Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Feelings, Theory and Practice

Consider the following anecdote: A manager fires an employee for not following company procedure repeatedly. The manager makes a solid and logical case to support this dismissal and backs it with evidence: A description of the procedure had been distributed in writing to all employees, and this employee had failed to follow it numerous times, thus making the dismissal perfectly justified.

On closer inspection, however, there are two problems: One is that this procedure had not been respected or deemed important for a long while, with many other employees and managers ignoring the procedure. In addition, solely this employee had been singled out. The other problem is that this situation was correctable: The manager could have sat with the employee and explained the importance of the procedure, or issued a warning to follow the procedure or get fired. Instead, he simply dismissed him. 

Note that these problems don't exactly refute the logic and evidence of the manager's argument. After all, the procedure does exist, and he did breach it, and this is cause for dismissal. What then, precisely, are these problematic details doing to his argument, and how do they undermine it? It's not as obvious as it seems; think about it.

You see, the real problem was that the manager disliked the employee personally and wanted him gone. But, visibly, as far as outsiders are concerned, the only reason for this dismissal was the breached company policy. The manager made a case for dismissal which looked perfectly reasonable, and this, fortified by evidence, compelled people to accept the dismissal as valid. However, the theory (his argument), didn't actually match the practice (the dismissal), proving that feelings, not theory, are presiding.

Furthermore, what this anecdote demonstrates, is that logic and law often do not serve as the basis for a decision, but as a rationale ex post facto. In other words, not only did the problems prove that he was acting based on feelings, not law, but that he also used logic to justify his decision, not vice versa. This has repercussions on his case that are strong enough to demand a reversal of the dismissal. Let's expand on these two points:

When logic is used in this way, the laws quoted and the logic used may seem foolproof, but could still be completely wrong in two ways: First, while the argument as it was formulated used solid logic, nevertheless, he excluded some details that undermine the justification for the decision. Company policy was indeed breached, but dismissal was not justified. What happened here is not that his logic was wrong, but his brain used a technique of carefully selecting only the details that provide the argument its force and infallibility. His brain did this because it was told to do this by his feelings, and he is likely not even aware that he did this. His brain did the job it was assigned to do. This fallacy is known by multiple names, including 'selective logic', 'selective attention' or a variation of 'cherry picking'.

'Selective attention' is a particularly apt and precise description because, as you can see from our anecdote, that is exactly what the brain was doing: Noticing and selecting only the specific true facts and details with which a solid argument could be constructed. The scary part is that this is often done unknowingly.

Secondly, in this case, the argument was not only wrong due to missing information in the narrative, but was also not the actual reason for the dismissal. Feelings require a rationale in order to explain and justify themselves to others. The manager merely used the 'company procedure' argument to give his feelings an objective justification, and then latched on to this argument as the primary reason for the dismissal. Whereas, it was actually his feelings that made the decision, which invalidates the decision, since company dismissals should not be performed based on feelings.

Therefore, not only did he use the wrong tools to make the decision (feelings), the argument that he presented (theory) was warped as a result of this, and the dismissal (practice) was done incorrectly. In fact, his practice matched and therefore revealed his feelings, not his theory.

I previously discussed the well-known way in which humans use their brains, where first there is an emotional reaction and bias, and then the brain is employed to justify that feeling. We want, and then we justify what we want with logic, not the other way around. I used the example of hypnotized people that justify their hypnotized actions with logic as scary evidence of this phenomenon. I discussed this in the context of bias in the news and how we absorb the news, whereas in this article I raise the issue in a more generalized context to describe how we perceive our friends and enemies in the world, how we choose the issues for which we fight, and how we shape the narratives that maintain and fortify our personal viewpoints.

We all do this, including myself. We vary only in the degree that we do it, depending on the depth of feelings and personal investment, and we vary also in our self-awareness. The key is to be aware of this and not let feelings take control. The fact that this happens all the time does not mean that we have no choice in the matter. Constant vigilance is required, but it must be directed inward at least as much as it is directed outward, if not more.

