In Praise of Emotion

A new book argues that we've not been giving our feelings enough credit, or a big enough role in shaping our lives. I find the thesis shocking, but the review is glowing.


douglas said...

"Feelings have not been given the credit they deserve as motives, monitors, and negotiators of human cultural endeavours."
This may in fact be true- we often seek reasonable explanations for things that are more rooted in emotional bases. If the premise is a holding of the emotional above the rational, I'd disagree earnestly, but if the argument is that we've not spent enough time learning to really understand the emotional drivers of our behavior, I might well agree.

This might be especially good reading if we who hold ourselves as tending to be more rational in our efforts to persuade others could learn to better reach the emotional side of the person we seek to persuade- it's a powerful and important aspect of persuasion, and for too long we've been largely ceding that terrain to the enemy.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I wish I could find again the article I read in the last few years that described the complete inability to navigate the world and even think of those who had neurological injuries that prevented emotion. They were unable to have any perspective or proportion. It reminded me a bit of Chesterton's comment that a madman was not someone who had lost his reason, but had lost everything but his reason.

Grim said...

That's a good piece by Chesterton, although I've heard it sharply criticized at times. It gives you something to think about.

I don't doubt that emotions play an important role in our lives and thoughts. What I find shocking is the thesis that we haven't been paying attention to it. I would have said that the story of the last five decades was one of intense attention to the emotional life; certainly since the 1950s, when the trends that flowered in the 1960s began to become important to the culture. But arguably going back further, to Freud at least. I might have said our focus on the irrational and emotional had long ago come to dominate our picture of how human beings work.

Elise said...

AVI - I'm re-reading The Happiness Hypothesis by Haidt and he speaks of this. He cites a book by A. Damasio (Descartes' error) and an article by Damasio,, in Behavioral Brain Research, 1990). What I understand Haidt to be saying is that since such people have no "Like-Dislike" response, they have to think their way through everything. We can't do that on a sustained basis - it's exhausting - and so decisions are impossible for them.

More generally, what I get from the Haidt book - which sounds similar to what the review of this book is saying - is not so much that we're not paying attention to the emotional life but rather that we continually fool ourselves about which part of us is in charge. Haidt uses the metaphor of the rider (roughly our conscious mind) and the elephant (emotion, instinct, etc.): the rider is only in charge if the elephant pretty much wants to go where the rider wants to go. To maintain the illusion of control, our conscious mind comes up with reasons why we're going where the elephant wants.

I think the woman with the car/redneck story in an earlier post can be understood in these terms. She is furious, enraged, etc., at the outcome of the election. She explains why it's rational for her to feel that way. But the emotion came first; the explanations came afterward. She may think she needs to "figure out" a way to be less angry but what she really needs is to "retrain the elephant." And she's struggling to rationally explain her "Like" toward the man who helped her since it doesn't line up with her explanations of her anger.

I have to admit I have an immediate and visceral "Dislike" response to this view of myself - although it certainly explains other people quite well. :+)

Ymarsakar said...

Americans have been underestimating emotional intelligence for awhile. The Left talks about feelings, but their general zombie IQ isn't all that great.

Intuition, going by the heart, is more focused on in the Far East than in the West.

What Leftist Marxist Russian disinformation propaganda did was divorce the meaning of the word from the meaning of the emotion. Thus people thought they were debating about the importance of emotions but in reality, they were just sucked into the illusion and the propaganda. They weren't talking about content wise, something completely rational or irrational, but had nothing to do with the emotions of the human heart.

In other words, Americans were being manipulated, just as with gaystapo + marriage and abortion and everything else under the sun.