was my Trade Tripper column in this 19-20 June issue of BusinessWorld:
It’s a scenario that’s become all too familiar and tiresome: “Have you ever had to deal with a female work colleague or family member who, just as the argument got interesting, turned on the tears? Immediately they win. It’s a not-too-subtle form of emotional blackmail. The tears shift the conversation away from reasoning and evidence and you have to stop and feel guilty and compassionate and find the Kleenex and ask if they’re okay and be caring. It’s a neat form of bullying. Most often it is not conscious or intentional, but it still works for all that.”
That was Fr. Dwight Longenecker, writing for Patheos (“The Dictatorship of Sentimentality,” 2012). Lest we get immediate shrieks of sexism, Longenecker immediately notes that “guys have their own emotional blackmail tricks,” usually in the form of rage.
It’s a real problem. Society now is not merely giving license to but actually encourages non-thinking, with emotion (and political correctness and “tolerance”) taking over reason. As Longenecker notes: “In a relativistic age, in which people have neither the skills or time to speak reasonably, sentimentality is used more and more within the political and religious debates.” Which is quite evident in our political discourse of today.
The media must take a lot of the blame for this. Take reality TV: the behavior exhibited by its so-called stars often verge on the bizarre: every little thing results in violent arguments, every opportunity (even the lack thereof) for sexual antics is publicly exhibited, every mundane (actually stupid) opinion is aired out at the highest possible volume. While such over-the-top behavior is understandable from the ratings perspective, it may (alas often does) sadly encourage (consciously or not) similar conduct from its fans.
Then, social media: with Facebook people get to live (at least online) the celebrity that they are in their minds. People who normally would have (and should have) no claim to fame (or even notoriety) have their lack of qualms unrestrained, displaying their faces and their most mundane activities on the Internet. Unread? Sloppy thinker? No familiarity with grammar? No problem. It’s their page and people shouldn’t be judgmental. Just be generous with the “likes.”
And all this is self-reinforcing. Memes flood the Internet with idiocies like “if you can’t accept me at my worst, then you don’t deserve me at my best.”
Or the most mistakenly quoted, most taken out of context statement in the history of the universe: “Don’t judge.” Really. Anytime I hear those words spoken by adults, particularly in public places, I get physically sick.
Mark Judge (writing for the Daily Caller, “America has changed, but God hasn’t,” November 2012) was prescient, describing a country whose decline mirrors ours: “The truth is that America is now a leftist country. It’s Rachel Maddow and Jeremiah Wright’s country. You know that divorced fortysomething female neighbor of yours? The one who’s not half as bright as she thinks she is, and doesn’t know much about Libya or the national debt, but watches Katie Couric’s new show and just kind of didn’t like Romney because she, well, just kind of didn’t like him? America is now her country. It’s Dingbatville.”
Even in matters of faith, there are cafeteria Catholics who insist on their feelings (which they mislabel as “conscience”) rather than Church teachings. But as David Koyzis (“Liberalism and the Church,” First Things, June 2015) points out: “It is common these days to hear people claim to be spiritual but not religious. Mere spirituality leaves the ego in charge, and successful churches try their best to appeal to this ego. On the other hand, religion implies a certain binding (Latin: religare) of the person to a particular path of obedience not set by the person herself.”
And to repeat, this obsession with feelings is not harmless. It is actually hypocritical, with the unspoken objective of ruthlessly shutting down any opposing thought. As Fr. Longenecker accurately describes it: “This sentimental ‘sadness’ is used all the time as a smokescreen for anger. You can tell because as soon as you’re thrown off kilter by the sentimentalism, the gloves come off and the true rage that was beneath the surface kicks in.”
Indeed, by preventing discourse, rational discourse -- that is, composed of facts, reason and logic (as opposed to mere anecdotes and feelings) -- it damages all of us, our community, by preventing people from arriving at and appreciating truths, including how to properly discern and achieve the common good.
However, to clarify, J. Budziszewsk writes: “Feelings are not unimportant. They give charm and energy to our lives, and even the unpleasant and inconvenient ones provide us with information. The problem is that the charm is not self-evaluating, the energy is not self-directing, and the information is not self-interpreting.”
Although, I have to say, we can’t really blame people for indulging in madness if even our presidents, legislators, justices, or their sisters, act like lunatics themselves.