Tuesday, November 08, 2011

This Melody Haunts My Reverie

A little bit more from Dylan Evans' Emotion: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2003; originally published as Emotion: The Science of Sentiment, 2001). Evans' work argues that feelings, emotions, moods and moral sentiment are necessary and desirable in social settings more often than not.

As far as moral sentiments go, Evans' approach seems exactly the opposite of someone like Herman Cain, one of several wealthy and outspoken Republican candidates spinning out of control in the US presidential election cycle of 2011-2012. Last month, Cain was widely quoted as saying this in response to Occupy Wall Street, the gathering protest movement that questions, among other things, growing economic disparities in the USA: “Don’t be jealous, don’t be envious . . . I don’t have much patience for someone who does not want to achieve their American dream the old-fashioned way.”

Evans has a response apparently ready-made for Cain's recent quips, even though Evans' words were first published a decade ago:

"A classic example of . . . perverse reasoning was provided by a Conservative politican a few years ago in England. In an attempt to discredit the Opposition, which aimed at redistributing wealth more equitably maong all levels of society, he accused his opponents of preaching the 'politics of envy.'" But "[i]n fact, it [envy] may prove to be crucial for our sense of justice and for motivating us to build a fairer society . . ." Furthermore, "envy is a part of human nature" and we had better "decide how we express it; either through policies of wealth distribution, or through violence and theft. Did the Conservative politican think the latter was preferable?" (Evans, page 45).  

On the one hand, murderous mobs and fascist groups are fueled by nasty "regressive" emotion; on the other, reform impulses for civil rights and social justice are fueled by "progressive" moral sentiment. What changes historically (usually through conflict) all depends on which emotions and which sentiments prevail, occasionally refined by rational thinking. Let's remember from Jean-Luc Godard's Made in USA (1966): "There's no changing them! The Right because it's so cruel and brainless, the Left because it's sentimental."  And there we have perhaps the key difference between today's avatars of "Right" and "Left."

Today's Rune: Warrior.

1 comment:

Charles Gramlich said...

I think the powers that be are afraid of the emotions of the people because they can get out of hand. But sometime they need to, and sometimes it turns out bad. Emotion is a hard dog to control once it gets hold of the leash.