The danger of free speech does not lie in the menace of ideas, but in the menace of emotions. If words were merely logical devices, no one would fear them. But when they impinge upon a moron they set off his hormones, and so they are justifiably feared. Complete free speech, under democracy, is possible only in a foreign language.
--H.L. Mencken, 1929
By starving emotions we become humorless, rigid and stereotyped; by repressing them we become literal, reformatory and holier-than-thou; encouraged they perfume life; discouraged, they poison it.
What would life be like if there was no feeling, no emotions associated with everyday experiences? What is the meaning of the "Star Trek" Spock character, the epitome of all logic and no feeling? Feelings carry with them impulses--impulses which often lead to behaviors which, in turn, often require justification. One wonders, in fact, of the percentage of behavior that derives from rational calculation versus from this spontaneous, immeasurable, impulsive quality of the human condition.
For a number of reasons, the study of emotions has become one of the hottest research areas in social psychology. Such was not always the case. As the social sciences matured in the post-war years, emotions were often regarded as some peripheral "error term" in their rational choice models of decision-making. Like body hair and finger nails, they were often seen as some legacy of our animalistic past--involving some vestigial brain circuitry that once somehow enhanced the survival chances of protohuman primates. These natural events, occurring involuntarily, supposedly remained outside of the realms of intelligence, language, culture, and of free will. They were feelings that were to be controlled if not suppressed, to be "grown out of" like the tantrums of a young child.
But these feeling states were not about to be so easily explained away. Emotions have the power to override even the most rational decisions. Studies confirmed what Plato had postulated thousands of years earlier: affect and not cognition is the major determinant of action and belief. Further, consider the affective components of the personal and social needs systems addressed elsewhere:
In The Purloined Letter Edgar Allen Poe wrote that to discover how wise, stupid, good, or evil a person is or what he might be thinking at the moment, "I fashion the expression of my face, as accurately as possible, in accordance with the expression of his, and then wait to see what thoughts or sentiments arise in my mind or heart." Recent research indicates that we are emotionally hardwired in such a way that by fashioning the correct facial expression for a particular emotion one can activate the centers of the brain and actually produce the affective state. Add to this humans' tendency to mimic others (who knows, perhaps that's why long-married spouses come to resemble each other) and we have some insight into the workings of emotional contagion.
There is evidence suggesting that EQ, emotional intelligence, and not IQ is the key to success. As can be inferred from the article on the right, EQ is what allows individuals to "successfully" anticipate and respond to others' actions--which is the essence of social life (and why, according to sociobiologists, our brains got so large). One wonders what the relationship is between individuals' EQ and the number of auto accidents they've been involved in. Anyway, recognition of this self facet has given rise to the emotional literacy movement.
Given their potency in shaping (and flavoring) the relationships between self and society, it is not surprising the extent to which social institutions attempt to reinforce or reject individuals' affective states through:
Michel Foucault develops a historical shift in the technology of punishment from the body to the emotions--"the technology of the educators, the psychologists and the psychiatrists."
Perhaps the distinctive human trait is not the use of symbols but rather the human primate's ability to have empathy for others who are not of one's own family, tribe, culture, nation, or even species--despite the normal tendency to only have empathy toward those perceived to be similar to one's self. This sentiment is perhaps the foundation on which the moral emotions are built, a basic check against temptations toward cruelty. Two of the basic predictors of adulthood empathy are childhood relationships with both mother and father, where parents spent time with their children and were responsive to their emotional needs.
The Declaration of Independence states "We hold these
truths to be self-evident--that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator
with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
But what is happiness? Is it synonymous with pleasure, satisfaction, or well-being?
Can one experience happiness if one has never experienced its antithesis? Is happiness a state
that one can constantly maintain for days, weeks or even months, or can there be too much of a
good thing? Does one really know if they are presently happy or is the state something that is
only realized in reflection (i.e., "I really didn't appreciate how happy I was then"). Is
happiness a certain biological-psychological condition, such as the release of the bodily-
produced opiates called endorphins, or is it a socially defined subjective state?
