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Jul. 7th, 2006

With the fire from the fireworks up above
With a gun for a lover and a shot for the pain
You run for cover in the Temple of Love
shine like thunder, cry like rain
And the Temple of Love grows old and strong
But the wind blows stronger, cold and long
And the Temple of Love will fall before this
black wind calls my name to you no more


Tuesday, the Florida part of the Squiggle and I spent the evening at Disney watching the fireworks over Cinderella's Castle. The Squiggle is the name given to this extended romantic network I'm a part of; Shelly, serolynne and her other sweeties Fritz and james_the_evil1, S (who now has a LiveJournal! Welcome joreth!) and her other sweetie sterlingsilver9, and his other sweetie M were all in attendance.

Watching fireworks at Disney has become something of a tradition, if anything that one has done twice in a row can be said to be a "tradition"--though in all fairness that's usually as close to tradition as I care to get.

I have a picture from last year, same time, same place. The people in that picture are not the same as the people who were there this year; looking at that picture, the social dynamic it represents has changed so much that it seems weird and slightly incomprehensible to me now. It's interesting how much can change in such a short span of time.

But I didn't come here to talk about fireworks, or my social life. I came here to talk about feelings.




j5nn5r made a post in polyrelations recently that has some words of wisdom I think bear repeating:

1. Just because I feel bad doesn't mean somebody else did something wrong.
2. Just because I feel good doesn't mean I'm doing the right thing.


These two things, taken together, would do much to alleviate about seventy-five percent of the angst, pain, and suffering afflicting the human species today, were they more universally understood and appreciated. Hell, these things should be tattooed on every human being alive today--as long as, y'know, it's in a nice font or something. In fact, I'm going to say them again, because I like them so much:

1. Just because I feel bad doesn't mean somebody else did something wrong.
2. Just because I feel good doesn't mean I'm doing the right thing.


Universal application of these ideas would probably do more good for the sum of all mankind than universal application even of the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule prevents people from behaving evilly to one another; these two principles, properly applied, prevent people from behaving evilly to one another even when they feel justified in doing so.




I've been spending a lot of time thinking about feelings lately. Over the course of the past several days, on various forums scattered all over the Internet, I've been participating in conversations with a person who was upset because her partner has passed a relationship rule forbidding her to masturbate; with a person who says that certain forms of roleplay in a D/s or BDSM context are always unacceptable under all circumstances, and that she would "beat up" anyone who engaged in, for example, Nazi roleplay; and with a person who's been personally attacking and viciously slandering one of the lead software engineers of the company that makes one of the compilers I use, because the latest version of that compiler's IDE has a radically different user interface than earlier versions did.

Now, on the surface, these seem like completely separate, unrelated things. But each one actually has the same roots. In each of these three cases, exactly the same thing is happening: someone is feeling a negative or unpleasant emotion, and that person believes that the way to deal with this negative or unpleasant emotion is by controlling the people around him. That is, each case describes a situation where a person is seeking an external solution to an internal emotional state.




Western philosophy and thought makes a great deal of the distinction between the rational self and the emotional self. We talk about these two things as thought they were entirely different; "Should I go with my head or my heart?" "What do you do when your thoughts tell you one thing and your feelings tell you another?"

This idea is pure poppycock.

Thoughts and feelings come from the same source; they're not different things at all. Feelings are how the parts of our brain that do not have language talk to us; thoughts are how the parts of our brain that do have language talk to us. If there's a contradiction between someone's thoughts and his feelings, it likely means that person simply hasn't taken the time to understand his feelings, that's all.

Of course, we all know what it feels like to believe something is true, and then later to find out we were wrong; or to believe we understand something, and then later find out we don't. Happens all the time; if someone believes that New York City is the capital of New York State, then finds out that, no, it's actually Albany, it's no big deal.

Feelings can be wrong as well. In fact, it may be that feelings will be wrong more often than rational thoughts; the parts of the brain responsible for our feelings are much simpler, much more primitive, less able to understand abstract ideas or complex situations.

So why is it people rarely seem to understand that their feelings might not always be right?




