Reason vs. Emotion: Is the Latter Pulling Ahead Today, Driving Politics and Just About Everything Else?

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A meandering and at times highly questionable article in The Guardian titled “How feelings took over the world” can be summarized in brief with a few quotes. Ok, it’s not really a summary but a distillation of the article’s most interesting ideas. So what? To all those exhaustive types out there—sue me.

The author writes that today, “Knowledge becomes more valued for its speed and impact than for its cold objectivity, and—as studies of Twitter content have confirmed—emotive falsehood often travels faster than fact.”

But it’s not clear if we are downplaying facts per se. Looking at Facebook posts for example, a case can certainly be made that those expressing strong emotions, personal attacks, and knee-jerk reactions tend to do very well. Either they get “likes” or generate chatter, also in the form of dissenting views.

But let’s take posts that are full of nuance. For example, a writer grapples with a complex issue in a way that considers different and opposing views. He or she will consider counter-arguments before offering up a balanced and informed view, or even a question to ponder. Will that post do well? Probably not.

So, facts are not necessarily being discounted here. What is being downgraded is a drawn-out thinking process that we no longer have time or patience for.

The author then writes: “Real-time media, available via mobile technologies, exacerbate this potential, meaning that we spend more of our time immersed in a stream of images and sensations, with less time for reflection or dispassionate analysis.”

Well, that seems closer to what’s happening, rather than our supposed dismissal of “facts,” as facts can be interesting in themselves and can surely be packaged in ways that elicit emotional responses.

“If politics and public debate have become more emotional, as so many observers have claimed, this is as much a reflection on the speed and relentlessness of current media technologies as anything else,” the author writes.

This could very well be true. The frantic pace of technology is changing us in ways we cannot yet fully grasp.

The writer’s last point worth mentioning: “It is not more intelligence that we need right now, but less speed and more care, both in our thinking and our feeling. After all, emotions (including anger) can be eminently reasonable, if they are granted the time to be articulated and heard.”

More care and reflection are undoubtedly in order. But how do we find a contemplative refuge amid today’s barrage of information?

That is the problem. For many younger people these days, the idea of being alone with yourself in a quiet room to think is almost worse than getting de-nailed, or any other form of bodily torture.

Instagram, Facebook, smart phones, or laptops are always intruding or knocking at the door.

Are we even capable of carving out a sanctuary for the mind, a mental space free of all modern interruptions?