Thursday, March 17, 2016


A lot of what you think of as "thinking" is really reacting emotionally to stimuli.

The media loves to taunt us.  They are cruel - like a bully at school.  They know what trips our triggers, what sets us off.  And they are all-too-willing to push our buttons to get us to push theirs - to click on their articles or to push the remote to their cable station.

They know we want to be outraged.  They know we will react emotionally to certain stimuli.  They know we are like Pavlov's dogs.

Consider this.  One of the media's favorite topics in the last few months has been this Martin Shkreli guy, who supposedly is some "hedge fund manager" or "Wall Street Whiz" who raised the price on an drug used to fight parasitic infections related to, among other things, AIDS.    The story we are told is that he "bought" this company and then raised the price on this drug and there were no other alternatives to the drug.   And of course, he would make huge profits which he would use to do stupid things like buy a record album so no one could ever hear it.

The media loved this guy.   He was better than Trump in terms of "guy you love to hate".   It had all the makings of class-warfare, the 1%'ers, the Wall-Street Fat cats, and "everything that's wrong with America/capitalism/the world today" or whatever.  All you had to do was mention this guy's name and you'd get an audience.

Of course, as a Patent Attorney, I had to wonder why a 62-year-old drug could be monopolized in this manner.   After all, the Patents (if any) had long expired.  No one had a monopoly on the drug, right?  Well, sort of, as they were the only FDA approved pharmaceutical company selling it.  But of course, a compounding pharmacy could make the same drug for you, and did. 

But that is not as sexy as the story of capitalism run amok, is it?

And why is this?   Why does the media like to taunt us?   Because we react.  Most of what you think of as "thinking" is really emoting and on a big scale.   If you talk to people about news stories or read comments online, the common denominator is that people react almost instantly to stories, without waiting for verification or confirmation of the truth.   People are ready to start a lynching party on short notice.

A few years ago, the Duke University Lacrosse team was accused raping a stripper.   Now, hiring a stripper is arguably a stupid move - you might as well invite homeless people or drug dealers into your house.  People who strip for a living can often be living on the marginal side of life.   Better off not to hire strippers.  Just saying.

But the story turned out to be false - but not before lives were ruined and people (including myself) condemned the young men as rapists and worse.   The District Attorney, who was running for re-election, ended up fired, disbarred, and thrown into jail.   There were no winners here.

And the same is true of other sensationalized cases where accusations are made and later retracted.  The Tawana Brawley case, for example, seemed to be a clear-cut case of racism.   But it wasn't.   Or take the  whole Ferguson case - which the President of the United States has pointed out was a complete fabrication.   Today, people still talk about the "unarmed black man" who was shot by the Police as if it were prima facie evidence of wrongdoing.  Turned out to be something else.

On the Internet, headlines abound about Police shooting "unarmed" suspects, or mentally ill people, or dogs (the latest trend, for some reason).   The headline writers know that we will click on these stories because they appeal to a certain emotional mindset - the mindset of continual outrage.   It is the mindset of continual emoting - reacting rather than thinking.

Emotives are not hard to spot.  If you tell them that the government is the source of all their problems and they nod their heads, you've spotted one.  If you tell them the 1%'ers or the Wall Street Fat Cats or "The Evil Corporations, Man!" are responsible for their woes and they believe it, you've got an emotive.

In short, they are willing to believe whatever pile of horseshit they want to believe, provided it is convenient to their way of living.   And blaming unseen others for the woes in their lives - externalizing - is often seen as the answer to their problems.   But in reality, it isn't an answer to anything.

What causes this?  Well, emotional thinking is present in all of us.  It is what causes the Flight or Fight reaction when confronted with stress.  The Law even recognizes this.   If someone comes up to you and says your wife is a whore, and you punch them in the face, the consequences to you (if any) are far less grave than if you just started punching people at whim - or for personal gain.   We recognize that people can be provoked and that this is a normal part of the human condition.

So, the powers-that-be try to provoke us as much as they can.

But this natural reaction of humans can go off the rails in a big way.   Emotional thinking can start to dominate the brain to the point where a person is just a bundle of nerves and reactions, and never bothers to sit down and think about things.   And with 500 channels playing on the television and the smart phone constantly Twittering and texting, who has time to think about things?

Drugs and mental illness also come into play.  In fact, mental illness really is just emotional thinking taken to its extreme.   And sadly, I saw this happen to a friend as he grew up.   As a kid, I always looked up to him, as he was smarter, bigger, and older than me.   He was into science and math, and brought home a slide rule one day from school.  He was quite proud of it - and got straight A's in science and math classes.   He built model rockets at home and started a club.  He built his own crystal radio set.  My parents were sure he was going to have a career in science or Engineering.   I was looked upon as the dumber of the two, never to amount to much, if anything.

In his teen years, my friend started smoking pot and losing his mind.   His logical thinking abilities started to erode and he started to lose his critical thinking skills.  One day he brought home a book called "Chariots of the Gods?" by a huckster named Eric von Daniken.  He read the book and told me with a straight face that all the wonders of the world were created by space aliens.   He really believed this, and I could not fathom why.  After all, not a year before he was a very logical boy, calculating the altitude of his latest rocket with a slide rule.

It went downhill from there.  He stopped studying math and science and concentrated on English Lit and other "soft" courses.   His grades were up and down with his moods and drug use.   And when he went to college, it was not to get the Engineering degree his parents had hoped for, but one in the dubious field of "communications".

At the time, I did not see the train go off the track, as I was young and smoking pot myself (at age 13 no less).   But for some reason, the idea of not taking Calculus - as hard it was (particularly when stoned) - didn't seem like an option to me.

Today, my friend is full emotive.   He believes in Space Aliens in Area 51, and he is sure if he "researches" it enough on the Internet, he can solve the mystery.  And of course, the reason he got a raw deal in life was "the big corporations" and of course the bitchy ex-wife (all women, according to emotive men, are either whores or "care only about money").

It was sad, watching someone slowly melt down in life, and going from one trial and tragedy to another.  And it is doubly hard if you are younger, as you expect your elders to go great things before you - to set a standard that you might have trouble matching.   And then without much effort on your part, you outstrip them, not by design, but because you got tired of waiting around for them to finish their turn at bat.

Emotional thinking is all around us.  It is why Donald Trump is in the lead of the GOP nomination race.  It is why people get all riled up about political issues every four years, but never bother to vote in the more important mid-term elections.  It is why people love to go to protest and shout slogans, rather than sit down and talk about things logically.   It is why the political parties would rather have stalemate than compromise.

Emotional thinking is, above all, dangerous and evil - on a personal level, a national level, and a societal one.

There is not much we can do to change these over-arching social trends.  We can, however, choose not to be emotives ourselves, and to avoid dealing with emotive people and engaging with emotive media - and recognizing it when we see it.

Sadly, most folks today cannot distinguish between a logical argument and an emotive one.   As the recent Presidential debates illustrate, logical discussion of policy issues puts the plebes to sleep.  But a carefully hurled insult triggers the emotional side of our brains.