As central as such questions seem and given the motivational primacy of the pursuit of
happiness, it is curious that the topic of happiness was not even indexed in Psychological
Abstracts International until 1973.
But what is happiness? Is it synonymous with pleasure, satisfaction, or well-being? Can one experience happiness if one has never experienced its antithesis? Is happiness a state that one can constantly maintain for days, weeks or even months, or can there be too much of a good thing? Does one really know if they are presently happy or is the state something that is only realized in reflection (i.e., "I really didn't appreciate how happy I was then"). Is happiness a certain biological-psychological condition, such as the release of the bodily- produced opiates called endorphins, or is it a socially defined subjective state? As central as such questions seem and given the motivational primacy of the pursuit of happiness, it is curious that the topic of happiness was not even indexed in Psychological Abstracts International until 1973.
Of all emotional impulses, anger ranks among the toughest to control. It's genesis is typically social: either from the sense of being somehow trespassed against (i.e., challenges to one's esteem) or from the sense of violation of one's social contract with another (i.e., another's failure to live up to their bargain). Given the threat of this feeling state to social solidarities, it is not surprising how cultures have attempted to dissipate or redirect its power. Manners, for instance, are mechanisms for anger management, as are the use of gossip, ridicule, ostracism and shame (see Carol Tavris, Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion). In The Psychology of Love, Peter and Carol Stearns develop how anger became a social problem during the eighteen century because of the enhanced value placed on family life-- which had become a supposedly anger-free refuge from an increasingly urbanized and anomic world, and where the marital bond becoming based on emotion (e.g., love) rather than on economic interdependency --and because of Enlightenment prescriptions for rationally controlling one's impulses. The Stearns go so far as to argue that the participations of Victorian wives in social protest movements was partially fueled by their displaced marital anger.
When Alex Haley visited the Trinity campus in 1991, he spoke of his Playboy interview with George Lincoln Rockwell, the former head of the American Nazi Party. Observed this graduate of Brown University and former Air Force pilot, the easiest thing in the world to sell is hate.
Though shame exists in all cultures in individualistic cultures like the United States it is self-oriented while in collectivist cultures like Japan shame is linked to others (where, for instance, a child's deviance brings shame to its parents).
These two related feelings involve social challenges to their experiencers' personal bases of pride, core senses of self, and central social bonds.
Patrick West, in Conspicuous Compassion, argues that "we live in a post-emotional age, one characterized by crocodile tears and manufactured emotions" (p. 2). Reflecting the curious mass outpourings of grief for Princess Di and other celebrities, he writes "Mourning sickness is a religion for the lonely crowd that no longer subscribes to orthodox churches. Its flowers and teddies are its rites, its collective minutes' silences its liturgy and mass. But these new bonds are phony, ephemeral and cynical" (p.66).
So how good are you at detecting authentic from contrived expressions of emotion? Take the BBC's "Spot the Fake Smile" test.
In the 1996 NORC General Social Survey American adults were asked of their affective states. Below is the age distribution of some of these feelings. Observe how older people are generally less likely to experience the emotional lows and highs of other age groups.
|On how many days in
the past 7 days have you:
|felt ashamed of something
you'd done (%no days)
|felt fearful about something
that might happen to you
(% no days)
|worried alot about little
things (%no days)
(% every day)
|felt anxious and tense
(% no days)
|felt so restless that you
couldn't sit long in a
chair (% 4 or more days)
|felt excited about or
interested in something
(% 5 or more days)
|felt overjoyed about
something (% no days)
To illustrate the different emotive worlds experienced by members of various social classes, consider the table below. Observe in total that 17% of Americans felt fearful about something that might happen to them 3 or more days during the prior week. From the TOTAL row, note that females were slighly more fearful than males. From the TOTAL column observe how members of the lower class were nearly four times more likely to have been fearful than upper class members. The higher the social class, the greater the sex discrepancy in fear.
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