Log in

No account? Create an account
entries friends calendar profile Elf Sternberg's Pendorwright Projects Previous Previous Next Next
There's no such thing as "without emotion." - Elf M. Sternberg
There's no such thing as "without emotion."
In a comment about the recent Hamilton kerfluffle, conservative writer Rod Dreher said, "Brokeback Mountain did not change my mind one bit about same-sex marriage, because my views are not based on emotion."

That's a lie. In fact, it's one of the fundamental lies of our times: that human beings do things "without emotion." Men, especially. It's simply not true: underlying everything we do, absolutely everything, is emotion. There is no humanity without it. There is no such thing as consciousness without it. Every decision we make is tied to an emotional issue somewhere, because emotions are how human beings make decisions.

Dreher's claim is more along the lines of "I've made my decision to stay in the faith I've decided upon, and so my views on same sex marriage derive from that decision." But that decision is based on a feeling: the feeling that his orthodox Catholicism is the right and true state of being, and everyone who doesn't go along with his view is wrong. His commitment to his views is a source of pride, of satisfaction, and of contentment — all emotions. Every organization that earns fealty, be it a military or a religion, rides on that combinatoral ocean of pride and satisfaction, the notion that being a man means avoiding in-group conflicts, and creating conflict leads to terror because it means possibly depriving you of your community, your tribe, your very means of support.

Trump supporter Jesse Lee Peterson wrote "In the old days, men were not as emotional as they are now. They're worse than women! When I was growing up, had a man acted that way, we would take him out in the woods and beat him." You might recognize Jesse Lee Peterson's emotion: it's rage, which is notably one of the few emotions men are allowed to feel, and one of those privileged emotions men are allowed to feel without being labeled "emotional." Peterson is being very emotional. The men in his story are as well; they're exhibiting rage, along with shame, disgust and contempt.

When we say someone is "unemotional," what we're really saying is that they're engaged in the privileged emotions of masculinity: pride, reserve, contentment. Act like it, because your peers already terrify you if you don't.

Queer men like myself aren't "more emotional;" we're permitting ourselves a wider range of emotions than other men, because our status requires we either deal with the terror of stepping outside the box of performative masculinity, or surrender to the closet and its miseries. Black men aren't "more emotional;" they're acting outside of the emotional range white America would rather see from them (reserved and content with a lesser status), driven by a rage I can understand and with which I can empathize, if not feel as deeply as they do.

Consciousness is a quality we humans seem to possess in unique abundance. When we say, "I feel," we're expressing a conscious need at a conscious level, but we are feeling something all the time. Psychologists know this, advertisers know this. Politicians on the right know that making people fearful makes them want simple, authoritarian answers to their problems. It doesn't even have to be a political fear; asking people to walk over a frightening bridge makes them more likely to favor authoritarian policies in a questionnaire administered later the same day!

All consciousness is driven by emotion. All of it, without fail. Jesse Lee Patterson's man-shaped pack animals tearing into the weakling among them is pure, endocrinological emotion and nothing less. We are not thinking machines operating on pure rationality– and if we were, from where would our motives come? We are feeling machines that developed the capacity to think as our best tool, the one that put us at the top of the food chain, the one that keeps us there unless it leads to our crapping our own nest into an uninhabitable mess. Men who act "unemotional," who claim their decisions aren't driven by their feelings, are lying to you, and to themselves. What they're really doing is performing a pantomime of fearlessness because they're terrified of what would happen if they didn't.


4 comments or Leave a comment
valarltd From: valarltd Date: November 20th, 2016 11:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the perspective.
You're completely right about acceptable emotions and unacceptle ones.
This is something I am wrestling with as I make the transition to manhood. Do I engage in performative masculinity? How do I do so? Do I choose to perform rage instead of sadness, to lash out instead of being depressed?

It's all very complicated and I expect T will only complicate things more
elfs From: elfs Date: November 22nd, 2016 04:37 am (UTC) (Link)
If it does... let it. But I've taken a lot of comfort from, oddly enough, some progressive Christian teachings about men and their emotions that really gets into the heart of this.

Should you engage in performative masculinity? I think you should... and then you should know how and when to stop short when you're hurting someone, or shutting someone down, or out of your heart. You'll have to learn to live with your T, and what it brings to you. Lots of good thing! Lust and joy and hunger and power. Tame those, use them to do good, act like a man. Just not like a shitty man.
rfmcdpei From: rfmcdpei Date: November 22nd, 2016 04:27 am (UTC) (Link)
This is lovely. Might I share this?
elfs From: elfs Date: November 22nd, 2016 04:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Feel free!
4 comments or Leave a comment