Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Do Unto Idiots What You Would Have Idiots Do Unto You

Thoughts and emotions are both merely products of brain function. They are physical processes, and the results of physical processes. To raise the significance of one over the other is to undermine the purpose of both. To believe that emotions and super-rational experiences are the key to unlocking this wild absolute "Truth" we all seek in some way to find is absurd. To believe that one can think and reason one's way to Truth is equally ridiculous. If we didn't need both to survive and function at maximum efficiency, we wouldn't have them. Physically we have what we call our "Five Senses." To say that thought overshadows feeling or the other way around is to say that hearing is more important than sight, or smell is more important than touch. Now, each sense caters to one arena more than the other four, of course. You can't really judge a portrait by how it smells, after all. But these five senses together make up the way we interpret the world, communicate with the world, and united they help us to form a complete mental impression of what is outside of our bodies and how we should respond to it. Should we feel threatened, happy, relieved, sleepy, alert, or horny? Our senses tell us this, and they all work together to do so. And so it is with thought and emotion.

Thought helps us process things a certain way, and emotion helps us process things a certain way. We can rationalize that our children are our best way of insuring the survival of the species, and more importantly our own line of genes, which is the core of our existence as animals, but if we didn't feel love toward our children, we wouldn't do as good a job. Without an emotional attachment to them, parents just wouldn't be what they need to be to fight for the survival of their young. They could say, "Well, I'll do what I can to save my child, but if it dies, I can always make more." Whereas we know this objectively to be true, it sounds almost horrifying when there's no emotion involved. A predator attacks the young and parents will fight to near-irrational ends to protect them. Humans do this even more so. Whereas most other animals will eventually give up the fight as the instinct for self-preservation trumps preservation of progeny, humans may even give their own lives for their children. Even more crazy, we'll sometimes give our lives for people who don't even share our chromosomes! Madness, I tell you! We will also go out of our way to irrationally hurt each other, whereas most other animals only hurt to feed or protect. Now, many people believe (I stress the word believe, as this is a matter of faith and opinion) that we can rationalize our way out of such behaviors. Others, knowing our astounding capacity for compassion and empathy, believe an emotional angle is best to solve our problems. Neither is true, and both are true. We need both, because both are hard-wired into what we are, and more importantly they both contribute to how we experience our existence as humans. When it is understood that emotions and thought are intrinsically connected and essential to the human experience then we can attempt to better understand their relationship to each other.

As animals with such complex social relationships and remarkably particular pack identifications, we often find the most amazingly ridiculous ways to shun one another. When someone, for instance, in the United States judges the belief system of another as being either empty or fantastical, it is merely representative that they are at that moment, and possibly in their lives as a whole, slaves to their emotional instincts. We all have the instinct to seek and identify with a pack, and that comes with the instinct to shun that which we perceive to be "other." In certain situations the "other" is a legitimate threat to our survival, either physically or psychologically. That's why we have that instinct. But so often with humans, that thing we're afraid of isn't a threat at all.

How we identify our packs versus this perceived "other" is not so simple as it was during earlier stages in our evolution. It's something we need to both think and feel about. Just because a Christian has an intense emotional experience that leaves them convinced they've had direct communication with Jesus, that doesn't mean everyone else will, can, or should have the same experience. Just because an atheist prefers to boil the world down through empiricism and cold hard facts, it doesn't mean that everyone else will, can, or should have the same interpretation of reality. And the real thorn in the side of anyone who clings a little too tightly to their own way of viewing the world is that their method of analysis, emotional, thoughtful, or both, doesn't make them right. It doesn't make them more in touch, more human, less human, or otherwise. It simply makes them just another person trying to figure things out like everyone else.

It is often asked by believers, "How can you see the world and not believe there is a higher power or someone who created it?"
The answer, "Well, some people just don't."
Some nonbelievers ask, "Why do they have to go making up sky fairies and believe fantasies? Isn't this world enough?"
The answer is, "Well, for some people, it just isn't."

