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The Arbitrary Nature of “Feelings”

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Much, and even more, has been made of the tears that President Obama shed at yesterday’s event regarding executive action on gun control.  I have no question that the president’s feelings on the matter are sincere and deep.  I do not doubt that he genuinely cares about the victims he attempts to honor and the potential victims he proposes to protect.  In no way do I wish to belittle or discount his feelings on this matter.

That said, the president that is supposed to be the most egalitarian in our nation’s history seems very selective with where he invests his emotional energy.  Where, in God’s name, were similar tears for the thousands dead in Syria, at least in part because of his policies?  On a day when North Korea claims to have successfully tested an H-bomb, where are his tears for the world?  When the entire Persian Gulf region stands at the brink of war, where is his heartfelt concern for the thousands of dead that will result from such a war?

If we are honest with ourselves, we all have similar emotional inconsistencies.  Feelings are arbitrary and very self-interested things.  The president obviously feels a personal connection with domestic shooting victims that he does not feel with faceless and almost unknowable people in foreign lands.  We each are far more emotionally invested in things close to home than we are in things at great distance.  Such is, frankly, the nature of the human condition.

But the very arbitrary, even capricious, and self-serving nature of such feelings is why it is incumbent on humans not to act on their feelings, but on fact, reason, and principle.  The human condition being what it is, it is our task to rise above our feelings when it comes time to act.  Of course we have to find ways to cope with our feelings, but acting directly based on them is often ill-advised and counter-productive.  The most pathetic part of the president’s display yesterday was his inherent claim that those of us that disagree with his policy choices are somehow unfeeling.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  The truth is simply that as we deal with our feelings, the same feelings he experiences, we ask about the wisdom of our actions and choose to act in accordance with that wisdom and not simply in accordance with our so-called “felt need.”  (In fact, if you want some insight into my feelings on this matter – How dare that *&^ presume to judge what my feelings are or are not.)

Two articles I have read this week are counterpoints to each other, illustrating this line of thought very well.  The first is about the transgender phenomena. As you read through the article it becomes blatantly apparent that the whole thing is about “feelings.”  Facts are facts and the plumbing runs the way it runs.  These are people who are willing to forcibly and painfully alter reality in order to cope with “feelings.”  Set aside the sexual ethics discussion for a moment and simply concentrate on that single fact.  There are people whose feelings so control their actions that they massively and artificially alter their bodies in an effort to conform to those feelings.  Can humanity really afford to have feelings control our actions in such a fashion?  If we gave our feelings such reign would not war become far more prevalent and violent than it already is? – to provide but a single example of the chaos that would ensue if feelings really were given such reign.

The other article is a profile of Aurthur Brooks.  The article explores the idea of how to glorify God as an economist.  Sadly it focuses on what Brooks does as an economist.  Those are all good things.  But in the end Brooks glorifies God as an economist by being God’s man in that profession.  Part of being God’s is controlling our feelings on any matter and listening to our reason and taking a perspective that focuses on the greater good.  Consider this quote from Brooks:

“Two billion people were pulled out of starvation level poverty. It is a miracle. It is a humanitarian achievement on a scale that we’ve never seen since the beginning of history and it’s the first time ever that that’s happened,” Brooks explained.

This massive level of poverty eradication did not happen, Brooks said, by central planning or the International Monetary Fund. Instead, it happened, “all economists of repute who understand world development know,” through five things: globalization, free trade, property rights, the rule of law and entrepreneurship.”

In order to allow those five things to flourish one must exercise patience and self-control.  In the face of extreme poverty our feelings demand immediate and direct action.  In some cases such direct and immediate action is appropriate, but such action accomplishes very little on a grander scale unless it is also accompanied by the broader and more dispassionate view Brooks discusses.  Our feelings may feed the starving today, but it is our reason that ends starvation.

So by all means, Mr. President, shed a tear.  I  am in sympathy, even empathy, with the feelings that underlie your tears.  But I will still disagree with your meaningless actions.  It is that disagreement that makes this nation great, not your tears.


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