An emotional calculus


By Joe Campbell
March 25th, 2008

In evaluating the legacy of the administration of George W. Bush and where we need to go as a nation from here, we need to undertake the delicate, obscure, and imprecise art of projecting how the future will be affected by our decisions today, taking into account the many elements of the past and present that are out of our control. This unknowability of the future and how our decisions affect is one of the essential pragmatic and moral arguments in favor of democracy – because we cannot determine the optimal course using reason, we all take shared responsibility for making our best judgment.Emotions are our attempt, as beings of limited understanding and knowledge, to synthesize the great unconscious mass of our knowledge – the subtle hints, the forgotten information, the half-remembered, the projections based on our past experience – with that which we have analyzed and understood.

What I propose to do here is to perform a kind of emotional calculus – which I think is commonly practiced but rarely described in these terms. Reason is often said to be the light illuminating the darkness; but the future is made of a darkness impenetrable to reason’s light; instead of walking confidently down a lighted path, we instead must grope in the darkness, struggling to identify how best to make our way, and only slowly coming to understand our surroundings.

This is the first part of a three part argument – to be posted on the blog (in at least three parts) over the next week – based on my understanding of two events from the early days of the Bush administration and a more recent event, and how these events relate to what might be called grandiosely the American psyche – but more aptly would be called my personal insight into what Carl Jung identified as the collective unconscious. I would call this attempt David Brooks-esque without being leavened by humor.

My method begins with my own personal experiences and follows an emotional logic.

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