May 19, 2020
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Toilet Paper and the Human Intellect, Part 2

Toilet Paper and the Human Intellect, Part 2

Part 1 of this essay began by noting the strange but amusing behavior of many Americans to the Coronavirus—rushing out and buying toilet paper. It ended by recalling Christopher Morley’s observation that humor can reveal how important and unimportant things “are most oddly jumbled in everyday affairs.” In between the essay traced the strange behavior to the habit of trusting feelings more than reason and valuing self-esteem more than intellectual skill. Part 2 will expand on that discussion.

Thankfully, many people have been able to resist, to a great extent, the culture’s overemphasis on feelings and self esteem. These people can be identified by their focus on problem solving and by their concern for others. During the present Coronavirus Pandemic they have included the automakers who changed to building ventilators, the delivery company officials who offered their planes to deliver emergency supplies, the cruise line executives who turned their ships into temporary hospitals, and the numerous factory owners who switched to making hand sanitizers, masks, gloves, Hazmat suits, and boots. And, of course, the countless individuals and groups that performed small and large acts of kindness toward the elderly and others in need.

Yet the culture’s decades-long emphasis on feelings rather than reason and self-esteem more than self-discipline, self-restraint, and self-mastery has shaped great numbers of people. These people can be identified by their pre-occupation with themselves, their belief that their opinions are infallible and therefore unassailable, and their resentment of those who disagree with them.

These characteristics do not appear suddenly, but are the result of a habit-forming process that develops in this way:

People are first persuaded by mass culture that their feelings, impressions, and impulses are more reliable than evaluation and reasoned judgment because they arise spontaneously from within themselves.

Accordingly, when problems and issues arise, they don’t seek facts, evidence, and expert judgment, but instead form opinions on the basis of their feelings, impressions, and impulses.

When they allow feelings to govern their behavior, they regard standards that originate outside their emotions as unnecessary, and even harmful to their psyches. They therefore tend to ignore rules that specify what should or should not be done. That includes ethical and moral guides, including the Ten Commandments.

When they express their opinions to others, they do so expecting that others will accept them as true. If others do not respond that way, they take offense. This is especially the case when others challenge their opinions with reasoned arguments, which they believe are less reliable than their feelings.

The more accustomed they become to basing their opinions on emotional considerations, the more defensive they become toward fact, evidence, reasoning, and logic. And the more defensive they are toward differing views, the more likely they are to limit their information sources to ones that reinforce their views, flatter their feelings, and thus boost their self-esteem.

Finally, the more they limit their information sources to ones that reinforce their views, the more committed they are to those views and the less likely to form reasoned judgments. 

That, in brief, is the process that unfolds when people embrace feeling over reason and self-esteem over self-discipline, self-restraint, and self-mastery. The better we understand this process, the more we can appreciate why there is so much divisiveness in our society. It is not, as the mainstream media contend, the creation of President Trump; it is rather the consequence of the decades-long dominance of feelings over reason and self-esteem over self-mastery. In fact, the scapegoating of Trump is itself a noteworthy example of emotion overcoming reason.

Some will say Trump is deserving of the blame, and the media’s assessment is therefore not solely or even largely emotional, but reasoned. That response may sound plausible, but it doesn’t survive close examination. If their assessment were reasoned, the media—and their compatriots in government and other arenas—wouldn’t have so gleefully sought to destroy people associated with Trump (like General Michael Flynn). And they would not have refused to this day to acknowledge Trump’s numerous accomplishments, some of which are unprecedented. Their reluctance or inability to do so is a clear sign that they are governed by their feelings rather than by reason.

Every American since the 1960s has been strongly influenced by that dominance. It was embedded in the culture and therefore extremely difficult to overcome. Some have been able to do, but many others have not. And many of the latter occupy leadership positions, not only in the media, but also in government, education, the arts and the sciences, indeed in every part of American society. Accordingly, hatred of President Trump is but one example of the dominance of feeling over reason. Here are ten examples of particularly impactful ones, some of which many of us have no doubt engaged in:

Elected officials refusing to acknowledge the legal distinction between immigrants who enter the country legally and those who do so illegally.

Cities and states providing sanctuary for illegal immigrants and refusing to allow police departments to enforce federal law, even in the case of violent criminals.

Lawmakers decriminalizing certain crimes simply because they are less serious than other crimes.

Municipalities allowing homeless people to live in tents and makeshift dwellings in city streets, thereby creating obstacles to small businesses and health hazards to citizens.

Lawmakers increasing the dollar amount of shoplifting felonies to $900 dollars or more per incident, thereby allowing thieves to steal $899 of goods daily with only a minor penalty (if caught).

Judging politicians by the number of promises they make rather than the number they keep.

Returning to office politicians who have proven to be incompetent and/or corrupt.

Buying products, including medicines, on the basis of the claims in advertisements rather than the findings of independent evaluations.

Watching the same news sources for years without ever checking to be sure they are fair, objective, and accurate in their reporting.

Accepting everything found in social media as necessarily true; even worse, passing on every allegation or rumor received in a text message or email without first verifying its accuracy.

Even as I have been writing this essay, the Coronavirus Pandemic seems to have moved many Americans away from blindly following feelings and self-esteem and toward reason and consideration of others. Hopefully, that positive development will continue. But chances are it will do so only if we find a way to change our culture.

Copyright © 2020 by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. All rights reserved

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Vincent Ryan Ruggiero
1 comment
  • Wonderful, as always! You describe exactly what is going on in the minds of so many Americans. I have to deal every day with those people. And they get nasty – even vicious – when challenged.

    How do we overcome the natural laziness of people? It’s so much easier to go with one’s feelings than to go to the considerable effort of actually thinking. And
    How do we change the culture?

    Analytical thinking can be taught: My Father had a classical education.
    Whenever I asked him a question, he always said, “Well, let’s analyze that”. And then he would walk me thru the reasoning process of a classically educated person. He started this as soon as I learned to speak – so I was trained in this from toddler on up.