The Tyranny of Feelings
Authenticity, or “being true to yourself,” means acting in accordance with strong emotions. The use of the phrase “I feel like” has become pervasive. Powerful emotions can be extremely dangerous when decoupled from reason.
This new religion—a toxic mix of postmodern relativism, Marxist social analysis and a Nietzschean will to power—has taken this trend to a whole new level. Today, emotions have become “weaponized.” They are used as blunt instruments to exert power and gain control like they were at Yale and elsewhere.
Political correctness (PC) is how most of us encounter the tyranny of feelings. PC is shorthand for speech codes (written or unwritten) that purport to protect the feelings of certain minority groups and avoid giving offense. They become blunt instruments of power by defining what is and is not acceptable speech, and by inflicting penalties on violators, including public defamation, shaming, fines, and even the loss of employment.
For selected groups (defined by the Marxist social analysis that underpins the new religion) claims of offense, “hurt feelings” or discrimination accrue power to silence opponents and force them to conform to the accuser’s will. This conferring of power perversely incentivizes victimhood.
In this new religion, victimhood bestows an almost god-like status. It encourages people to cast themselves as fragile, aggrieved victims in need of “safe spaces.” Dr. Jonathan Haidt observed that it incentivizes people to “respond to even the slightest unintentional offense, even going so far as to falsify offenses.”
The Tyranny of Feelings is Incredibly Destructive
Thus, we have an explosion of so-called “microaggressions.” The whole system is built upon the need to keep finding newer reasons to be offended, newer claims to victimhood.
As Dr. Haidt explains, “The goalposts shift, allowing participants to maintain a constant level of anger and constant level of perceived victimization … Some colleges have lowered the bar so far than an innocent question, motivated by curiosity, such as ‘where are you from’ is now branded as an act of aggression.” Everyone walks around on egg shells, never knowing for certain if something they say might trigger an emotionally charged reaction, and a charge of racism, bigotry, or discrimination.
Reflecting on this in a recent New York Times op-ed, Molly Worthen writes, “Calls for trigger warnings and safe spaces … have eroded students’ inclination to assert or argue. It is safer to merely ‘feel’ … Asserting that others must respond to your hurt feelings and sense of being offended is a way of deflecting (and) avoiding engagement with another person. You cannot disagree.”
If you cannot disagree, dialogue is undermined. The attempt to understand all sides of an issue, to listen to arguments and alternative points of view truly and respectfully in a search for truth is undermined. This is the tyranny of feelings and it is incredibly destructive. If it continues to carry the day in our culture, the load-bearing pillars of our free society will inevitably collapse under its weight.
The Nietzschean Will to Power Demands It
As destructive as this is, it has gotten even worse over the last decade. Not only do feelings trump opinions, they now trump reality itself. We see this most clearly with the sexual orientation and gender issue where Progressivism is at its zenith of madness. If I’m born biologically female, but “I feel like” I’m male (or really anywhere on the so-called gender spectrum), then I am a male. My feelings determine the reality. Postmodernism has empowered me to create my own reality—my own personal identity—without any reference to biological facts.
The Nietzschean will to power then kicks in, as I demand that others (and the society as a whole) affirm me in my personally created reality. If you fail to affirm me, I can wield power by claiming offense, pain, suffering, and discrimination. I can bash you as a hater and a bigot if you fail to let me use the bathroom or locker room of my choice based on my feelings about who I am at any given moment.
States have passed laws and ordinances to enforce the tyranny of feelings. In New York City, authorities now fine citizens up to $250,000 for the novel crime of “mis-gendering” – referring to people by any words other than their pronouns of choice (including newly constructed words such as zie/hir, ey/em/eir and co). Sexual madness!
Make no mistake: this new ideology is deadly serious. It is nothing less than a kind of acid, eating away at the central pillars of a free, open society. Yale University is supposed to represent dialogue and learning. What happens when we lose the freedom to openly dialogue, debate and discuss different viewpoints because we fear offending someone who may wield power over us by claiming our speech was “violence” leading to public shaming, fines, or loss of employment? Ideas have consequences. What kind of culture will this new ideology produce? What will be the fruit? Leftist madness!