October 21, 2019

When Feelings Take Control

US House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)

recently examined three false notions promoted by Carl Rogers (and Abraham Maslow) that are well on the way to destroying America. In this essay I will expand on one of them—the idea that feelings and emotions are a better guide than reason and logic.

William Coulson, a close associate of Rogers, has noted that Rogers’ conviction about feelings was not merely an intellectual exercise but a guide to behavior. He explains that Rogers promoted “unstinting satisfaction of desires—bodily or otherwise” and contended that people’s “’deepest impulses’ are always admirable” and that neither the impulses nor the actions they produce should ever be regretted or apologized for.*

That view of feelings has dominated popular culture since the 1960s. For a time, educators resisted it, especially when Critical Thinking was in vogue. With the advent of the self-esteem movement, however, the emphasis on feelings gained favor over reason even in education. To appreciate the significance of the shift in dominance from reason to feelings, we need to understand the difference between being guided by thinking and being guided by emotion.

When we are guided by thinking, our reaction begins with a feeling or an impression about something, for example a point of view. The feeling may be strong or weak, interested or disinterested, positive or negative; and it may be based on our prior reactions in similar situations and/or our beliefs (political, religious, philosophical). Then, at that time or some later time, we wonder about the feeling or impression, seek further evidence and other people’s views, weigh all this, and form a judgment. The judgment may support the feeling or oppose it.

In contrast, when we are guided by feelings, we begin the same way, with a feeling or impression, but there the similarity ends. We do not wonder about the feeling. We do not seek other views and consider their merits. We do not determine what judgment is most reasonable. Instead, we harden our original feeling into a conviction and refuse to consider alternative views, regardless of the arguments and evidence offered in support of them. Often, our ego becomes so invested in defending our feeling that we accuse those who hold other views of being dishonest and hateful.

Here are some examples of ideas/actions supported by purely emotional explanations:

Advocacy of open borders. People who espouse this view never seem to ask or show any interest in the obvious questions: How many people would enter our country? What percentage would be unable to help themselves? What would the cost be to taxpayers for the welfare and other services required to care for those people? At what point will that expense become unsustainable, and what will happen then? What problems would the multiplicity of languages and cultures cause for educators and employers? What effect will all these matters have on American society?

Declaring cities sanctuaries for illegal aliens. Leaders who make such declarations speak emotionally of love of neighbor, the dignity of every person, and human rights—wonderful concepts all, but not the only important ones. Other concepts include the rule of law and its distinction between legal and illegal actions, and the moral (as well as legal) obligation of government to protect the rights of American citizens. These the leaders seldom speak of and from all indications never really reflect on.

Allowing homeless people to make the streets their living rooms and bathrooms. The leaders of many cities—in many cases, the same ones that offer sanctuary to illegal aliens—have watched the plight of the homeless worsen without ever wondering to what extent their policies are causing or at least exacerbating the situation. However deep their feelings of neighborliness and good will toward the poor may be, they seem indisposed to the careful reasoning necessary to overcome the scourge of filth, rat infestation, and disease afflicting the homeless.

Support for late-term and/or partial birth abortion. A moment’s dispassionate reflection on medical, scientific reality is sufficient to conclude that human life begins at conception and at that moment the fetus must be considered a human baby, a person, a citizen, and therefore be accorded the protection of the law. But abortion supporters have been conditioned to follow feelings rather than reason, so they remain imprisoned by the delusion that a fetus is nothing more than a woman wants it to be.

Perhaps the most extreme examples of being guided by feelings rather than reason are mainstream journalists’ statements about President Trump. (The following ones were compiled by the Media Research Center and are cited in Mark Levin’s Unfreedom of the Press.)

“[In Trump’s presidency] we can imagine a future of jackboots crashing through our doors at 2 a.m., trucks in the streets to take people to the internment camps, bright lights and barking dogs—and worse.” Politico, Roger Simon, 2/1/17

[Comment: When this was published, Trump had been in office for less than a month and had not given the slightest reason to ascribe Nazi behavior to him. So the author employs imagination rather than evidence, a common tactic for expressing  feelings without the burdens of fact and reality.]

“Trump will also be recognized henceforth for what he is: the chief recruiter and Dear Leader of a gang of domestic terrorists . . .[He] is the most powerful hate-monger in America. He is the imperial wizard of the new white supremacy . . . Donald Trump is the living embodiment of Hitler’s concept of [the] Aryan Master Race’. He is our first neo-Nazi president.” New Republic, Bob Moser, 8/14/17

[Comment: This passage illustrates how being guided by feelings is characterized by a lack of restraint: one epithet leads to another and then another—terrorist to hate-monger to Klansman to Nazi. A question: Was the author aware that the appellation “hate monger” could be considered an excellent example of hate mongering?]

