Saturday, September 13, 2014

Emotion, manipulation and excuse

A while back, Malcolm wrote a post about Scott Adams talking about his desire to slowly and painfully kill people opposed to legal euthanasia. The gist of it was that Adams said this hot on the heels of his father dying, without the state being allowed to step in and just plain kill him.

For a lot of people, Adams practically had the right to say what he did, for one reason: he was experiencing an apparently emotionally troubling event in his life. That's putting it mildly, even clinically, but it's true: his father had just died after suffering from a painful illness. Adams is, understandably, upset about this. He's emotional. Therefore, if Adams happens to say something horrendous, lashing out and blaming who he perceives (even wrongly) to have had a hand in his father's suffering... well, don't hold it against him.

Because he's feeling very emotional right now.

I can understand the motivations behind that kind of reply. To a degree, I even agree with them. No, I don't think it's a good idea to talk about estate taxes with a widow right before she walks into or out of the funeral. No, I don't think it's reasonable to push the guy who just lost three of his children in a car accident about when he's going to have the TTP reports done because the deadline is in two days. Multiply the examples if you like.

The problem is that what seems like a pretty normal, well-adjusted attitude to have towards people is quickly, and easily, regarded as yet one more rhetorical vantage point to work from, both on the personal level and on the large scale.

We saw some of this in the recent Ferguson shooting (didn't that one fade quickly), where you had marches and riots, complete with everyone repeatedly re-enacting the supposed versions of the incident over and over and over in front of cameras. But when footage of Michael Brown robbing a store 15 minutes before the shooting is released, well, that's a horrible thing that should not be done because it will only inflame the community. It's character assassination. Saying that the cop who shot Brown did so in cold blood due to being racist? Not character assassination, apparently. Maybe it's the good kind of character assassination?

The key here is this: the appeal was based on emotion. 'Don't release that evidence: the mother isn't done grieving!' 'Don't release this evidence: the mob will be angry!' In the latter case, the appeal was partly a threat: some people are so emotional that if you bring up evidence they dislike, they will riot and loot stores and possibly kill or at least beat some people.

I suspect a good number of people, if not exactly encouraging of this state of affairs, at least tolerate it. Few people ever talk about the responsibility for a person to control their emotions. Fewer still suggest that people unable to control their emotions, even in situations where most other people seem entirely capable of it, may well be defective. "Oh, they're just an emotional person."

That needs to end.

13 comments:

Mr. Green said...

Crude: Few people ever talk about the responsibility for a person to control their emotions.

A very good point. Our society has embraced self-centredness to the point where the only sin is telling someone else what to do (within vaguely libertarian restrictions on not being allowed to, e.g., punch someone in the nose because then he'd be allowed to punch you). The idea that there could be such a thing as responsibility for controlling one's emotions would, I think, be incomprehensible to many people today. (Next you'll be telling us that art has a duty to say something worthwhile instead of being simple vomited-up self-expression!)

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

"But when footage of Michael Brown robbing a store 15 minutes before the shooting is released, well, that's a horrible thing that should not be done because it will only inflame the community. It's character assassination. Saying that the cop who shot Brown did so in cold blood due to being racist? Not character assassination, apparently. Maybe it's the good kind of character assassination?"

Well, no. The video release was a controlled leak by the authorities. In my cynical view, it was released to change the dialogue away from the rights of the murdered individual to his character. "See? He robbed someone. He clearly deserved what he got. Cops only kill the bad guys." The Ferguson PD shouldn't have released the video because, when we consider an individuals rights with respect to "authority", it shouldn't matter. Petty theft doesn't warrant murder by cop.

Crude said...

Dan,

Well, no. The video release was a controlled leak by the authorities. In my cynical view, it was released to change the dialogue away from the rights of the murdered individual to his character.

The 'dialogue' at the time was that Michael Brown was an innocent teen who would never harm anyone, who the cop just started to chase after because he was black, and when the child immediately gave up and put his hands in the air, the cop shot him in the back, because white people are racist.

