by Chris Feger
An essay I made for an English class
September 26, 2018
Emotions are fickle. The person experiencing them may find them harmful, helpful, completely useless, or some combination of the three. Likewise, those around said person can experience any of those reactions, and their reactions could be completely different from both those of other observers and the experiencer. Emotional appeals, when used in a persuasive essay, can invoke dramatically varying responses, ranging from being in complete support to being in complete disagreement because of the same set of words. In order to be effective persuaders and logicians, emotions, when either detrimental or useless, must be eliminated.
Before I can start explaining how emotions negatively impact our lives, I need to explain what exactly emotions are. The term 'emotion' can be used in many different ways, but the largest difference is the experiencer. In some of the following arguments, I will be using the word 'emotions' to refer to others' responses, whereas in others I will be referring to those of you, the reader. I will indicate the usage of the word in one of the first sentences of a paragraph.
One of the most evident examples of the detrimental effects of emotions on their experiencer is present in an increasing amount of people over the past few years: chronic depression. Chronic depression has only recently become a major problem. The symptoms of chronic depression are varying and often debilitating, including self-doubt, lethargy, and suicidal thoughts. I have not experienced these symptoms, but a close friend, whose name I shall not state for confidentiality reasons, has. He reports that they have experienced suicidal and homicidal thoughts, along with general sadness and lethargy. These debilitating emotions are, frankly, useless, and with counseling to reduce his emotional reactions, he is improving. However, given that going to a mental health professional is somewhat of a taboo in American culture, I think we need to make a change to how we deal with mental health. Currently, mental care is entirely reactionary, occurring only when one decides to approach a professional despite this taboo. We could instead provide precautionary care in the form of reducing people's emotional responses, a sort of "depression vaccine." I believe this would reduce suicides, as suicidal thoughts would have had no time to set in.
Heading away from the topic of suicide, persuasion, whether through writing or speeches, very rarely benefits from emotional appeals. Often people have their preexisting ideas and views that are completely at odds with what the author is trying to make them believe. This is to be expected; after all, if all people have the same view on a subject, there is no point in writing a persuasive essay about it. If I were to listen to all of the emotional appeals that exist in today's media and arguments, I quite doubt that any of my preexisting beliefs would change. I may take on new views based on those emotional arguments, but even those are tenuous beliefs at best, which hard logic would easily shatter. For example, the first eight years of my life were spent in South Carolina. While I was there, I picked up a fair amount of their conservative beliefs, one of them being a dislike for nonbinary genders. Hearing emotional appeals didn't change anything: "What if you were in the same situation, feeling that you don't belong as either a male or female?" My response to that (internally, as I never actually discussed it with anyone) was always along the lines of "I don't see how it would affect me either way, really. Why can't they just pick one and say that's theirs?" It took a logical argument to break me out of this thought pattern. This happened only recently. The argument was that it didn't affect me. Looking back on that argument, I realized that it was completely correct. There was no reason for me to dislike nonbinary genders other than the emotional encoding that I received from my time in South Carolina. This realization would have been made far sooner had I been able to completely shut away the emotional responses that had been impressed upon me and objectively analyze my reasons for disliking nonbinary genders. After I realized the clarity that ignoring that emotional encoding brought, I began to apply that principle to other topics, and realized that many of my opinions were quite unsupported by anything other than raw emotional encoding and have been working on eradicating them.
The removal of my purely emotion-based opinions has revealed to me some large flaws in my decision-making process. Now, when I make decisions, unless it involves others' emotions, as in the case of what to get a friend for their birthday, I attempt to be as logical as possible, taking no emotional input. However, as I started removing those opinions, I noticed that some of the decisions I had made beforehand made no sense whatsoever. As an example, I used to be part of a First Lego League (FLL) team. FLL is a set of competitions revolving around problem solving with two major parts: the robot game, where the team has to design and program a Lego NXT robot to do specific tasks, and the project, where the team has to come up with a problem within a category provided (my first year, for example, was titled "Body Forward," and the project theme was health) and solve that problem. Out of the people on the team, I was the one with the most outlandish ideas, coming up with, famously, a robotic dog that had a tail that turned into an umbrella as a pet for the elderly. However, even faced with an obviously better solution, I would defend those outlandish ideas vehemently, which I now attribute to the pride I felt for having come up with an idea at all. This pride continued blinding me farther into the project, as well; I would try to add elements of my solution into the accepted one well after the final decision had been made. Without that pride, my decisions regarding the project would have been much better and I would have worked better.
I've been a bit harsh on emotions so far. I will not deny that emotions can be positive and useful. Pride in one's work allows them to continue working despite setbacks; love helps perpetuate the human species. Happiness can be useful, as well, allowing one to breeze past hardships. The best way to think of emotions, then, is as a tool, such as a mallet. Mallets are useful, mostly in assembling large things. In many cases, I find that I have a mallet when I need the screwdriver that is cold logic. While a mallet is good for large things, a screwdriver can be used for dainty electronics. However, imagine building a fully functional house with electricity with either a single screwdriver or a single mallet. It's a daunting task, and rightly so: the general use of the mallet is to provide the framework, and the screwdriver to provide the details. In the same way, emotions have their place: they are integral to providing the basis of society, but, given that that's all been figured out, we need to use logic to fine-tune our arguments, goals, and ambitions.
Overall, the oversaturation of emotions that is present in society is affecting us adversely. Because I am not allowed to do research for this project, I cannot give an example of a society that is less emotional than ours. However, I am certain that a reduction in the emotional potency of the generic American would be beneficial, allowing our viewpoints to evolve with the world while also slowing death from emotionally-charged moments, including suicide, "road rage," and others. Furthermore, doing this would allow arguments to affect more people in ways that matter intellectually, rather than manipulating them through hormonal responses to situations. While it is impossible to completely eliminate emotions, an attempt to do so may be enough.