Emotions are one of the ways we make sense of the world. Unfortunately, an emotion always feels right, by definition. People tend by default to feel justified in their emotions, and accept without question that those emotions are true. The person who feels wronged believes he has been wronged; the person who feels betrayed believes without ever even stopping to consider, or even thinking about whether he should stop to consider, that he has been betrayed.

On one of the UseNet newsgroups I read, there is this guy who has written--loudly, noisily, and repeatedly--about how a change in the user interface of a particular compiler represents a personal "betrayal." He feels, quite strongly, that the software vendor has betrayed and abandoned him, and to retaliate for this perceived injury, he has taken to (among other things) posting the most amazing rants while masquerading as one of the engineers from that software vendor. He has also attacked the engineers from that vendor in a most amazing way, even posting excerpts from their personal Weblogs with what can only be described as "colorful commentary" on the newsgroup.

Now, this guy is probably quite sincere in his feelings. He genuinely feels slighted and personally affronted; I have no doubt whatsoever that his feelings are very real. What he can't do is step away from those feelings enough to see how completely outrageous and over-the-top his behavior is; if he does have a legitimate complaint about the redesigned user interface of his compiler, it's totally buried beneath the landslide of extremely inappropriate behavior, and nobody's going to listen to anything he says because of it.




When someone behaves in such a clearly outrageous way, it's pretty easy to point and laugh and say "man, that guy's a real nutjob!" But people do this same kind of thing, especially in romantic relationships, every day. A feeling of injury or slight always seems real from the inside; it takes a good deal of discipline and good skills at self-understanding to be able to step far enough away from them to say "Just because I feel hurt does not mean that someone attacked me."

And the real bitch of it is that someone who feels hurt or slighted will behave in ways that under any other circumstances he knows are wrong, because when a person feels hurt, lashing out at the author of the perceived injury feels like the right thing to do. It seems perfectly justified and reasonable.

Feelings are deceptive, and should not be taken at face value, The fact that a thing feels justified and right does not necessarily mean that it is justified and right--but realizing that, and doing what is right, is very, very difficult to do.




It gets worse when the feeling genuinely is justified. There are many people who have a strong emotional reaction to Nazi symbolism, and rightly so. The Nazi party was an abomination, and perpetrated acts of atrocity on an almost inconceivable scale. The symbols associated with the Nazis still have an incredible emotional power; the Holocaust is still within the memories of people who are alive today. It's reasonable to expect that this kind of symbol will trigger an absolutely overwhelming emotional response in a great many people.

The trap that goes hand in hand with that emotional response is the belief that the emotion justifies an action. The person on the forum I read who says she would commit acts of violence against people who use Nazi symbolism in a BDSM context is so overwhelmed by her emotional response that she lacks the cognitive ability to distinguish between a symbol and the thing that symbol represents, and feels so justified in her emotional response that she lacks the ability to differentiate between a feeling and an action. She, like the Usenet kook who believes that stalking, impersonating, and attacking a software engineer over a change in the user interface of a computer program, sincerely believes that her emotional response justifies her actions; she believes that it is acceptable for her to commit an act of violence because of the way she feels when she sees certain symbols.

The willingness to commit, justify, advocate, defend, or rationalize acts of violence on the basis of an emotion is arguably among the most evil of all human impulses. The irony, invisible to her, is that in her attitude, in her willingness to believe that her internal emotional state justifies violence, she is actually not so different from the very thing she hates. The only difference between her belief that her emotional reaction justifies her violence and the belief on the part of a Ku Klux Klansman that his emotional reaction to the thought of a black person having a romantic relationship with a white partner justifies his violence is in the minor details. In essential philosophical and moral attitudes, these two people are birds of a feather.

As human beings, we react emotionally to symbols; it's written in our brains. When people confuse the symbol with the thing it represents, evil happens. Emotions are not sophisticated; the emotional part of the brain does not understand subtlety. To the emotional part of the brain, the symbol and the thing it stands for are the same; it takes the application of intellect to understand why they are not. In its petty forms, you get people who become so emotional over someone burning a flag that they imagine the nation that flag stands for has somehow been attacked; in its more virulent forms, you see people reacting so strongly to a symbol that they believe their reaction justifies acts of physical violence.

