Monday, August 9, 2010

The superiority of emotion

It's 4 a.m., but this hit me so hard it woke me up. I've been running the words of a song through my head. It's "Deportee," by Woody Guthrie, and if you get on youtube and choose the version from the album "Highwayman, (Willie, Waylon, Johnny, and Chris) you'll get the best of the lot, IMHO.
See, Woody read an account in a newspaper in 1947 about a planeload of illegal aliens that crashed and killed 'em all. The account said they were deportees, but didn't name any of them. Guthrie got all indignant and wrote what is one of my favorite songs. One of the lines is "You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane. All they will call you will be deportee." Another line is, "Who are these friends who are scattered like dry leaves? The radio said they were just deportees."
But wait a minute. Think about it. Why did the paper say they were "deportees"? Because the reporters were callous brutes who didn't think the people were worth being named -- as is implied in Guthrie's song? Or perhaps -- and much more likely -- because the newsfolk didn't have any names and were under a deadline?
An emotional response is immediate, strong, and hot. A rational response takes longer, requires more data, and is cooler. It's also not nearly as much fun to stop and think about it. If Woody had considered things, we probably woudn't have such a great song.
What interests me, though, and prompted this piece, is an underlying assumption that emotion is somehow superior to logic and reason. The heart, we believe, is superior to the head. But it isn't. Ration and logic are the only real bases for decision making. Because we believe in the heart over the head, we frequently make wacko decisions that come back to haunt us, screwing up our lives and making hash of them.
The vast majority of bad decisions I've made, and that I've seen people around me make, are based on an emotional response.
Makes for good songs, though.