“If you vote for Trump, then you, the voter, you, not Donald Trump, are standing at the border like Nazis going ‘you here, you here’. . . It’s a given, the evilness of Donald Trump.” MSNBC, Donny Deutsch, 6/18/18

[Comment: Speaking of lack of restraint, for this writer it is not enough to disparage Trump—he lets the insult spill over to the almost 63 million people who voted for Trump. Does he feel regret making such an enormous, absurd slur? Not if he follows Rogers’ formula.]

“[Under Trump] children are being marched away to showers, just like the Nazis said they were taking people to the showers, and then they never came back.” MSNBC, Joe Scarborough, 6/15/18

[Comment: This passage illustrates that when you hate someone strongly enough, no negative belief about the person is too extreme to hold. In this case, Scarborough doesn’t actually claim that Trump is a mass murderer, but he seems to imply it.]

“Trump is] the president who purposely traumatized babies and children and he traumatized them for his political gain or to look like Kim Jong-un.” MSNBC Mika Brzezinski, 6,18/18

[Comment: “Purposely”? Brzezinski’s hatred of Trump is evidently strong enough that she actually believes that he consciously and willfully terrorizes babies and children. This is clearly a case of allowing her feelings to run wild with a straight face, apparently without the slightest embarrassment, on a TV broadcast!]

“The president is obviously a racist, he’s obviously a demagogue. He obviously condones anti-Semitism, stokes up nationalist hatred.” NBC/MSNBC, John Heilemann, 10/29/18

[Comment: Trump “condones anti-Semitism”? Note that the writer said this ten months after Trump, who has a Jewish son-in-law, recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the U.S. embassy there. Rogers would say, “If he felt this strongly, it was an ‘admirable’ feeling.’” Reasonable people would demur.]

“[Donald Trump] gets up every morning and excretes the feces of his moral depravity into a nation he has turned into a psychic commode . . . That’s what he’s done. And he’s a bigot-in-chief and a racist in residence . . . Look at this mendacious, relentlessly lying, bigoted, ill-informed person that we have.” MSNBC, Michael Eric Dyson, 6/4/18

[Comment: Here feelings of hatred evidently moved—or perhaps impelled—the author to gather all the vile references he could cram into a short passage and tumble them out mindlessly.]

“This is the time for the Democratic base to roar up and say no more of this crap!. . . This is the time for vengeance for what happened two years ago.” MSNBC, Chris Matthews 6/27/18

[Comment: What makes this passage more egregious than the others is that it goes beyond condemnation of Trump and his policies and calls for action. That is clearly what the word “vengeance” implies. It is a dangerous word, one that a wordsmith should never be careless in using. But when one is guided by emotion rather than reason, carelessness is to be expected.]

Much more costly than verbal assaults on the President—in terms of money spent needlessly, law and morality abused, and time robbed from solving the nation’s problems—was the Mueller investigation of Donald Trump and many people associated with him. I say “needlessly” because, as has been revealed, the charges on which the investigation was based were known from the outset to be false and contrived solely for political purposes. I wish I could add that those who supported the investigation most aggressively accepted its findings and regretted that it was based on false charges, but that has not happened. In fact, the investigation’s staunchest supporters have defied common sense and are now seeking to redo the search for what has been proven not to exist!

These numerous and varied examples of irrationality suggest the level to which America has sunk since it embraced Rogers’ and Maslow’s’ irrational notion that feelings are the best guide to behavior. The fault lies mainly with the advocacy by the schools, the news and entertainment media, and the intellectual class. What is most needed now is the reaffirmation of reason as the guiding principle of behavior. This does not require rejecting feelings, but only exercising sufficient self-control to determine their worthiness before expressing or acting on them.

*Linda Nicolosi, “Reflections on the Human Potential Movement: An Interview with William Coulson”

Copyright © 2019 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Written by
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero

VINCENT RYAN RUGGIERO, M.A., is Professor of Humanities Emeritus, State University of New York, Delhi College. Prior to his twenty-nine year career in education, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. The author of twenty-one books, his trade books include Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. His textbooks include The Art of Thinking and Beyond Feelings, both in 10th editions and available in Chinese as well as English, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, and A Guide to Sociological Thinking. His latest book, Corrupted Culture: Rediscovering America's Enduring Principles, Values, and Common Sense, is available at Amazon and in bookstores. Professor Ruggiero is internationally recognized as one of the pioneers of the Critical Thinking movement in education. Earlier in his career, he published essays in a variety of magazines and journals, including America, Catholic Mind, The Sign, The Lamp, and Catholic World.

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Written by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
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