The thing that's important, though, is that the emotion does not, of and by itself, justify an action, even in cases where the emotion itself is justified. I would be very uncomfortable if someone showed up at a play party I was attending dressed in full SS regalia; the difference between me and the person on the forum I'm reading is that I recognize that my discomfort is an emotion that belongs to me, and my emotions do not justify violence.




This same philosophy applies on a smaller scale as well. The person who feels uncomfortable or inadequate at the thought of his mate masturbating, and acts on that feeling by ordering his partner not to touch herself, is making the same mistake as the person who beats up someone for engaging in role-play that makes her uncomfortable, just on a smaller scale. In each case, the mental malfunction is exactly the same: the belief that the appropriate way to deal with an uncomfortable emotion is to force others to change their behavior.

Emotions tend to justify the actions they prompt, and emotions tend to try to make people believe that they are justified and right, so if there is a contradiction between the world and a person's emotional state, it's the world that has to change. The desire to try to force the world to change to suit our emotional state, rather than changing our emotional state to suit the world, is a very natural one; our emotions are one of the the mechanisms by which we determine whether something is wrong or right, especially in social contexts, so of course our emotions will always feel right. You cannot use your emotions to determine whether or not your emotions are justified; emotions, almost by definition, always feel justified. If we feel slighted, then our emotions are telling us we have been slighted; even if those emotions are wrong, they will still feel right. Believing that you are justified because you feel justified is not good enough.

The way out of the self-referential morass is actually quite easy: evaluate your actions with your head, not your heart. If you feel slighted, don't assume that the feeling is valid; check your facts first. It's tough, though, because "checking your facts" does not mean "look for things that validate and support the feeling," but if you're not careful, that's exactly what you'll end up doing...because, you see, it feels like the right thing to do. Doing what actually is right means fact-checking your feelings, which means that you cannot trust your feelings to give you the right answer.

Just because you feel bad does not mean someone did something wrong. Just because you feel good does not mean what you are doing is right. Feel with your heart, but check your facts.

Tags:



Comments

( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
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delphinea
Jul. 7th, 2006 05:19 am (UTC)
Wow! This is really interesting and there seems to be a pattern in my day. I had just finished reading a section of Understanding Anger (http://mhnet.org/psyhelp/chap7/chap7l.htm) about prejudice and authoritarianism, and now your LJ. Similar themes, or at least complementary. Really good food for thought.

ahota84
Jul. 7th, 2006 05:22 am (UTC)
Thank you so much for this,I put this in my memories.

I am entering graduate school for marriage and family therapy and know issues concering this will arise with clients continually.

Thank you again.
kawakiisakazuki
Jul. 7th, 2006 07:06 am (UTC)
I hope you don't mind that I added you to my flist.

I have been thinking along similar lines a lot, lately, though I've approached the question mostly from a Buddhist angle - "You should neither act with desire to enjoy the fruits of your work, nor, as a result, should you be attached to neglecting your duties."

But in practice, it is very hard not to be attached to emotions. For me at least - when I go on a diet, I desire to improve my body, when I take a job interview, I desire to be hired, when I enter a relationship, I desire the things that tend to come with a relationship. I invest effort (eg to learn a certain user interface) based on certain expectations (eg that the user interface will not change). Because expectations are usually not based on reality, they almost invite disappointment. But trying to force a specific outcome seems to be almost ingrained - it's why I do things. I go to work because I expect to be paid. If I lend you money, I expect to be paid back. If, despite all my devotion, the girl dumps me for another guy, I feel betrayed, even though objectively this is unreasonable.

The betrayal is in the disappointment of my expectations. But right now I don't see how I can avoid forming expectations; they are what motivates me to actions. And neither do I see how I could avoid feeling bad about disappointment; without emotional involvement, the expectations would not be very motivating. In the absence of an absolute moral code to dictate every action, what other motivation can there be than that you desire something? Do we just passively accept whatever the world throws our way?

