No, Actually I’m Pretty Fine With My Emotions And Everything Else

“You’re being irrational.  That person is being irrational.  Those people are being irrational.”

We all know the drill.  There’s a discussion or an argument, often about politics, and then it verges into that special brand of stupid where someone declares that A) the people they disagree with are irrational, and B) Imply directly or indirectly that they themselves are thus rational.  This is intended to end the argument.

Usually – but not always – the person who invokes the argument is really just derailing the conversation.  When I encounter this “aggressive statement of rationality,” the person making it is usually pretty emotional – either seething with rage or displaying the kind of smugness that produces seething rage.  Occasionally they just seem emotionally dead and distant, as if that’s somehow good and implies a functional decision making process as opposed to the need for therapy.  Rarely does the person making the rational/irrational argument come off as someone that should be listened to.

(And usually I find the rational/irrational argument is best made by being the person who basically doesn’t freak out, act like a jerk, or come off as emotionally stunted.  If the argument is true – and relevant – it will be made on its own.)

But the use of this argument ignores a larger issue.  Emotions aren’t bad, the emotional/rational divide is nonexistent, and the idea of a separate rationality is meaningless.

There’s nothing wrong with emotions.  Evolution (or if you want to get metaphysical God or whatever) seems to have given us one hell of a range of behaviors and reactions.

They’re the hardwiring of the soul.  From the reaction to pain that saves us from harm, to the passion of love that drives us, to the snap of rage that lets us land a punch on an attacker, emotions are actually pretty awesome.  They’re part of being human.

Emotions aren’t separate from our rationality.  We use our rational intellect to decide how to make a meal more like mom used to make.  We use rationality to charm the person we love with, emotions helping us find the right choices as we carefully plan.  A rush of inspiration is deconstructed later into useful parts.  We get angry then intelligently plot revenge.  We get happy and calculate the best gift someone would want.

It’s all processing of information – with different levels and context, all lumped together.

In fact, emotions are a a font of meaning.  That ability to feel connections and reactions is powerful.  The awful taste of a bad food that saves us from poison gives us caution in other areas.  The sense of camaraderie brings us close together, and infuses a holiday or a job with substance and context.  Curiosity drives us onwards.  The visceral elements of emotions gives us a sense of being of reality.

Really what is rationality without some human element to it?  Processing information without connection, the idea of humans as unchanging ping-pong balls bouncing around.

I’m just bang along fine with my emotions.

I’m not sure were the idea that “emotions are bad” and “I’m super-rational and thus better” came from.  Freudian ideas of ID and Superego, idea of separation of soul and body, no idea.  Emotions can backfire like any other part of being human, from our senses to our appendix to our rationality.

So no, when people try to argue they’re rational and thus right, be suspicious.  Chances are they’re neither – and not very self-aware at that.


  • Steve