Reality doesn’t give a damn how you feel.
A long time ago, I was talking with a woman and the discussion turned to abortion. I don’t remember our exact words, but she said something to the effect that she was viscerally opposed to anything that curtailed women’s right to abortions. I do remember her use of the words “visceral” and “viscerally” because she used them repeatedly, emphasizing her stance.
I asked if the right to control one’s body implied a right to control one’s mind, and the right to control the products of one’s body and mind. Should freedom be general, or does it apply only to the specific case of freedom to abort a fetus? I didn’t get a response, other than one last exclamation that she was viscerally opposed to anything that curtailed women’s right to abortions.
The dictionary defines “visceral” as: “Relating to deep inward feelings rather than to the intellect.” I was trying to get the woman to define the principle supporting her assertion and perhaps extend it to other issues. She had a deep inward feeling, that’s all, no principle, a product of the intellect.
It was some years before I realized that “visceral” was a key to understanding the world. Its definition is not just a definition, it’s a description of how most people perceive and interpret reality most of the time—with their emotions rather than their intellects.
That isn’t an original insight, it’s been around for centuries (most of my “original” insights have been around for centuries). Aristotle defined rhetoric’s three persuasive appeals as logos, pathos, and ethos: the mind, the emotions, and the conscience.
The leaders throughout history who incited their followers to storm ramparts, mount invasions, or march on crusades appealed to pathos—emotions—hatred of the enemy and love of family, clan, country, or God. The led only encountered the often-grim realities after they’d signed up.
Emotional appeals kicked into high gear with the development of mass markets and advertising. The first tenet of marketing copywriting is you sell to emotions, not reason. Reasons come later, after you’ve emotionally hooked the
mark prospect and he is rationalizing his decision.
List a car’s many fine features and make bullet-proof logical arguments that they’re better than anybody else’s and you might sell a few. Show the car in front of a high-class hotel, the owner holding the door for a smoking hot babe, her breathtaking legs emerging seductively from the car as he takes her hand, and you’ll sell a lot more.
Naturally this primacy of emotion became part of politics, which has become a playpen of intellectual infants demanding the world take note of their visceral emotions and respond to them…now! The playpen hosts much of the media, especially social media. In education, children can progress from preschool to graduate programs without ever leaving the playpen, and without ever leaving childhood.
Only by completely isolating one’s self can one escape the “demands” of those who perceive reality through the lens of their oh-so-precious feelings. Their paramount demand: the world acknowledge and kowtow to those unique and special feelings. Primacy of emotion is their privilege, and anyone who questions it (questions being the weapon of the rational) is subject to scathing attack. They are viscerally visceral.
There’s one obvious problem. If everyone’s feelings are uniquely special and the object of justifiable self-absorption, who’s left to acknowledge and kowtow to everyone else’s unique and special feelings? The answer is straight from Animal Farm: some feelings are more special than others.
The feelings on display during CNN’s Parkland shooting town hall were extra special. The feelings (and thoughts) of those who oppose gun control were shouted down. The “gun control debate” is a phrase much in the media recently. As the town hall demonstrated, there’s no “debate.” It’s passion for the “right” side uber alles, and the other side had best just shut up and kowtow.
It’s not clear what the implicit “or else” is, maybe a collective holding of breaths until everyone’s blue, but there’s no mistaking the snarling anger. The more cowardly captains of corporate America caved.
However, there’s a much bigger problem with self-centered primacy of emotion: while other people may respond to your emotions, reality doesn’t give a damn. A strong desire for food, even if fervently expressed, won’t make a garden grow. Hoping for a windfall doesn’t prevent poverty. Cursing blizzards or droughts doesn’t change the weather. Wishing doesn’t make it so.
It would be instructive to check the majors of students drawn to today’s fashionable campus demonstrations. Engineering, chemistry, biology, physics and the other hard sciences are undoubtedly underrepresented. Students in those fields must apply rigorous and unremitting logic to unlock reality’s mysteries—hard and demanding work—or they drift to other disciplines. Those who succeed learn to check their feelings at the door. If they think at all about their epistemological opposites raising a ruckus across campus, it’s probably with a mixture of wonder and contempt.
Abandon reason and one emotion dominates: fear. Scared people are not rational, they’ll buy virtually anything that promises to alleviate their fear. Every totalitarian, every proponent of curtailing freedom, knows this. It’s the equivalent of the smoking hot babe: fear sells government.
How will gun control or confiscation stop criminals, who by definition don’t observe laws, from shooting up schools, churches, movie theaters, and other places where people peaceably assemble? Those places are generally gun-free zones, wouldn’t it be better if the shooters weren’t assured that nobody would fire back, so that maybe they’d think twice? The gun controllers ignore such questions. Something must be done now, they screech. Pass more laws so we’ll all “feel” safer. (Anytime someone sells a law touting its benefits for “all,” it’s a rock-solid bet the only beneficiary will be the government.)
Fear is not confined to one part of the political spectrum. It sold the Patriot Act and the like, gargantuan defense budgets, global military intervention, the surveillance state, the militarization of local police departments, and all manner of regulatory intrusion and extortion. Tell people you’re protecting them and you can do damn well whatever you want to them. It’s doubtful Americans will figure it out even as they’re herded into protective and preventative detention facilities, aka concentration camps. You can’t be too safe.
Reason is the toughest sell out there. As the advertisers know, what passes for reason is usually emotion-based rationalization. Yet, reason always wins. It has an unbeatable ally, reality, the anchor for those who live their lives guided by their intellects rather than their emotions.
Remember the tears, screaming, and general hysteria after Trump won the election? Imagine when our system, built as it is on wishful thinking, finally collapses. Imagine confronting these hysterical creatures. You, your family, and friends saw what was coming and are riding out the storm. They are screaming, demanding that you take care of them. However, you have the firearms they eschewed, so demand is all they can do. “Imagine how we feel!” they scream. You stare at them with complete indifference.
“Nobody gives a shit how you feel.”
Collapse will have its compensations.