The Sacred Feelz: A Double-Edged Sword
by Scott Huggins
Well, that was a long time since last I wrote, wasn’t it? I’m afraid that was the result of the school year starting again with more-than-the-usual bumps in the road. Here’s hoping this blog never has to take such a long hiatus again. That said, let’s get to it.
Mr. Spock, the beloved Vulcan whose human vessel died this past year, regarded emotions as the great failing of humankind. We, of course, think differently. Our feelings are what make us human. Throughout all of speculative fiction, we have told stories of the one who does not feel. They are the robots, the undead, the soulless. A character who does not feel is a sign of serious danger, for he or she is not entirely human. Mr. Spock and Mr. Data may be the only examples of unfeeling characters to earn our sympathy, and they do so by how they make us feel. Feelings are important.
On the other hand, anyone with the least experience in dealing with feelings knows the truth of Mr. Spock’s observation. We are often the victims of our own feelings. Feelings can be false. Most of the universe around us, though it can influence our feelings profoundly, has no more regard for how we feel than I do for the ants in my garden. In many areas of life, our feelings simply do not matter.
This double-truth has the potential to lead us to a very dangerous and destructive double-standard, which I see playing out every day, and it has its roots in simple selfishness. It begins with a truth: we say, “My friends and I are people, entitled to human dignity, and our feelings are sacred.”
Then in the next breath we turn and say, “The feelings of our enemies are nothing but outraged posturing to cover up their shame at being found out as hypocrites and liars. Their feelings are beneath contempt and do not matter.”
I would hope that it is obvious that such a course can never make us the sort of people we should desire to be. Besides the hypocrisy, it is wrong on at least two levels. Firstly, of course, it neatly removes the responsibility for anyone’s feelings out of our hands. Under this system, when we feel badly, it is because of the actions of our enemies. When our enemies feel badly, on the other hand, it is because of their own actions. Our culpability vanishes, and we imagine ourselves free.
This is a profound mistake, one many people make: it confuses power with privilege. Power is the ability to control the reactions of yourself and others. Privilege is the ability to demand that people react appropriately to you. The confusion arises because the two often go hand in hand: If you do not respect my privileges, I have the power to see that you regret it. But they are not the same. Power protects. Privilege is what is protected. Privilege is inherently fragile; power is inherently strong.
Secondly, therefore, the approach of valuing our own feelings while devaluing others is exactly the opposite of being a rational and loving person. We have only the ability to interrogate our own feelings, and determine whether they are honest or dishonest. We have almost no power to interrogate the feelings of others (except insofar as they may express feelings contrary to provable fact, i.e. I just feel that 2+2 = 5) and none at all to determine their power to resist them. Therefore, if we are the rational and loving people we wish to be, we ought to question our own feelings mercilessly in order to change and order them. At the same time, we ought to do what we can to respect the feelings of others. Only in this way can they ever grow to respect ours. This is hard work, and work at which I am not especially skilled. It is nevertheless, true.
From Somewhere In Orbit