Also, what do you do if it is impossible to determine that an emotion is objectively justified or not? You may lack some crucial information. Even your obvious nazi example is to some extent still a matter of opinion. What if it's not so clear-cut?
hopeforyou
Jul. 7th, 2006 10:57 am (UTC)
Can you do something for its own sake, rather than hold an expectation of an end result? Is it impossible to let go of expectations and pursue a course of action, anyway? Is it possible to ground your expectations in reality?

I don't think you have to passively accept whatever the world throws your way. I think there is a middle way, where, perhaps you can have expectations but not hold onto them so tightly that you will be devastated if they aren't fulfilled. And where you can live in the moment, maybe enjoying the work you did today or lovemaking or knitting, but not feel anguished about not being top salesman, or the relationship going 'somewhere' or there being a scarf to wear, right now.

I'm examining these issues for myself right now. I'd like to be motivated to act on something more often even if I don't know what the outcome will be. I'd like to be able to retain hope in the face of adversity. I only think I can do that if I figure out how to change my expectations, and find peace in what happens now... not that I'll let go of my goals and be passive. Just try to see all the options that are available when one of them fails, let it go, and try again.

Life is a risk. Win some, lose some.
(no subject) - kawakiisakazuki - Jul. 7th, 2006 11:49 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kawakiisakazuki - Jul. 7th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - ra_the_bold - Jul. 7th, 2006 04:28 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kawakiisakazuki - Jul. 7th, 2006 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jenx - Jul. 7th, 2006 08:11 pm (UTC) - Expand
dawnd
Jul. 7th, 2006 07:54 am (UTC)
Akien has been reading some interesting stuff in a book called "Looking for Spinoza," on brain function. One of the things he learned from that book is that we will often feel and emotion, and then make up a story as to why we felt that way. We are so CERTAIN that something happened, and THEN we had the feeling. But in fact, it's usually the other way around.

Also, WRT to the common wisdom that "feelings are not logical," Akien often calls BS. His statement is that they're logical--they're just in FEELING logic, not thinking logic, so it doesn't look that way if you're looking from a rational, thought-centered place. But if you can figure out what the logic of your feelings actually is, then you can use that to your advantage. (So he says; as a strong T, this makes no sense to me! ;^)
kawakiisakazuki
Jul. 7th, 2006 11:23 am (UTC)
People with unstable emotion disorders tend to do that sort of thing a lot - for example, they feel angry so they make up some reason to be angry about. It gives a sense of control over something they can't really control.
(no subject) - dawnd - Jul. 8th, 2006 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - dawnd - Jul. 10th, 2006 09:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
funky_firelord
Jul. 7th, 2006 08:55 am (UTC)
Thank you for posting tatic, very thought provoking, understanding emotions is a bit of a pet project of mine, so I enjoyed reading what you put, no doubt I enjoyed it because I liked it (grin).

One question I have been pondering about emotions of recent is the why we have them, if a reason can be placed on there existence. Some are very easy to understand for example You see a Tiger you react with fear, you run for your life and go climb a tree. In this case we can see that the emotion of fear is a strong motivator for us to keep us safe, but there are a lot of different emotions are they all motivators?

My own person take on emotions are that we create them, according to our own learned internal programming, this programming can be positive and can negative for our well being, but ultimately I see it as a learned thing that can be changed, it just takes quite a bit of work to change.




Firelord
Fridge fixing in progress
perky_bear
Jul. 7th, 2006 10:58 am (UTC)
Good post. Emotional states/reactions are a normal part of life, based on an individual's experience and situation. The rational thought vs. emotions (seeming) dichotomy goes back at least to the classical Greeks and was incorporated in Christian thought. Psychologists sometimes talk in terms of adult versus child. Emotional desires are "child." Rational thought that directs is "adult."

