The “Feel Good” Fallacy

What? What am I ‘bound to be feeling?’ People don’t think anymore. They feel. ‘How are you feeling? No, I don’t feel comfortable. I’m sorry, we as a group we’re feeling….’ One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. Thoughts and ideas. That interests me. Ask me what I’m thinking. – Margaret Thatcher

While I do give some credence to the postmodern idea of affect, I still fundamentally believe that 21st century Western society is dominated by the Platonic idea of appetite. We love the immediacy that products and services are made available to us. We love the hedonistic manner we can pursue sex, money, drugs, you name it. Everything has been reduced to the sensory faculties, to comfort and to immoderate doses of pleasure.

In some ways, the value of labour has deteriorated in social norms. Certain labour interests groups feel that we have to do less, so we can feel better. We feel that your paycheck should be a reflection of your amount of leisure time, not a measure of your expertise, experience, or hours worked. Where is the idea that hard work pays off and helps you rise up the social ladder because, well, you earned it? Why are you taking time away from the children and your spouse to get a good paycheck or pursue your career ambitions?  Productivity is scorned in favour of a culture of lethargy and inertia.

The sexual liberty that women have discovered has also allowed them to pursue their passions in ways that deviate from traditional notions of romance and procreation. Men and women are freed morally from the consequences of their actions in the bedroom through means of birth control, abortion, and contraception. This is not to support a view that such liberties are not acceptable in a socially conservative sense, but we must draw attention to the abuses that result from the feelings on sensory pleasure in the bedroom: namely, that they have rendered the meaning of love and romance obsolete and vulgar.

Such an attitude of feeling has even spread to the way politics are conducted. “I feel that everyone should have the right to a university education” or “I feel that everyone should have access to welfare monies” or “I feel the government should be doing something about environmental pollution”. Ultimately, people want something done about these issues, so that they can “feel good”. So long as the government is pursuing these “feel good” goals, we are freed morally from the consequences of their good intentions.

Thatcher’s statement harkens back to an ideal of action based on principle, no matter the “uncomfortable” feelings that resulted from pursuing such ideals. She was concerned with optimal outcomes and raising the standard of living, not good intentions with poor results. She has proven by her life’s work that sacrifices have to be made in tough times and that an overarching vision is always demanded, however much it “feels bad”. Through democracy, through individualism, through reason – such goals have inspired generations of thinkers and doers, but never feelers.

I’m not advocating the suppression of passion and emotion in the Orwellian sense. I think that good passions humanize us: love, anger, pity.  These are reflective emotions which influence our moral senses in ways that hedonistic pleasures cannot. Reason simple enables the human mind to not allow itself to be subjugated all the time to the “feel good” fallacy. Benjamin Franklin put it aptly: If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.