Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Sentimentalism by any other name...

Very interesting article up today at First Things, and if you accept the premise of Dominic Bouck's article, it seems to explain a lot.

Bouck's contention is that intuitional philosophy, often referred to as emotivism or sentimentalism, has become the dominant philosophy in American culture today.  Put simply, we don't think about things anymore, we feel them.  According to Bouck, this leads people toward what appear to be contrary positions, such as an opposition to abortion and support for gay marriage.

It works this way:

As a consequence of this more emotive approach, a growing number of Americans have decided abortion is not the best option, especially as the pregnancy progresses. Abortion rates have fallen 12 percent since 2010 according to a recent survey, and 49 percent of Americans think abortion is morally wrong, much higher than on other life-issues. Technological progress has helped people to see what—or more accurately—who it is that is being aborted. The closer something appears to be like me, the intuition seems to say, the more I think it should be protected.

So how does this tie into gay marriage?  Easy:

They can show two nice-looking, kind people expressing love for one another and ask, “How could that be wrong?” The argument implicitly goes, “You love someone, don’t you? How could you deny that love to a fellow human being.” In effect, the argument is similar to the one in Juno, essentially saying, “We all have fingernails.” What seemed right in the first instance, either being pro-abortion or thinking there should only be male–female marriages, shifts for literally no “reason,” but instead a feeling, a new intuition.

Sentimentalism is a good way of putting this; at the TV blog, I've referred to it as the Oprahfication of America.  Although not the same thing, sentimentalism can be closely linked to sentimentality, which often produces the same problem.  Sentimentality should not be confused with nostalgia, which is what I'm inclined to - sentimentality is much more flowers and coronets, while nostalgia is a yearning to go back to a specific time or way of life.  That's not to say that the two can't intersect - they often do.  But sentimentality is always going to be based on emotion, on feelings, whereas nostalgia, as I've tried to show, can actually lead to an intellectual examination of, for instance, how things got the way they did.

Bouck writes that by falling into sentimentalism, we've given up on using reason, preferring feeling to logic.  Again, this doesn't have to be an either/or proposition.  How many times have we seen the heroic detective depend on a gut feeling to solve a case?  But the gut feeling that he has is often based on experience, on a logical analysis of past crimes and patterns, and combining that with a feel for the frailties of humanity that often run contrary to logic.  Were he to depend on that gut feeling all the time, he would probably soon find his emotions soon running away with him, scurrying erratically from one theory to another with no discernible pattern, and likely no discernible results.

In the same way, we look at Mr. Spock in Star Trek.  He operated exclusively on logic, which often made him unable to anticipate the illogical way in which a human could react.  It was in such situations that Captain Kirk, with his mix of experience and intuition, was able to step in and save the day.  True, it was necessary to keep the focus on Kirk as the star of the show, or else it would have become known as The Mr. Spock Hour, but one can often see Spock trying to develop that ability to include the human factor in his thought process, in order to arrive at a solution that was not only "logical," but correct.

We are not machines, which is why we have emotions.  We are not animals*, which is why we have the ability to reason.  One of the great majesties of God is that he chose to give us both emotion and reason, along with the good sense to know how to combine them.  As we rapidly lose that ability, we also lose the ability to integrate what was commonly-held truths into our thought process; nowadays, if those come into conflict with our feelings, we simply discard them.

*Yes, I know that technically we are, but you know what I mean.

So whatever you want to call it, its continuing dominance of our cultural philosophy is anything but good.  Of course something like this doesn't just appear overnight; it can be many years before something like this takes root and grows within a culture.  I wonder, though - might we be able to trace this back to the beginning of Oprah Winfrey's influence in pop culture?  If so, then one would have to think that she bears a rather large burden for what America has become - and not a good one, at that.  It's not an exaggeration for me to say that I would not want to carry that burden come Judgement Day.  Just a gut feeling, you know.

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