Saturday, March 12, 2011

Emotional Reactions:

A little while ago I noted I was going to try and articulate a personal philosophy, information about which I've been gradually gathering over my adult life. It's themes are found in Stoicism, Eastern philosophy and Judeo-Christian mysticism. (One figure I listened to articulated these seemingly Eastern sounding ideas and said, no they are really "Judeo-Christian"; I didn't believe at first, but "Christian mystics" like Meister Eckhart do represent a Judeo-Christian variant of this idea.) Currently you get these ideas from folks like Eckhart Tolle.

I want to say listen to him, he preaches the truth. But this truth transcends authority. It is true because it is true, not because anyone says it's true (else that engages in the fallacy of "appeal to authority" which is what cult leaderism is based on).

I say these things because they are true and they are true because I know they are true.

The fight or flight emotional reaction, however it evolved and whatever use it had for man in his state of nature days is useless and counterproductive today. As it were all instances (no matter what triggers it) of 1. Anger, 2. Fear, 3. Guilt, and 4. Irritation are irrational, counterproductive and represent human failures.

But this is like original sin, the idea that "everyone does it," doesn't excuse the human failure. It doesn't make everyone innocent, it makes everyone guilty.

Take being upset with anger. No matter what someone does to you -- even if they rape your wife (to use a reductio ad absurdum), anger is not a rational reaction. That doesn't mean that you "take it." When someone wrongs you, stand up for yourself and strike back, but not in anger. Then your reaction is almost guaranteed proportional and righteous.

A proportional and righteous reaction might mean, God forbid, taking someone's life in self defense or defense of others (the guy raping your wife; a "proportional and righteous" reaction would be to pull your gun out and righteously execute him in defense of your wife).

But reacting in anger almost guarantees overreaction (because how often when someone wrongs you is it of the "raping your wife" level? For most of us, never). And then you are as wrong as or wronger than the person who started it.

Think of the idea of "road rage." Look at this horrific story. An excuse that those who overreact likely give is "he started it." "He started it" doesn't justify your overreaction. "He started it" justifies only a proportionate and fair response. Reacting in anger when someone wrongs you makes it very difficult, perhaps impossible to render such a response. Or if you do respond righteously, it will be in spite of, not because of the anger.

The Christian mystics claim Jesus never got angry, because anger is a sin and Jesus never sinned. A common response would be, what about the money changer incident? The counter response is, the Bible says Jesus just did the right thing and chased them out; it never said Jesus got angry. If you think one has to "get mad as Hell" so you will "not take it anymore," you exist in a state of human failure, not a state of grace. And Jesus didn't exist in that state of human failure like you do. He could do the right thing and give someone a knuckle sandwich (or worse) without needing anger as motivation to stand up for himself and do what is right.

I'm not saying I believe this because I'm pretty agnostic on the Bible's truth claims; I'm just saying this is how the biblical Christian mystics justify and reconcile this understanding.

In fact, I'm agnostic on whether ordinary humans even have the ability to transcend the big bad four completely (but the closer you get the better and happier you will be). Some claim to have achieved that end. I know I haven't. I'm not going to lie or deceive myself about it. I think of that scene from "What About Bob" where Richard Dreyfuss plays the smug self righteous psychiatrist and, while clearly in an agitated state of irritation and anger, he claims, "I don't get angry." I won't fall into that trap.

But when I do get upset, I never (anymore) use the external circumstances to justify the feeling of anger. There is such a thing as righteous indignation, as a principled stance you take against injustice. There is no such thing as righteous anger, as an emotion. Understanding this helps you to let go and not wallow and fester in those emotions.

There are also a variety of meditation exercises that help detached oneself from these poisonous emotions.

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