What needs to be recognized here is that this wasn't a case of the people versus the authority. This was, as almost always, a case of authorities versus authorities. Media figures, 'Civil Rights Leaders', federal figures - they're yet more authorities, who engaged in their own controlled leaks, their own skewing of the situation.

The reason I saw behind the release of the video wasn't "look, see? He was bad, therefore even if his rights were violated it's okay" but to run counter to the then-overwhelming narrative that this was an innocent kid "about to start college" who did nothing wrong, but was gunned down by savage racists.

Put another way: you say that the rights of the murdered individual should be central, not his character. But A) his character was made front and center by the people promoting his cause, and B) whether he was murdered at all had yet to be determined, but it was being pushed that he was murdered once again based on his purported character.

malcolmthecynic said...

Thanks for the plug. And your comment on Brown is excellent.

Dan Gillson said...

Crude,

Good point. The other side capitalizes on the just desserts narrative as well. ("He didn't deserve it! He was a good kid!") It's all irrelevant to what happened between Brown and the officer who shot him. (

ccmnxc said...

It's all irrelevant to what happened between Brown and the officer who shot him.

Hi Dan.
I think one could argue that due to the fact that he had just recently robbed a gas station, he would have been more prone to panicking or otherwise acting irrationally due to being confronted by a cop, even if the immediate infraction was for walking down the middle of the steet (which was the story last I heard). I'd agree that the robbery wouldn't determine whether he deserved what happened to him, but it might put what happened in a more informative context, at least in terms of his potential actions.

Acatus Bensley said...

People behave the same way about issues that pertain to Obama. I've actually had people tell me I hurt their feelings because I criticized Obama. Never mind the fact that I was right. It's the fact that I criticized him at all. These idiots are a lost cause.

Luke said...

(didn't that one fade quickly)

I highly, highly suggest Jacques Ellul's The Political Illusion. Some tidbits:

But, once more, let us be careful not to draw a false portrait of our citizen. If he were a man with a solid, well-informed political doctrine, a set of political thoughts enabling him to judge, certain information items would be useful to him. But, at least in non-totalitarian countries, this is not the case. Politically, man lives on certain connotative stereotypes without doctrinal content (democracy, republic, fascism, social justice, and so on) which cannot help him understand or interpret events. Therefore, he can only react in the same way as Hale's famous frog. The citizen will have purely visceral "opinions" springing from his prejudices or his milieu, his interests, or some propaganda. (57)

To be accepted by the ordinary citizen, political reflection must be as instantaneous as news; to be accepted by the ordinary citizen, it must take the form of the "editorial" and therefore not be true reflection; it, too, is on the order of a mere—though a more elaborate—reaction in that it is the work of a specialist. (60)

The man who lives in the news, we have said, is a man without memory. Experimentally this can be verified a thousand times over. The news that excited his passion and agitated the deepest corners of his soul simply disappears. [...] Memory in a personality is the function that attests to the capacity of acting voluntarily and creatively; personality is built on memory, and conversely memory lends authority to personality. (61)

P.S. No blockquotes. :-(

Crude said...

Luke,

Blogger's comment system is pretty disappointing, yes.

Sadly, what you quote sounds to a degree like a step up from where we are. If people recognized and offered their opinions as opinions, that would be one thing. I think, in a nice Darwinian fashion, political hacks and culture warriors have figured out that 'fact trumps opinion', and practically overnight, 'opinions' have become 'facts' as a result.

Crude said...

Acatus,

Maybe they are. Then again, Obama's pretty unpopular now from what I saw. Then again again, maybe not with the sort of people you mention.

Generally whenever anyone tries to use 'you hurt my feelings' or 'I feel uncomfortable' to quiet up someone's political views (usually while not restraining their own whatsoever), I side against them.

Luke said...

Maybe you can switch to Disqus?

https://disqus.com/admin/blogger/

Crude said...

Maybe. One issue is that, as you've probably noticed - I really don't want to swing the door open to free comments. That turns a site to shit. Not sure Disqus allows that.

Luke said...

Roger Olson requires all comments to be previewed by him before they get posted, so it's definitely possible.