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Feb 28 2011

Emotions Are Not The Enemy

When I was an adolescent, I really wanted to be Mr. Spock. I thought that being hyper-logical and unemotional would be far better than being hyper-logical and hyper-emotional. I think there is a particular kind of self-loathing that kids develop when they’re far more intellectually developed than they are emotionally developed, like I was, and it can result in an extreme distrust of emotions and things that are not strictly logical. It took me going through and coming out of an extreme depression to realize that treating emotions as the enemy wasn’t only kind of stupid, but it was also really unhealthy.

Sci-Five!

I think that there is a lot of this in the atheist/skeptic community. I don’t want to fall into the fallacy that women are more compassionate than men, but I do think that the lack of large numbers of women doesn’t help. The association of emotions with women is so strong that it seems many people are uncomfortable with thinking of emotions as important empirically, or important in comparison with logic. It’s not just men who don’t want to be seen as weak, women are also afraid of being seen as stereotypically female and not as rational as men.

Today, Hemant at The Friendly Atheist posted about a woman who, at the hands of her religious upbringing, was taught to be so ashamed of her body that she was unable to breastfeed because she was so uncomfortable with her breasts. Hemant made a real effort to give a feminist response – women have the right to choose what to do with their bodies and it’s not his place to make those decisions for someone else – but he also said “It’s ultimately her choice, but I think I’d feel more comfortable about her decision (as if it matters what I think) if there was a more scientific rationale behind it.”

I recognize in blogging you often say things off the cuff that, given a little more thought, you probably would have worded differently, but I have to say I was a bit flabbergasted that Hemant would dismiss dealing with trauma as lacking in “scientific rationale”, as though any decision made based on emotion is necessarily irrational and therefore bad. And I should say I’ve no reason to think that he wants to change the language, but I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt. I love Hemant, I love his blog, I can only assume the best of him, so I hope that the way he worded it wasn’t the way he meant it.

Stop Being so Illogical!

I feel like the atheist/skeptic community does a lot of dismissing of people’s feelings. It happens whenever a woman brings up feeling uncomfortable, underrepresented, or underserved by the community. It happens whenever people point out the small number of minorities, or being uncomfortable by perceived racism. There’s something about emotions that seems to really bother people. If nothing else, I think it isn’t useful to dismiss someone’s feelings as invalid, no matter how wrong you’re sure they are.  Perhaps it’s too difficult a line to walk, but treating people’s emotions as something they should be embarrassed by isn’t only cruel, it doesn’t serve any useful purpose. Ideas and behavior are things worth critiquing, but someone’s emotions cannot be invalid, you cannot argue with someone that they can’t feel something, that’s not how it works. How they respond to their feelings? Yes, that’s fair game, but that they have feelings at all isn’t something you get to say is bad.

Cheer Up Emo Kid!

I can’t help but look at the traditional associations of emotion with women and children and logic with men and be a bit bothered by all this from a feminist perspective. I don’t think it’s conscious, but it seems like because emotions are seen as girly they are also seen as unimportant and weak. And if something is logical or rational, it is manly and strong and important. It’s not limited to this community, but also a lot of my friends who are interested in film, a group that is dominated by men as well. When a movie is technically impressive, it is important, but if a movie relies on emotions, it is not. The King’s Speech shouldn’t have won the Oscar because it’s just a story about emotions, not a technical feat like Inception or The Social Network, because emotions aren’t important.  That’s why some movies go to Lifetime and some go to Spike TV.

I ultimately decided that Spock was more irrational than people because he treated the emotional experience as invalid. Although dedicated to logic, Spock never took the extra step and accepted that human emotion was rational, and existed for rational reasons, and that to dismiss it was very limiting. Ignoring the importance of emotion and emotional health isn’t actually a rational way to deal with people. To pretend that human emotions don’t matter or aren’t important, to dismiss mental health as a non-scientific reason for pursuing a course of action… it is most illogical.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    secudad

    Ashley,

    Really interesting post. I liked your idea, and I understand what you mean…although I do disagree some.

    No doubt, the atheist community does place a VERY high regard on science and reason…and rightfully so. Obviously, I am a member of that community. Where I see a difference is that (at least personally speaking) I don’t think we write-off emotion completely…we tend to write-off emotion as a reason to commit one’s life to something.

    Every human is human, and we all have emotions. I would never say they aren’t important. However, emotions aren’t necessarily the best guide in which to live your life. When it comes to the big questions in life, if I’m going to commit my life to someone or something, I can’t just rely on my emotions about it. I need to have a clear head as well, and think it through. If it doesn’t make sense, then it’s not something worthy of my devotion. Make sense?

  2. 2
    Ashley F. Miller

    I enjoy being a member of a reality based community, and I think that reason and science are awesome and important but I think emotions are part of that. Like, if I was trying to make a rational decision on what I wanted to do for work, part of that decision has got to be about how a career makes me feel. If I’m terrified of blood, even though that’s irrational, becoming a phlebotomist is a bad idea. I follow that you don’t want to commit because of emotion, but living an emotionally fulfilling life is important for most people, it’s only logical to choose them.

    I’m not saying people should do things that are irrational, but emotions are part of rational decision making, and excluding them entirely is either impossible or harmful and pretending that others can or should live their lives with no reference to emotions is not helpful in understanding or dealing with them rationally.