To criticize another's method of interpreting and communicating the data we are all bombarded with on a daily basis is merely to fall prey to an instinct which has served to help us survive for this long. It is an instinctive emotional response to avoid and lash out at what one perceives as being "other." As animals with a fair amount of self-awareness, perhaps it would be wise to ask oneself upon feeling such irrational derision toward a fellow human, "Is what makes this person seem different from me a legitimate threat to my survival?" At the end of the day, it is not what group one belongs to that matters, but what that group does. Systems of belief, which include philosophical movements like Secular Humanism, political ideologies, and nationalist movements, are expressions of our instinctive need to belong. There is nothing wrong with wanting to belong, in fact there's a reason that instinct survives: it works. The ironic thing though is that this same instinct has a reverse side: one of often violent exclusivism.

The truth is that we cannot rationalize our way to a better world unless we can also emotionally reconcile it. If one, knowing that group cohesion is a key element of survival, wishes to unite the world under one flag and ideology, attempts to crush any and all competition to one's ideology, then that is quite simply shooting oneself in the foot. It is to devalue the human being and the complexity of the human experience. The Communists couldn't crush the Christians in Russia, the Muslims couldn't get rid of the Sikhs in India, Pat Robertson isn't going to make heavy metal go away, and Richard Dawkins isn't going to make God disappear. They are all victims of flawed attempts to rationalize and systematize an emotional response to "the other." If you tell me you've got an idea for a better world, but that I have to give up everything that makes me feel comfortable and good and right with the world I already live in, I'm probably not going to go along with it quietly. Few people have the tenacity of the 12 Apostles. Most of us just want to be left alone to think and feel as we will and experience the world as our thoughts and feelings tell us to.

The point is quite simply this: You cannot and will not ever make another human being see things your way. You may use emotion to convey your point, cloud their judgment, make them feel rewarded, or to entice them to join your cause. You may use thought to argue them into a corner, make them feel stupid or wrong, and convince them through sheer rhetoric that you are correct. But they will never have a duplicate experience of yours, and thus there is no guarantee that they will stay with you or support your cause. They are not you, and you are not them. Everyone thinks and feels a little differently. We may have the same basic wiring, but on top of that is a giant mass of grey matter that just confuses the hell out of the simplest of issues. I've suffered from anxiety my whole life, so some things positively terrify me that don't bother another person in the slightest. I'm also neurotically empathetic, so the mere thought of an animal being killed makes me feel terror and pain, and consequently I can't bring myself to eat meat. This doesn't make other people heartless - there's nothing morally wrong with eating meat, and intellectually I recognize that. But I myself just can't do it because I'm too dialed in to the emotions of things around me. But that's me. That's my experience. I'm certainly not going to try to convince people to be scared of something because I am, or stop eating something because I won't. My thoughts and my feelings on this matter are contorted by my unique brain chemistry, as is every thought and feeling you yourself experience every day. Consequently I also don't expect anyone to agree with me on anything I've written herein.

When you understand just how inseparable both thought and emotion are from the human experience, you come to believe that both our objective and subjective realities are equally valid and cannot be so easily dismissed. The only rule I will emphatically state should be adhered to almost universally is the Golden Rule: Don't fuck with someone's shit, cuz you don't like your shit fucked with. That's pretty much all that needs to be said from anyone seeking a better world. I certainly don't believe there will ever be some utopian paradise where peace is the norm, but I do believe, idiotic though it may be, that we do have the capacity for at least a little improvement. And crushing the ideological opposition, though a very useful tool when we were in tribes of a few hundred, isn't likely going to help current and future societies avoid ripping each other and themselves apart, especially in a place like the United States where individualism is the rule and we don't have a unified front like other countries do, or at least pretend to. When you're raised to be as independent as we (somewhat delusionally) think we are, you have to also be taught better rules and tools for assistance in dealing with what you perceive to be "the other." Because in our disparate world of the many "states" of America, so to speak, well hell... everyone is the other! 

Now I'm not going to try to rationalize this argument to you or somehow prove empirically why it's legit. It's legit because it's my opinion, my feelings, which my thoughts have attempted to make some sense out of. I am not an intellectual, I am an artist - my actions, my decisions, my thoughts even, are based predominantly on emotion. Thoughts are, for me, a handy tool to sort it all out and to ensure that I'm not acting too much on emotions that could potentially be harmful to myself or others. And that's good enough for me. As for yourself, you're allowed to dismiss it all, for I can't speak to or from your unique experience as a thinking, feeling, biological entity. So I can't really give you too much shit if you're a jackass, now can I?