Saturday, January 16, 2010

Problems of the Failure of Reason to Predict Emotions.

We value the ‘rational’ life because there’s a certain logic and consistency to reason. We prefer order to chaos–well, maybe not in rock music and sports(though they too require basic order or form at the core. Thus, we have a tendency to project reason onto emotions. Since it may be possible to predict result B following from action A, there is a temptation to believe that action A will not only lead to result B but produce emotion B. But, the emotional side of the equation has its own logic–or illogic, as the case may be.
Long ago, I had a friend who took home a stray puppy. He intended to take care of the pitiful creature marked by much suffering. But, the puppy had too many behavioral problems, and my friend gave up on the dog. So, he thought the most humane thing would be to take it to the anti-cruelty society and have it put to sleep. He figured or rationally predicted he wouldn’t feel so bad since the dog would be peacefully laid to rest and suffer no longer.
It didn’t turn out that way. His emotional prediction had been way off the mark. He went into a deep funk. He thought he was doing the wretched dog a favor–since he’d saved it from homelessness and sent it into eternal sleep–, but he was overcome with grief and guilt the moment he called the anti-cruelty society and confirmed what happened. It was no surprise that the puppy would be put to sleep since it had behavioral problems. Indeed, his mood was rather upbeat prior to the phone call. But, the news made his emotions spiral downward. He got me worried because he called me everyday to talk about it for like 3 months. It got me depressed too–if only because I had better things to do than emote over the phone with some whimpering dude. At any rate, his rational prediction about his emotional state proved to be utterly wrong.
I knew of a similar case involving a young woman who had an abortion. She was one of those annoying liberal types, but I’d known her pretty well in college, and we kept in touch for awhile. She was working, doing okay, and living the sex-and-the-city lifestyle before the stupid show even aired. Anyway, to make things short, she got pregnant from unprotected sex and decided to abort the child. She asked me for advice, and I didn’t really offer any except to say she ought to do what she felt was right. She figured she was too young to have a kid–and besides she didn’t really care for the guy and vice versa–, and the smart(and modern) thing seemed to be rid of the kid. Of course, she knew it would be an unpleasant experience but still thought she would get over it quickly. Now, it is true that many women–especially Negresses and white trash–suffer no great emotional pain following an abortion, but in the case of my friend, the emotional prediction had been the equivalent of an air ball. Like the guy who had the puppy put to death, she was overcome with severe depression and guilt-borne trauma for a long time.
Now, consider feminism and all that it promised. The radical new order would liberate women, raise their consciousness, bring forth new happiness, and so on. But, how did a lot of women really end up feeling in the feminist and post-feminist era? They found out that life is still what it is–a bitch–, and there is no pot of gold–nor even potted ham–at the end of the rainbow.
Many women had thought they would do just fine without men and children, but approaching their 40s they looked around and grew envious of women with family. They began to feel alone, isolated, and dejected. They thought they would be young and vibrant forever and surrounded by ‘sisters’, but not only were their youth passing away but many ‘sisters’ had gotten married and were busy with their own families. ‘Liberated’ women tried to compensate for their loneliness by striving for more money and power, but they felt emptier and emptier. (Besides, the fact remains that only a tiny percentage of the population–male or female–will make big bucks or gain major power. Most people, despite their effort, will remain working stiffs–even if relatively well-paid working stiffs.)
The point the emotional aspect didn’t work out as the feminists had predicted. Feminists had been convinced of the ideological and rational infallibility of their movement and thought that human–or womyn–emotions would follow suit upon changes in the socio-economic realm. In truth, emotions, though connected to and shaped by the rational mind, swirl in a deeper and darker pool.
Emotions have a way of overriding, violating, subverting, or defacing ideological or rational justifications and certitudes. Thus, no ideology or thought system–including religions–can map out or predict human emotions perfectly. There are predictable emotions to be sure: if you lose all your life savings, you’ll be very upset–no shit. But, more often than not, ideologies or rationales tend to repress or deny certain deep or basic emotions that make up our inner souls.
Thus, communism did not bring forth happiness for all ‘comrades’ as it had predicted. Thus, a man who thinks money and/or power brings happiness may find misery upon success. Thus, a woman who chooses a career over home & hearth may not be happy in the rat race. Conversely, a woman who tells herself that she will be content as a simple housewife may end up feeling depressed and trapped.
