Monday, November 2, 2015

"I Feel" Instead Of "I Think" And Its Consequences

I've noticed for a while the growing tendency for people to use "I feel" interchangeably with "I think." Now, these two words should each express a different mode of perception: one having to do with reason, intellect, and the mind, the other to do with senses, appetites, and various organic metaphors, be it your "gut," your "heart," or your "spleen" in certain times and places. When we replace "I think" with "I feel," we're forfeiting the place of reason in our public discourse and placing in its stead whims and wills. This is, to put it simply, not good.

I had planned to write an extensive and exhaustive treatise on the subject, but as usual, I discovered that someone had beat me to it, and I couldn't be happier to recommend to you this post by a fine Catholic author, Michael Flynn (aka The O'Floinn, or TOF), who writes science, philosophy, history, theology, and, when time permits, award-winning science fiction. (I especially recommend his novel Eifelheim.) Do, then, go here to read more on what happens to a society when feelings replace thoughts.

As a preview, the opening salvo:

"It is said by some, though not by TOF, that the ancient Egyptians used dirt for money. They were wealthy because a plenitude of mud was imported on a sedimental journey and deposited in the Banks of the Nile.

Now you know why TOF would not say this. Actually, he read it many years ago in one of those humorous history-of-the-world books whose contents were even funnier than the actual history. He would hesitate to suggest that the dirt was coined in a sedi-mint or that a penny so-coined would be a centiment.

Let alone that Egyptians parking their donkey carts would insert the coins into a sedimeter.

Ho ho! Enough! Today's topic du jour is not sediment, but sentiment, on which we are prepared to dish the dirt.

"There is no greater intellectual crime than rejecting the gooey grey homogeneity of thought espoused unwaveringly by the members of  the herd of open-minded free thinkers" -- Joseph Moore

Already in the 1950s, Jacques Barzun pointed out in his House of Intellect,people were beginning to say "I feel that..." instead of "I think that..." in common discourse. This terminological ferment marked a change in how people were engaging the world as the Modern Ages passed away. Reason, which had been enjoying a free pass and a table close to the orchestra ever since the Middle Ages (when it was virtually the only kind of thing taught in the universities), and which even later modestly named a time period after itself, butted heads with sentiment... and lost. This "triumph of the will" gave us Romanticism, Nietzsche's philosophy, impressionist paintings, and self-esteem classes like "Me Studies." The heart wants what it wants...."

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