It is no secret that emotions rule in America. The more sensational the news, the more impact it has. The media need to make things dramatic if stories are to survive in today’s short news cycles.
The reason why emotions rule is because society has become shallow and impulsive. Feelings prevail over facts. People do not want to face the reality of a world that includes hardship and suffering. When they cannot meet these challenges, they emote.
Thus, raw emotions help fuel the anger politics that are rocking the world. Anything can serve as a vehicle for discontent, uncivility and resentment. It can happen at any time and anywhere.
Examples of Anger Politics
One example is the immigration debate. The issue reflects real problems that can be dramatic. However, liberal media flee from the discussion of principles, causes or sovereignty. Everything focuses on exaggerated images of crying children, helpless victims, separated families or “brutal” government officials. Facts are secondary in the face of poignant images that flash across small screens everywhere.
The young 7-year-old girl who recently died “while in U.S. custody” after illegally entering the country is a case in point. No one denies the tragedy of the episode. However, few question the actions of those who irresponsibly carried the unfortunate sick child into the desert for days. People will not delve into the cause of things because they prefer to flutter from case to case. The girl will be forgotten only to be replaced by another image equally dramatic. The debate is framed to stir up rage and raw emotion.
The debate need not be limited to the left since the right can also be moved by anger. The opioid crisis, for example, represents a narrative of resentment and abandonment that has its consequences in anger politics. The tragic epidemic is replete with stories and images of those left behind that also fuels sentiments of discontent and fury without analysis.
All these things feed upon themselves, increasing in volume and intensity. That is why it is hard to return to sane civil discourse. This clash of emotions creates the stress and tension that is ripping the nation apart.
The Role of the Emotions
Emotions are not bad in themselves. They help express thought and action. They help communicate affection, sympathy and antipathy. Without emotions, life would be sterile, cold and mechanical.
However, emotions must be governed by reason and directed to a higher purpose. Emotions tend to be unruly, fleeting and fickle when left to themselves.
When emotions become the sole criteria for judgment, there is little room for moral decisions. The emotional solidarity with suffering victims becomes the measure of a cause’s righteousness. Activists can label anyone opposed to this emotional rule as heartless and self-interested. Feelings determine what is true or good. Hard decisions based on principles make people suffer; they are deemed judgmental and bigoted. For most, it is far better to stay on the surface of things.
An Emoji Society
The result is the shallowness of postmodern society that cannot delve deeper into what is happening. People are unwilling to take things to their final consequences. Everything must be fleeting as a Twitter post, superficial as an emoji smiling, frowning or sulking at the end of a text message.
Indeed, the emoji is a fitting symbol of the times. It has no depth or personality. It is a fickle expression of mood impulses. It often offends by its brutal simplicity. The emoji evokes emotions that flee from definition or lasting impact.
An emoji society produces mediocre and unprincipled individuals. Such people are tied to the here and now. They do not look back to history. They do not want to look ahead to the future or upward to a higher cause. They are reluctant to assign meaning to anything since this requires abstraction and analysis.
In care-free, prosperous times, emoji people indulge in all that is entertaining, easy and fun. They eschew commitments that force them to delve deeper into things. Theirs is a true dictatorship that imposes mediocrity upon any who aspire to greater things.
The Rise of Anger Politics
The problem with such shallow societies is that they get ever shallower. At a certain point, they fail because societies need something of substance to sustain them. When mugged by the reality of a society in decay, the emoji people resort to the rule of raw emotions that fuels today’s anger politics.
The reason is simple enough. When disaster strikes, an emoji society does not have the depth to find the causes of the problem. People will not look to themselves to see if they might be at fault. They do not dare to embrace the brutal reality of adversity.
Instead, they look to their emotions and direct their anger to those superficial things that seem to be the cause of the problem. In place of analysis, they harbor resentments to any obstacles in their way. They look to blame others for misfortunes. They will construct narratives that fault the “system” or “establishment” that seems to conspire against them. The media facilitate such emotions by fanning the flames of resentment and entitlement.
Above all, the emoji society rages against those who do seek after profound solutions. Greater wrath than this no man hath, that a man thunder against those who challenge his shallow emoji world (Cf. John 15:13).
The Need for Wisdom
The result is the uncivil atmosphere that at times becomes hysterical, at other times, depressing and lonely. Emoji people deprive themselves of the aid to be had in the guiding principles which help one to rise above the anger and calmly pursue a proper solution. They reject the morals that establish standards that help them restrain their emotions.
Indeed, the only way to counter emoji people is to affirm strong moral principles that define right and wrong. Even today, the presentation of logic, coherence and thought can be a refreshing contrast to the shallow ramblings that pass for culture.
In opposition to this superficiality of reasoning, many crave for those profound and perennial ideas that speak of the meaning and purpose of life.
The present postmodern society lacks wisdom, the virtue that calls for people to understand and act according to the highest causes of things. Restless postmodern hearts yearn for that highest of all causes. They yearn for God, His Law and Church.
John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author of the book Return to Order, as well as the author of hundreds of published articles. He lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he is the vice president of the American Society for the Defense of Tradition, Family and Property.