  3. 3
    Nicholas Thurkettle

    This is totally like in Star Trek: The Motion Picture where Spock was going to go through Kolinahr and purge his last remaining emotions, but then the Vulcans were all like, OH NO half-breed, you’re totally channeling emotion from this ginormous space entity – NO PURE LOGIC BEDAZZLER MEDALLION FOR YOU.

    And then he found V’Ger and cried emo tears because he didn’t want to just be a perfect machine like that, knowing everything but having no purpose. And Kirk and McCoy were like DAAAAAAAAAMN! And V’Ger was like ZOOOOOM! FWOOOSH! SHIMMERRRRR!

    And Khan was like My movie is totes going to be better.

  4. 4
    Ashley F. Miller

    OMG FOR REAL!

  5. 5
    Michael Rhoades

    Unfortunately, the majority of human males are “dumb animals” at least in spirit if in not in raw intelligence. Their logic & reason is deeply fried in so thick a batter of self-superiority (which I would consider emotionally driven) that consuming is more unhealthy than consuming noting at all. Fortunately, this may largely be rendered a moot point after the hopefully impending near-genocide, or “uncooperative culling,” of the male population (fingers crossed!) and the peaceful world to follow.

    I would also like to note that the character of Spock’s prominent and frequent derogation of emotion is more likely a product of the conflict between his self-identification as Vulcan and the nagging reality of his half-human heritage (an emotional conflict) and his need to assert and negotiate his identity within the predominantly human community in which he works rather than an ideal reflection of Vulcan culture or Vulcan behavior…you know, lest someone illogically make generalizations about Vulcan culture based upon the actions of only one individual.

  6. 6
    D

    That’s just it though, emotions are often NOT rational. In any way whatsoever.

    Is it rational for a woman to stay with an abuser because “she loves him”? No, but there you have it. Emotion.

    Is it rational for someone to get into a heated argument and snap and kill the other person, based on the emotional response of anger?

    Sure isn’t.

    Also, it could bother you from a feminist perspective all day long, but certain emotions ARE more intrinsically tied to the female than the male. This is scientific. Find an M to F transperson who is taking estrogen supplements. I guarantee they’ll tell you that they have more mood swings, are more prone to crying, and feel generally more emotion in certain parts of the spectrum.

    The inverse is also true for F to M on testosterone, feeling more aggression, competitiveness, and the like.

    Doesn’t mean either is bad or good or worse or better. Just means that science backs up that certain emotions are more tied to certain hormonal presence.

    Shrug.

    Also, to Michael, above me. If you aren’t being humorous, you have serious, serious issues.

  7. 7
    Michael Rhoades

    If I understand correctly in a strict sense, you have implied that if I do not have serious, serious issues then I am indeed being humorous. However, I believe you (quite reasonably) leave open the possibility that I am being humorous AND have serious, serious issues. Just throwing that out there :) :(

    P.S. – Yes, in addition to endocrinological factors, males and females’ brains are physically constructed differently, and I believe those differences are associated with differing cognitive and behavioral tendencies at the population level.

    P.P.S. – Oh, and let’s not forget that the human mind is rife with cognitive biases–intrinsic failures of logical reasoning that motivate many, many decisions–which may have nothing to do with emotion and everything to do with innate cognitive functions that can generally be truly overcome and “corrected” only with concerted learning and practice. In fact, teaching students “out of” cognitive biases and making this part of our compulsory education might be considered one of the most important educational initiatives for the well-being of the human race.

  8. 8
    John Caplinger

    I was very intrigued by your writing in this post. As an adolescent, I also longed to emulate a more logical, less emotional character because it would permit me to ignore my own vulnerability to the remarks and disdain of those around me. Emotionally immature, my stoicism gave a direction of development in an environment lacking in real role-models and companions who would value intellectual capability and me, as a person.

    I finally began to find a balance when I determined that the personality of Spock was expressed by authors who were, themselves, emotionally incapable. They were unable to comprehend their own emotions, and wrote from that viewpoint. In fact, I found emotions to be perfectly logical, necessary for any biological organism, most certainly for one that thrives in social situations and withers alone. We did not evolve emotions merely to handicap our selves, but to function as the guidance and spur to act alone, and in concert with others. Our drives, what makes us move and act, are all emotional.

    If one cannot find a balance between their emotional self and the logical requirements of their social and physical environment, they cannot be sane nor can they be happy.
    Emotional fulfillment, happiness, and growth are all important in life. Attempts to negate these values simply in order to reject superstition are rooted in the very self-flagellation that is based on religious culture…we find ourselves becoming that which we hate; narrow minded, hateful, and dogmatic because our thinking is formed in a culture that enshrines those values.

    Unless we are willing to really examine how all of our thinking springs from the roots of human, flawed culture then we cannot express our emotions in the logical fashion they deserve. Unless we know how we fall short of our goals and what those goals are, then we cannot lust to improve. Without superstition to fall back upon, we have to work twice as hard to express love, joy, and self-acceptance.

    It is only logical.

  9. 9
    Mark

    Hi Ashley I would like to remain annoynmous at this time but I a good friend of mine is being severly harressed by Eddie Kritzer and by what I gather you have dealt with this in the past. If you could mabye give me some info or we could talk more that would be great.

  10. 10
    Ashley F. Miller

    http://ashleyfmiller.wordpress.com/tag/eddie-kritzer/ This is a list of everything that I’ve written about and if you have any further questions I’ll answer them, I recommend severing contact entirely.

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