Science and logic texts teach us that emotion is a mental scourge, something engaged in by soft and weak thinkers who lack the know-how or the courage to rely on the mandates of pristine reasons to shape opinion and public policy. Untold numbers of women have been castigated for being “so emotional.” Many of us gush at the cold, incisive reasons of Sherlock Holmes, who boasts of his transcendence of emotions.
Today we wonder how so many Americans can be beguiled by politicians suffused by heat and anger. Any reasoning they use is the handmaiden of pre-selected conclusions flowing from fear and the most embarrassing emotional commitments the species possesses.
Clearly, we, children of Descartes, must shield ourselves from the polluting effects of emotions.
I find that attitude embarrassingly simplistic. To point out that a road to belief CAN mislead is not a substantive basis for denigrating that pathway. May I enlist an ally, Aristotle, to preface the rest of this post: All instruments can be misused, even my beloved reason.
In the 1960’s far too many intellectuals seemed shocked at the abuse of reason by the highly literate advisers who surrounded President Kennedy. Their religion of reason was sent spinning by the “reasonable” cruelty and miscalculations of the Kennedy/Johnson foreign policy. Much like Obama’s advisers, they were all from elite schools and were noticeably more erudite than typical Presidential advisers. “How could such reasonable people be blinded by the fog of war? How could they be so naive and beguiled by simplistic metaphors like ‘domino theory’ that promised the devastating downfall of all Southeast Asian countries should the first country/domino, Viet Nam, ‘fall’ to the communists? How could our precious reason so completely let us down?
The reaction of many vocal college students was to explicitly abandon reason as an insidious basis for decisions and behavior. In other words, the dramatic failure of an instance of reasoning persuaded them to decry the cold/unfeeling basis for belief known as reason and evidence.
Quite the over-reaction, right? But if we see that error, why are we so quick to treat emotion like a leper banned to the outskirts of civilized discourse?
If you are intrigued by this question, I urge you to read any book by Chris Hedges. I recently finished Empire of Illusion:The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle and The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress.
If Bernie Sanders owned a major media outlet, I predict that Chris Hedges would be the news director. Hedges is a veteran of 2 decades of reporting for major news outlets from South America, and the Middle East where he viewed the United States from the perspective of those we bombed, dominated, tortured, impoverished, and imprisoned in foreign lands. His prose is excoriating and especially vitriolic when analyzing what passes for left wing thought in America. For example, listen to the vapid thinking of the “left-wing” voice on Morning Joe , Mika Brzezinski, recollect the banning of Harry Bellafonte from Reverend King’s funeral because he had called Bush a terrorist, and consider the reluctance of liberal networks to listen to the voice of that socialist fellow, Ralph Nader.
Chris Hedges embraces ethical journalism, a journalism that is angry at injustice, disappointed at illiteracy, and protective of the weak. In other words, he makes the case in his writing for a reasonable use of emotion.
As I do, he sees objective journalism as a failure to acknowledge our humanity and the biases that shackle it and the aspirations that elevate it.