Intellect and Emotion: Is Separation Possible/Practical?

Backstory on this piece: I've been thinking about writing this one for a while. Then, I saw this image on my tumblr dashboard - and I knew I had to write it, right that second.

Backstory on this piece: I've been thinking about writing this one for a while. Then, I saw this image on my tumblr dashboard - and I knew I had to write it, right that second.

It's common thought that intellect and emotion are two separate spheres. One rules the head, the other rules the heart. One is like the exacting incisions of a surgical scalpel, the other the messy, yet beautiful paintbrush that colors our world. Logic can be explained, while emotions are a bit harder to suss out. Reason follows a certain pattern, while feelings tend to be more spontaneous.

While this train of thought may work in theory, does it really play out in practice? On a personal level, I can't say that I see it that way.

I feel as if I am a living testament to the inseparability of intellect and emotion. My mind and my heart will forever be in a civil war. The thoughts in my head and the pangs in my heart never seem to agree. I know what's true and logical in my mind, but my gut and "intuition" never can seem to shut up despite this. My heart and mind seem to take turns making decisions, after giving me an incredible amount of grief. And at the end of the day, I haven't found any solid evidence that either side is "more correct" than the other. Either my intuition is flawed or my logic doesn't follow - I just end up confused when it's all over. Striking a "balance" is almost laughable, as hard as I've tried. An incredibly unhappy marriage, a set of warring twins live inside me everyday.

As if being like this wasn't frustrating enough, dealing/debating with others - especially those who are more familiar with the intellect end of things - can't seem to understand why emotions seep out in intellectual discussion. They'll discredit my arguments as soon as they leave my mouth because perhaps my tone of voice was a little higher, a little stronger than their invulnerable, logical monotone. Succumbing to a "feeling of the moment" or letting passion come through my words will automatically make my point null and void. We see this kind of treatment towards emotions/passion esp. in women at the workplace. Harvard Business Review wrote an entire article devoted to telling women how to be passionate without "seeming emotional." It's clear that emotions are seen as weakness, and vulnerability is seen as a great flaw.

But expanding beyond the gender question, I think it's absolutely silly to assume that a "higher" form of intellectual debate is "above" emotion - mainly because it is very difficult for humans completely separate from emotions, and it's not even good debate practice to do so. I'll explain:

I recently watched (for the second time) a documentary called The Best of Enemies. What's it about? It's about the two most formative and polarizing intellectual minds of the late 60s - Gore Vidal and William F. Buckley. Throughout the coverage of the tumultuous 1968 convention debates on ABC News, they went tête-à-tête. It was supposed to be solely about the issues, but (you guessed it) these guys hated and feared each other. So what was supposed to be a strictly substantive debate turned into a messy, mud-slinging kind of affair. Choice words were exchanged, and continued to be exchanged long after the cameras were shut off. If the two biggest minds of 1968 couldn't keep a lid on their gaskets, how in the world are normal people supposed to do it? (NOTE: I realize, very well, that this is just one example [with many nuances], and it can't be applied to all humans. Granted, I do think it's a good example that expresses my point on humans being unable to completely divorce themselves from emotion.)

I also read (skimmed) Aristotle's Rhetoric - basically a how-to guide on how to make your argument persuasive. You folks wanna win a debate, right? Well, you can't do that by neglecting emotions or lifting a debate "above" it, because emotions are key to making your argument persuasive. Aristotle spent several sections on emotions, and how to use it to your advantage. He said:

Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile. It is towards producing these effects, as we maintain, that present-day writers on rhetoric direct the whole of their efforts. (p. 8)
Next, when the facts and their importance are clearly understood, you must excite your hearers’ emotions. These emotions are pity, indignation, anger, hatred, envy, emulation, pugnacity. The lines of argument to be used for these purposes also have been previously mentioned. (p. 182)

And if you still don't believe me, read the stuff yourself. Emotions are key to persuasion, and persuasion is key to debate.

I'll conclude my post by saying that I have tried my very hardest, and even trolled ThinkAthiest.com, to make my points as logically has humanly possible. This piece, in short, is devoted to all who have made me feel discredited, and wrong, for dashing a bit of emotion into debate, into logic, into argument. I'm telling you that it can't be done, and I'm telling you that you're not "divorcing" yourself from emotion, you're distancing yourself from it and disrespecting everyone else's right to express emotion while doing it. 

I'm not condoning an Ad Hominem argument. I'm not even condoning the manipulation of emotions to be used to your advantage, just as Aristotle suggests. I'm simply making a case for the recognition, and respect, of the existence of emotion in human debate.

Julia ArcigaComment