Not long ago, I came across someone on Twitter who was supposedly arguing for an anti-abortion position from a non-theistic perspective. I went to read it and was rather surprised at how utterly emotional it was. It got me thinking and unfortunately, when I decided to write about it, I couldn’t find the original post to reference so… forget about all of that.
It seems like there are some subjects where people have a real problem talking about without resorting to entirely emotional positions. Many people don’t seem to be able to debate such things rationally or intellectually, it usually ends up with both sides screaming and crying at each other and nothing really getting accomplished because both sides are completely emotionally tied to their positions. I’ve identified four places where this seems to be the case and I want to talk a little about each of them.
The first, of course, is abortion. This is what sparked this little discussion and the first one I want to address. It seems that people on both sides of the argument are acting primarily out of emotion. There certainly are some unemotional positions to take, particularly from the pro-choice side, but one reason that I rarely ever get in abortion debates is because both sides are just screaming at each other. A lot of the anti-abortion side is tied to religion and, as we all know, that’s about as irrational as you can get.
The second is the death penalty. I’m very pro-death penalty, I don’t think we use it nearly enough and I think that if we used it as we should, the country would be in a better place. Yet you have a ton of people on the anti-DP side whose entire argument is emotional. They have nothing rational to say. You get the constant whine, “if someone you knew was going to be executed, you’d change your mind!” No, I would not. If someone I knew, even a close family member, committed a crime for which execution was the proscribed penalty, I’d still support it because they actually did it! My personal feelings don’t enter into it. Crime X is punishable by penalty Y. Don’t like it, don’t commit crime X. Easy peasy. My positions don’t change because my emotions get involved. The death penalty isn’t about revenge, it’s about justice. Some crimes simply are too heinous to allow the criminal to keep breathing the same air as decent people. Sometimes it’s just a practical manner, I don’t think anyone who is in prison for the rest of their lives with absolutely no possibility of parole is doing society any good by continuing to let them live. Flush ’em with the rest of the trash, free up prison cells. And the hand-wringing argument that we might make a mistake doesn’t impress me either. Yes, we might. We make mistakes all the time in everything that we do. We’re human. The possibility of making mistakes doesn’t stop us from putting people in prison, does it? And no, just because we can release them later and give them a bag of money to salve our emotional distress doesn’t give these people back the years of their lives that they rotted in a cell. We’re not perfect, deal with it.
Third, religion. We all know this one and the emotion almost entirely comes from the religious side. They cannot look at their beliefs rationally, it’s all about how it makes them feel and what strokes their ego. This makes debating the religious almost entirely pointless because they cannot be reasoned out of a position they didn’t reason themselves into in the first place. It only takes looking at the recent Billy Nye/Ken Ham and Sean Carroll/William Lane Craig debates to see that. That’s why I really support the 30-second debate format, either theists can demonstrate that their gods are real or they lose.
And finally, drug legalization. It’s all about emotion. Social liberals, and this includes most libertarians, want to feel good, they want people to do what they want so why not legalize drugs? I look at it differently. I think that if we’re going to take something that is currently illegal and make it legal, it ought to be for a demonstrable purpose. It ought to do something demonstrably positive for society. What demonstrable positive does legalizing drugs achieve? I’ve been asking that question for years and have never gotten a satisfactory answer. What I do get are tons of insults from the drug legalization crowd who just want to stick a needle in their arm or snort things up their nose. It only takes reading through some of my posts against drug legalization to see that.
I think humanity has a problem and that problem is an over-reliance on emotion and an under-reliance on rationality. We have the ability to override these base primitive emotional impulses with our superior rational brain, yet very few people do it. Why? Because it’s easier to just react than think. More than anything, I think this is the issue that causes problems like liberalism and religion. Even when most people reject the religion, they still cling to their emotions for most other things they believe and the problem just doesn’t go away. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of places where emotion is applicable and should be used, but we have to intelligently decide where and when those applications are best served and most people just don’t do that. Until we, as a species, get better at controlling our emotions and using our rational minds, we’re going to be a mess.