Of course, unless we have a healthy level of self-awareness, reading this description of ourselves will likely trigger cognitive dissonance. Your mind will reject what I am saying as largely irrelevant in most cases, applicable to others but not yourself. After all, we use firm logic when we make our decisions. At least that's how it feels to us.

This not only warps our judgement but others' as well. To extend the above anecdote: The problem worsens where outsider witnesses to this event are concerned: If they do not pay attention or investigate carefully and hear only the perfectly logical argument given by the manager, they will obviously reach the wrong conclusion. If they already have feelings on the matter, they could make the same mistakes as the manager based on their feelings (pro or con). But even if feelings are not involved at first, it may seem to them that they reached their conclusion based on logic and law, and any subsequent feelings evoked by this event would be based on the solid argument and evidence provided by the manager. Except that it is all wrong. Therefore, even in the case of objective, dispassionate outsiders, truth and justice can be distorted by (the manager's) feelings and selective logic if the outsider is ignorant and not being careful and vigilant. One is not supposed to reach conclusions on topics one knows barely anything about (try telling that to today's students).

Now, we could apply this to any political issue, whether it is how we judge Biden's, Trump's, or Putin's actions, how we interpret a war, historical narratives, and so on. For example, if we feel Putin is inherently evil, and we read about the death of Navalny, what are the chances that we will select the facts that fit our pre-decided viewpoint? But I am going to use the most emotional topic of them all: Israel-Palestine.

Given the very intense feelings on this subject, what are the chances that all of the aforementioned problems aren't involved, and in great quantities? Obviously, zero percent. In the case of Israel-Palestine, this is further compounded by intense feelings of religious motivations or antisemitism in some people, not to mention one hundred years of death and hatred. But even without such feelings, even calm, reasoned outsiders will be affected by logical arguments made by very impassioned, biased people, as I have described.

Case in point: A pro-Palestine protester, having witnessed truly horrible video proof of wounded and dead children in Gaza, having listened to arguments that Israel is run by extremist murderers, and the claims that they are only opposing 'Zionists', not Jews, may take up the cause with perfectly justified emotions, citing logical arguments and video evidence as the basis for their virtuous activism. Except that what they are actually doing is listening to the 'manager's' arguments and taking them at face value. They claim that their emotions are based on logic and evidence, but are they justified conclusions?

Since such a person has allegedly started from evidence and logic, it would be appropriate to refute this view using counter-evidence and logic, and this is what I have been doing in previous articles. If this is what you are looking for, I suggest reading my previous posts where I logically refute claims of genocide by Israel, and murderous intentions by Zionists, etc. This time, however, I am pointing out the mechanisms behind many of our viewpoints and describing the chain of events for how such a seemingly solid, logical viewpoint could be based on, and therefore warped by, severely biased feelings. Once again, if the practice does not match the theory, then feelings are presiding.

It is important to understand that such viewpoints, despite their biased core, feel righteous and logically sound to their bearer. This is what we do. After our enslaved brains have given our feelings the objective rationale we needed, we latch on to this argument provided by our brains. In the absence of self-awareness, this argument will instantly take over and we will be convinced that it is our primary motivation, similar to the hypnotized people justifying their irrational actions with logic. We think we are acting based on theory, not on feelings. But this hypnotized person only has to step back and study his action objectively to see that it makes no sense from a bigger perspective, and that logic has been enslaved. We select the arguments and evidence that we want to see, in order to feel better about the decisions we have already made.

Therefore, instead of attacking these viewpoints head-on yet again, this time I will point out some interesting clues and hints lurking on the outskirts of this behavior. We will look at the practice and see whether it matches the 'theory':

  • Let us start with a simple one: Many protesters claim they only target the Israeli government, extremist Zionists, or all Zionists, but not Jews in general. If this is the case, then why do they harass all Jews (unless the Jew wears a keffiyeh and chants with them)? Here is one example of hundreds. To match practice with theory, the protesters would have to quiz every single Jew to determine whether he is a Zionist first before harassing him. Barring this, their actions demonstrate that they are based on feelings of hate, and this nonsense about Zionists is an ex-post-facto justification at best, or a deliberately false front at worst. The fact that some self-hating Jews protest with them does not change that this is based on hate. Similarly, many protesters are demanding divestment and boycotts of all Israeli products without discriminating between Zionist-supporting products and neutral Israeli products.

