No one can make me mad—except myself.
Adolescents are walking, talking bundles of hormones and emotions. Most of them have a rudimentary brain, but many seldom use it in their day-to-day decisions and relationships. Those who are bright and well taught may be able to write coherent paragraphs and do quadratic equations; however, they may be stumped when it comes to knowing who and what to believe when it comes to feelings.
If adolescents feel passion, they assume that the object of their affection is perfect and a potential source of all that is wonderful. If they feel anger, they assume someone has done something to make them angry. Unless someone helps them understand, they have no way of knowing how fickle emotions can be—or, more importantly, that they can choose how to feel.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing in the elementary or secondary curricula in schools that teaches people the difference between thoughts and feelings—or which to trust when the two are in conflict. Consequently, the habit of acting on emotions and giving them too much credence persists throughout life. Many—if not most—of us muddle along as best we can, unsure when to think with our heads and when to go with our gut, making lots of mistakes along the way. (For a great discussion on this topic, see Jonah Lehrer’s book How We Decide.)
In America, this lack of general knowledge about emotions and how they affect decision making results in a naïve public—one that can be easily manipulated and exploited. Merchants and advertisers depend on consumers who can be swayed by their feelings—who, for example, can be persuaded to “trust Bayer,” which may cost two or three times as much as identical generic aspirin.
We live in an economy that is largely driven by the ignorance of the consumer—but when it comes to emotional decision making, that’s the least of our problems. After all, manufacturers of name-brand products have to make a buck, and generally, we all agree that competition is a good thing. Buyer beware.
When it comes to political decisions, however, a naïve public can be much more problematic. Nowhere is this more evident than in the current struggle over health care reform.
There are at least two sides to any topic as broad as American health care. In a rational country, one side would be focusing on fact-based assessments of the costs of reform, the other on the needs of the people. After all, in an imperfect world, there will always be the need for some cost-benefit analysis.
Instead of doing their job of providing rational, objective assessments of costs, however, members of the GOP (General Opposition Party) and so-called fiscal conservatives have thrown in their lot with the extreme right, which has had decades of success manipulating the public by stirring up fear and anger. Manipulation of public sentiments is a useful tool for preventing progress—especially when “progress” means interfering with a process by which a few become obscenely rich by exploiting the masses.
In the case of health care reform, the extreme right—protecting the interests of insurance companies and for-profit medical industries—has frightened and angered huge segments of the naïve, gullible public with lies about “death panels,” forced abortions, and threats to Medicare. They’ve done this primarily through propaganda—which, like all propaganda, masquerades as “news”—on Fox TV and AM radio. This disinformation campaign has been hugely successful—but that doesn’t make it right.
People who know better—or should know better—just stand by when these lies are being told, figuring that if public sentiment seems to be swinging their way, the end justifies the means. I think it’s wrong to manipulate people through lies. I think it’s wrong for people who should know better to jump onto an emotional bandwagon, regardless of where that wagon might be going.
When adolescents wallow in emotions and enjoy the drama, that’s understandable. When adults do the same thing, it’s a shame. And in 21st Century America, there’s no excuse for intelligent adults to continue to be naïve, emotionally volatile, and ignorant about the difference between rational and emotional decision making.
Objective, fact-based analysis of issues of national concern is readily available. All most people have to do to find it is change the channel.