idea!

But back to Buber. For Buber, I come to be only because of relationships and you come to be only because of relationships. In philosophical terminology, Buber’s idea could be summarized as “the relationship precedes the things that are related”. In other words, I come to be only because of the relationships I have and you come to be only because of the relationships you have. When you and I both come to be because of the same relationship, Buber calls that an “I-Thou” relationship. We might call it love.

Today, we are surrounded by people who do not think this way at all. They think mainly of themselves and, when they do think of others, they think of them as something to control or exploit, something to be enjoyed for a moment and then discarded when that moment is over and the relationship is no longer convenient. Buber calls this sort of relationship “I-it”.

EMO is a rebellion against I-it relationships. EMOs live, or try to live, in authentic I-Thou relationships, relations that Buber sees as the foundation of everything that is.

This explains why gender and sexual orientation are not the basis of EMO relationships. While folks looking to form I-it relationships seek out other folks with the same sexual orientation and the appropriate gender, EMOs are concerned primarily with the relationship itself. Sure, sexual orientation and gender may come to play a part in the development of a relationship, but the relationship itself is what’s primary: “In the beginning is the relation.”

It is hard to live an I-Thou life in an I-it world. I-it folks see themselves as primary and everyone else as secondary. They see themselves as the foundations of their own worlds; they see everything else as dependent on them for its existence…or at least for its value and meaning.

Unfortunately, the lives of authentic EMOs are not so easy. Because “relation precedes the things that are related”, EMOs are totally vulnerable all of the time. Unlike their I-it cousins, they have no walls around their egos to protect themselves from hurt. They are like medieval cities with their gates always up and their bridges always down, even in times of war. Or, as Jimmy Eat World sang in the EMO anthem album, Bleed American, “When I let you closer/I only want you closer/You rip my heart right out” (Your Home).

Because the relationship is primary and the person secondary, EMOs do not have the ready made ego-masks that help others get by. As a result many EMOs struggle to understand and appreciate themselves. Sadly, this can lead to depression and, in some cases, self-destructive activity. That is the dark side of EMO; it’s entirely understandable…but it’s not what EMO is.

EMO is relationship and relationship is joy. The EMO self is the authentic self, but EMOs struggle to accept and appreciate themselves in a world that is often hostile and always smug and self-assured. But EMO philosophy lies at the heart of Western philosophy and even Western religion. It is the I-Thou relationships of EMOs that prophets and philosophers have celebrated since the beginning of recorded human thought. In a superficial world that rejects EMO, it is the task of EMO to rediscover its deep roots and use those roots to nourish those who practice its philosophy, helping them to accept and celebrate themselves.