  • If only extremist governments and Zionists are the problem, why are protesters not chanting for regime change in Israel instead of the elimination of Israel? This simple obvious alternate solution is not even considered because the goal is to eliminate a Jewish homeland, or to eliminate Jews, not to eliminate violence. They chant 'from the river to the sea Palestine will be free' not 'make Israel moral again'. Other alternatives include government reform, or even de-radicalization of Israel. They could even theoretically chant death to Israeli leaders so that Israeli citizens can live in peace, the same way the world separates between Hamas and Palestinian civilians but still supports a Palestinian state. All of these solutions would not require the elimination of Israel. And what about the non-Zionist Jews living in Israel? Instead, they chant for the end of Israel. It's not 'let's remove the cancer from Israel', but 'Israel is the cancer of the Middle-East'. This is a crucial differentiation that marks the difference between political protest and antisemitism. (This is without mentioning the more blatantly obvious genocidal chants and banners saying: "by any means necessary", or simply: 'f*** the Jews').

  • To use a similar example which reveals further intentions, Iran frequently makes speeches about the destruction of Israel, and even has a famous clock in a major city square that counts down the days until the 'destruction of Israel'. As with the protesters, Iran doesn't demand regime change in Israel or a better Israel, but destruction. At the same time, Iran claims that it is anti-Zionist, not anti-Jew. Furthermore, there is still a handful of Jews living in Iran (although they are subjected to apartheid Sharia laws). As far as I'm concerned they are not lying; they really do not want to kill all Jews. The solution to this riddle, and scholars of Islam should concur, is that they interpret 'Zionist' to mean any Jew that wants to have their own homeland and army, especially in the Middle East where Arabs have taken over. A good Jew is a submissive Jew who submits to apartheid Sharia law, and who bows his head when angry Arabs massacre them. All other Jews (AKA "Zionists") must die or be repressed. Given this, they are obviously antisemites, just like white men in South Africa before apartheid was abolished were racists. Of course, in order to achieve Sharia law in the Middle East they are going to have to be genocidal as well.

  • If protesters claim Israel is illegally occupying Palestinian land, but then support Palestinians bombing Tel Aviv, or support Hamas killing peaceful civilians living in land legally given to Jews by the UN in 1947, then what they want is the destruction of Israel, not an end to illegal occupation.

  • This one is used often in debates: If dead Arab Palestinian children are the cause of this furor, why are the hundreds of thousands of dead and wounded Arab children in Syria, Yemen, the plight of millions of stateless Arabs in Iran (Khuzestan/Arabistan) fighting for their own state for one-hundred years, and the forced deportation of 750,000 Afghans from Pakistan, all not protested with equal fervor? In fact, where are the protests at all? Answer: The problem is only when Jews hurt Arabs, not when Arabs hurt Arabs. It's not about dead Arabs (theory), but about Jew-hatred (feelings).

  • When a civilian or child is killed in a war there are three possibilities: 1. He was deliberately targeted and this is a war crime. 2. He wasn't targeted but is a casualty, which is a tragedy but not a crime. 3. The civilian (or teenage child) was actively participating in the terrorist war and is therefore a valid military target, in which case his killing is just. Any protester who screams that Israel is committing war crimes without first collecting evidence that we are dealing with the first option and not the other two options, is revealing their feelings of hatred. They are revealing that they see Jews as inherently evil and therefore did not even consider the other two options. The same goes for any political leader and news outlet that jumps to conclusions about events in a war before an investigation takes place and the evidence comes in. Their feelings are prejudging the case and selecting only the conclusion that matches their hate. All other possibilities are invisible when the brain is enslaved in this way.