The important thing is to know that different people have different personalities just like no two cats or dogs are ever alike. Thus, what may be true of one person may not be true of another person. Different people feel varying degrees of sensitivity, guilt, self-doubt, confidence, and so forth. Ideologies or rational systems argue that there is a universal or collective one-size-fits-all for all people or for everyone within the group. This simply isn’t so.
Richard Nixon thought his political career was over when he lost to Kennedy and then the gubernatorial race. In 1968, he saw his star rise again and CONSCIOUSLY+ thought he would be truly happy and grateful IF he won the presidency. Yet, he was not a happy president, and his emotional instability led to the catastrophe of Watergate. He–and those closest to him–had thought the presidency would make a new person out of him, but it didn’t. He turned darker and more morose.
In 2008, many Americans thought a bright new era would be upon the nation with the election of Barack Obama. They didn’t merely support Obama politically but emotionally invested their heart and soul into Obama-ism and Obama movement. Many educated and intellectual people who prided themselves on their rationalism THOUGHT Obama would change everything. If people who take pride in their rationalism ‘think’ and feel like this, what does it say about the relation between the mind and emotion? Not only is the mind often wrong about the future of one’s emotions but what passes for rational thought is, as often as not, drugged by emotions.
Indeed, even if Obama had done everything to the delight of stupid white liberals, many ‘progressives’ were bound to feel let down by the fact that Obama there is no happy ending in life.
Sometimes, emotional letdowns follow rationalist promises because promises are often not forthcoming–true of communism and other radical ideologies–, but even when the promises are delivered the emotions one had expected fail to materialize or may even be eclipsed by opposite emotions. Why do so many dream marriages fall apart? For example, celebrities get all excited about marrying someone equally famous in a glamorous star-studded ceremony, but the minute it’s over, it’s a downer. Or, consider the movie "The Graduate" where Benjamin Braddock thinks he’ll be happy forever if he wins the girl, but he feels empty when he does. This is all common knowledge, but in the realm of politics we keep foolishly dreaming of Hope and Change, the City on the Hill, or some kind of Deliverance. Even the most secular, well-educated, and rational people think higher happiness can be attained through utopianism. Perhaps, the Founding Fathers were wise to talk of ‘pursuit of happiness’ than happiness itself. They didn’t promise happiness to the American people through government or ideology. They only said people should be free to pursue their own happiness, with an added implication that happiness is really in the chase than in the destination of which there is no final one.
Perhaps, there’s something in the human psyche that thinks and feels this way. Maybe, evolution favored this kind of trait. After all, those who get all excited about the prospect of great victory, triumph, happiness, and riches are more likely to be motivated to go out and achieve something. Upon reaching his goal, he may feel an emotional letdown as his emotional expectations hadn’t materialized, but the letdown may motivate him to pursue yet another Great dream, vision, or idea. Consider that Alexander the Great didn’t initially plan to conquer the entire world. But, every time he conquered a new piece of land, he felt empty, a kind of ‘been there, done that’ before a Roman coined the term. Thus, he had to keep looking for newer conquests. Alexander learned that the happiness was in the searching, in the expectation of great things. Same must be true of politicians and businessmen. They seek the dream of happiness by pursuit of ever greater power or wealth, and they gain our support or money by promising us greater happiness if we vote for them or buy their products/services. Things nearby look commonplace while things far away–in time or distance–seem alluring. So, you go for new discoveries, conquests, or progress, but once you have them and the initial novelty passes, they too become commonplace or depressing. Thus, you set out for yet newer discoveries and conquests. Genghis Khan was probably motivated by a similar kind of mindset.
In this sense, it is our profound unwisdom–search for the impossible El Dorado–which drives us toward newer and greater(and sometimes reckless and dangerous)possibilities. Of course, even if we were to find an actual El Dorado, we shall never find an emotional El Dorado for human nature turns gold into lead upon contact. King Midas got his wish, and everything he touched turned into gold which became common as lead and burdensome as chains around his legs.
In a way, this is necessary for our minds need to achieve emotional equilibrium upon finding happiness or pleasure. If we were excited or thrilled by our achievements or acquisitions 24/7, our neurons would burn up from too much ecstasy. A star that shines brightly burns out quicker. If a person had a non-stop orgasm, his or her nerves would turn to cinder soon enough. Why do meth addicts deteriorate so quickly? Meth heightens their sense of pleasure, in the process overcharging and frying out the nervous system and much else.
Anyway, the thing is to know that what you think you’ll feel and what you’ll really feel are two different things.

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