There's a guy here in North Carolina that used to be a minor figure in the state Democratic party. Now he's a pain in the butt for all party members who are online. In his case, the child has clearly taken over from the adult, but he's a nuisance rather than dangerous.
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(no subject) - tacit - Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:53 am (UTC) - Expand
indywind
Jul. 7th, 2006 12:49 pm (UTC)
So, once one has rationally assessed an emotional response: "I feel really angry")
and its cause and/or justification: "not solely because you backed my car into a tree; I could take that with equanimity another time, so I don't think it's reasonable to blame all my anger on your action now"...

how do you figure what to DO about it, how to achieve healthy balance between expressing the irrational emotion, and acting rationally to respond in a balanced way that's effective and proportional to the situation?

(Anonymous)
Jul. 7th, 2006 01:53 pm (UTC)
If you find out, let me know. {sigh}
(no subject) - tedeisenstein - Jul. 7th, 2006 10:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - tacit - Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:51 am (UTC) - Expand
serolynne
Jul. 7th, 2006 01:33 pm (UTC)
It feels good to read this. I must be doing something right.
dawnd
Jul. 8th, 2006 06:00 pm (UTC)
LOL.
(no subject) - james_the_evil1 - Jul. 10th, 2006 02:37 am (UTC) - Expand
greendreams
Jul. 7th, 2006 04:52 pm (UTC)
I love your posts. Thanks.
roaming
Jul. 7th, 2006 05:48 pm (UTC)
heh. Just when I was about to take you off my friends' list because of long posts with no LJ cut, you go and make it worth keeping you on. :-)

I've heard that the IRA stopped bombing places after 9/11, because CLICK! they got it that what they were doing -- violence based on their ideology -- was no different than the Iraqi terrorists.
tacit
Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:39 am (UTC)
"heh. Just when I was about to take you off my friends' list because of long posts with no LJ cut, you go and make it worth keeping you on. :-)"

Ah, so I've totally redeemed myself, then? I can make more fluffy, content-free posts, if you like... :P
(no subject) - roaming - Jul. 23rd, 2006 04:22 am (UTC) - Expand
creekracer
Jul. 7th, 2006 11:11 pm (UTC)
"someone is feeling a negative or unpleasant emotion, and that person believes that the way to deal with this negative or unpleasant emotion is by controlling the people around him."

Well put. I will make it my life's mission to subdue these fucking assholes.
urockgyrl
Jul. 8th, 2006 12:18 am (UTC)
I love Temple of Love... :)
Greetings

Today Merriam-Webster announced it's New Words for 2006. Among them

polyamory
One entry found for polyamory.

Main Entry: poly·am·ory
Pronunciation: "pä-lE-'a-m&-rE
Function: noun
Inflected Form(s): plural -ories
Etymology: polyamorous (from poly- + amorous) + 2-y
: the state or practice of having more than one open romantic relationship at a time
- poly·am·or·ist /-rist/ noun
- poly·am·o·rous /-'a-m&-r&s, -'am-r&s/ adjective


Thought you might like to know!

E
tacit
Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:38 am (UTC)
Re: I love Temple of Love... :)
Yeah, I saw that. Awesome! 'Bout damn time, too.

Now I wonder when words like "polyfidelity" and "vee" will get listed...
Re: I love Temple of Love... :) - urockgyrl - Jul. 24th, 2006 08:48 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: I love Temple of Love... :) - tacit - Jul. 25th, 2006 11:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
kiwitayro
Jul. 9th, 2006 09:51 pm (UTC)
evaluate your actions with your head, not your heart.

bwahahahahahaha!

was this meant to have quite the amount of irony that it conveys?

anyway, as usual, fabulous post. i always feel like somewhat of a tool b/c you don't leave me with anything to add or critique, really, but i always want to say "thanks" or "that was great" or "yeah, ditto" or something.

i think you'd dig my squiggle and vice-versa.
tacit
Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:37 am (UTC)
"evaluate your actions with your head, not your heart."

bwahahahahahaha!

was this meant to have quite the amount of irony that it conveys?


Not directly, though looking back on it... :)

"i think you'd dig my squiggle and vice-versa."

