The idea that facts are somehow core to reality and cannot be altered by emotions leans heavily on the idea of a knowable objective world – a world that can be fully, or at least accurately, described by facts. But does such a world really exist? Or if it does, is it one that is accessible to the human mind in the manner those who habitually advocate prioritizing facts over emotions like to imagine? Is it clever to dismiss the role of emotions as if facts were intrinsically of more value?
To take an example, consider the idea that over-eating makes you fat, but that it is bad to make a fuss or even just joke about this matter because it may hurt fat people’s emotions. Modern social dialogue has turned this question into a dilemma: on the one hand we have a supposed fact of metabolism which says excess food generally leads to excess weight, but on the other hand we hear people complaining that merely discussing this topic involves fat-shaming people and causing emotional upset. As with all such modern cultural dilemmas, wherever the potential exists for any sort of emotional hurt, most people reflexively side with one camp or the other and thus refuse to consider what the other side has to say.
The problem in terms of resolving the considerable cultural impasse that all such political posturing creates is that very few minds seem interested in going beyond this simplistic binary idea that one side is right and the other is therefore wrong; most people either focus exclusively on the cold facts, or they embrace the fashionable moral outrage that some unnecessary emotional harm might result from voicing those facts inappropriately. Opening a broader cultural discussion amidst such intransigence seems all but impossible, but is it really asking too much to consider that perhaps something can be learned from both positions? Can we ever get beyond just blanking all who dare to think differently from ourselves?
Consider a couple where the woman is gravely ill, wheelchair-bound, and needing constant care, but the man is in relatively good health. If the man spends his time complaining to the woman that his life is mortgaged to her healthcare and that he is miserable as a result, he may be factually accurate, but is it not also a fact that continually voicing those very facts can have a negative emotional impact on both of them? Perhaps the fact that he is miserable results from his own emotional attitude to the situation.
From this sort of scenario, any idea facts are properly independent of emotions proves dubious. In the simplest of terms, surely the fact that we are happy, sad, angry, frightened or whatever at any given moment, depends almost entirely on our emotions – if such states are not actually to be considered as the facts of our emotions?
It is just too easy to talk as if there exists some out-there objective reality in which emotions play no part. Just a little lucid reflection or honest introspection should indicate to anyone that emotional states and feelings are in fact very real and potent drivers of human behaviour, and therefore ought to play a central role in any earnest attempt to comprehend the human condition. It can even be argued that the only reason anyone attaches themselves to the opposite idea – that our world is to be understood entirely as a set of hard facts – is that they have become emotionally hooked on such a consensus-based idea. After all, group psychology appears to run on some emotional desire to be part of a gang.
Of course, it nonetheless remains useful to think of many facts as being beyond the influence of anyone’s emotions. Generally, it seems that the more any phenomena exhibit primarily physical attributes, the less they are amenable to emotional interference. We may like the sunshine, but few of us imagine that our emotional state will remove the real clouds of a grey day. And although the ancients may have allowed their emotions to control their behaviour in the belief that appropriate behaviour pleased their gods and created favourable earthly conditions, without proof of their gods’ existence it is hard to believe that many facts were ever affected by their behaviour.
However, if those who belittle the role of emotions were more honest, perhaps they would realize that their main criticism of today’s culture is not that emotions should be dismissed wholesale; it is simply that facts should not be denied for fear of causing emotional upset. The valid debate surely concerns how much we should consider emotions when dealing with others and with particular topics.
Although it is self-evident that an emotionally dysfunctional population is a problem in itself, endlessly seeking to protect people from all emotional upset may be the very means by which such a dysfunctional population is created. If such an approach seeks to thoroughly remove the individual’s exposure to emotional pain, it can be reasoned to inhibit developing the ability to manage such emotional pain – and thereby make matters even worse by creating emotionally-crippled individuals.
In summary, it is ironically a fact of life that we are hard-wired for emotional experiences and responses, and we rely on them to interact in endless socially useful manners. To deny this and opt entirely for an objective view of reality is a form of idiocy that ignores swathes of our subjective experiences. That we experience emotions and that they impact us more profoundly than we can ever estimate is as much a hard fact as any other fact. But engineering society around some idea that all emotional upset is inherently bad and should therefore be removed will only weaken people to a point where, through simple lack of emotional maturity, life will instil fear through even the slightest imperfection or apparent insult. Like it or not, that appears to be a fact, as revealed through a generally growing inability of individuals to manage their emotions and face such facts.