You may have noticed that all of these arguments, in addition to sharing the theme I explained in this article, also have a weakness in the context of a debate. Although this family of arguments is used often in today's debates, these arguments are easily ignored, because of what they aim to do and how they work. I hope it is now clear why they are both weak and strong, depending on who is listening. The person on the other side of this argument can easily ignore it because they may feel that their logical argument has been overlooked in favor of ad-hominem attacks: "If Israel is committing genocide, then why are my intentions relevant? That is bad form on your part. Not only that, but my evidence and logic on Israeli crimes remain standing. You have not addressed my claims and, instead, spew propaganda since you have no response to my arguments. Furthermore, what you say is untrue, since I have logic on my side backing my claims. My brain told me so."

Despite this, what these arguments are saying is that the person has collected his evidence in bad faith, and with a clear, demonstrated bias. His arguments may not even be worth debating for this reason because if the person is clearly biased and thinking with an enslaved brain, then: 1. His evidence will most likely be distorted by selective attention, and 2. His real reasons for arguing have been exposed which have nothing to do with what he is saying. As I have demonstrated, this fact alone may disqualify a claim in some cases, even in a logical and legal sense. The dismissal is not legally and morally justified if the motive is hate.

To be honest, this is an approach I would try to avoid when debating, especially if there is an audience that is listening to the evidence being presented. Based on my deconstruction, you should see why these arguments would probably work only with people that are not emotionally biased against you. In other words, you would be preaching only to the converted, and it will bounce off the rest ineffectually. Nevertheless, by deconstructing this class of arguments, I hope I have shown how they could work in other circumstances, what they actually do achieve, what they expose, and how they undermine  arguments even if they don't refute them. Most importantly, however, this is not an article about debating tactics, but about how perfectly good arguments can actually be distorted, and how we have let feelings take over and thus destroyed the world.

Incidentally, one reason why Palestinians see all Jews as evil murderers is because 75% of them want to see the destruction of Israel and 90% of them support terrorists. This is a clear case of the mote in another's eye, projecting our own thoughts on others... and so on. This is another thing that feelings do: They overflow and color our perception of others. If we hate, then others look like they hate us.

Lastly, there are several additional significant and subtle observations related to feelings that are pertinent to our topic: Although we have portrayed feelings in a negative light in this article, we should clarify that feelings are not only important and beneficial, they are critical, providing us with the drive with which we take action based on our beliefs and plans. Without feelings we could probably achieve nothing. But they have a defined place in our internal hierarchy. When feelings are the boss of us, they not only enslave and distort the mind as I have explained, they eclipse everything else, including other feelings. This is because, when they are placed above our minds and souls in the hierarchy of things, thoughts need to serve the current feeling we are experiencing, and there is no longer such a thing as a larger truth. However, when we serve something bigger than ourselves and our feelings serve as tools under that larger truth, we then have the possibility of seeing a truth that conforms with a larger reality rather than merely an ephemeral subjective reality that helps us validate our feelings. This is also what enables us to experience mixed emotions that do not conflict with each other, and to hold nuanced viewpoints with subtle layers and aspects. If emotions serve a bigger truth, we can feel happy about one derivative of that truth, and distress over another, both at the same time, because they both serve one truth. Whereas, if truth serves a feeling, there can be only one simple feeling. This is why, if you see someone who views the world in black and white terms, or someone who rates all books and films as either ten or zero, or who truly loves you one day and truly hates you the next, it is possible that they are simply being overwhelmed with a single emotion. This is how subtlety, nuance and loyalty are lost. How can we stay loyal when every day brings a new bossy emotion in its whimsical wake? We can like one aspect about an issue and dislike another, but only if we serve a higher truth, a truth that remains steadfastly anchored above our feelings. But all of this is lost in an age where emotions are kings. When every subject is a king, there is no possibility for kingdoms, states and societies to survive. Everything, including reality, has to bend to the ever-changing will of our feelings. This is when protests become dangerous tantrums instead of expressions of democracy, and kingdoms crumble.