I bet you're probably right.
jonnymoon
Jul. 10th, 2006 10:17 pm (UTC)
"This same philosophy applies on a smaller scale as well. The person who feels uncomfortable or inadequate at the thought of his mate masturbating, and acts on that feeling by ordering his partner not to touch herself, is making the same mistake as the person who beats up someone for engaging in role-play that makes her uncomfortable, just on a smaller scale. In each case, the mental malfunction is exactly the same: the belief that the appropriate way to deal with an uncomfortable emotion is to force others to change their behavior."


Ok, wait. Controlling someone because I am uncomfortable with what they are doing, and therefore feel that I must change them instead of my attitude...that's "bad"?

What if what they are doing is self-destructive, and it makes me uncomfortable? And I end up attempting forcing someone to do something...not just for my own comfort level...but with the intent of controlling yet another, third party's, possible actions?

What if I asked my girlfriend not to wear such suggestive clothing when going dangerous places, with the idea that if she controlled her behavior or appearance that she would be able to avoid harm? Does this fall into that category? I'm attempting to control her, in order to avoid having other people do bad things to her.

Is this a case of I should just let her go get in trouble instead of discouraging her behavior? Certainly it could be said that I want to change her so that I feel more comfortable...and in this case, I certainly would make an effort to change her behavior.

Extreme example? Unrelated?
tacit
Jul. 23rd, 2006 01:36 am (UTC)
"Ok, wait. Controlling someone because I am uncomfortable with what they are doing, and therefore feel that I must change them instead of my attitude...that's "bad"?"

Ineffective, at least. Often ill-advised, even when you believe that you're right to want to do so--and, I suspect, even in cases where you are right to want to do so.

"What if what they are doing is self-destructive, and it makes me uncomfortable? And I end up attempting forcing someone to do something...not just for my own comfort level...but with the intent of controlling yet another, third party's, possible actions?"

Controlling another person for that person's own good is a dangerous and frustrating road to walk down. Ultimately, in the end, you can't really succeed; even in cases where a person's behavior is clearly and unambiguously self-destructive--drug or alcohol abuse, say, or compulsive risk-taking behavior, or uncontrolled gambling--it's almost impossible to control the self-destructive person's behavior in any meaningful and helpful way.

You can control your own behavior, but that's about it. You can express disapproval of another person's behavior, or attempt to manipulate or coerce them when you have the opportunity--but unless that person agrees that the behavior is self-destructive, and takes steps to change himself, it's unlikely that you'll be able to enforce any controls over his behavior.

"What if I asked my girlfriend not to wear such suggestive clothing when going dangerous places, with the idea that if she controlled her behavior or appearance that she would be able to avoid harm? Does this fall into that category? I'm attempting to control her, in order to avoid having other people do bad things to her."

You're attempting to control her because you feel that the level of risk she's taking on is unwarranted. Now, whether or not that's actually the case is a completely different question; and whether or not she agrees with your particular risk threshold is another question still. Would you say it's reasonable to force her to change her clothes? How about forcing her not to go to those places? Or forcing her not to wear those clothes at all? What is the actual, objective level of correlation between style of dress and likelihood of being attacked or raped--does the actual level of correlation make controlling her mode of dress seem reasonable, or is it simply a feeling on your part, without evidence to support it? Rape is an act of control, not an act of sex; does her style of dress make you feel sexually aroused, and do you then project that feeling onto a hypothetical attacker? For that matter, is it possible that her style of dress makes you feel aroused, and your feelings of concern for her well-being are actually an internal bit of subterfuge to conceal a different motive, which is to make other men less aroused by her and thus less likely to want to pursue her sexually?

And can you really make decisions for another adult about what to wear, anyway?

"Is this a case of I should just let her go get in trouble instead of discouraging her behavior? Certainly it could be said that I want to change her so that I feel more comfortable...and in this case, I certainly would make an effort to change her behavior."

I don't think there's a question of "should" here--it's more a question of is it even possible to control her style of dress. If she's attached to the way she dresses, then it's unlikely you can do much more than make her resentful by trying to control her, even if your reasons are legitimate. And even if she isn't, I would say it's possible that she may eventually come to resent being treated as if she can't make reasonable choices on her own. Either way, that doesn't seem like an effective long-term relationship strategy.
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