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The role of anger and other strong emotions

 
Probus
 
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Probus
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02 August 2017 11:34
 

I’ve been meditating (mostly mindfulness) for a few years, and this question has been on my mind for a while. Most meditation forms (at least that I am aware of) seem to suggest that strong emotions are (if not necessarily harmful), not to be embraced. From a mindfulness perspective, you should observe but not focus on emotions. Meditation seem to promote calmness rather than fierce passion. We know that strong emotions are effective motivators (for both good and bad). Much of the social progress we’ve had in the western world can arguably be attributed to anger, frustration and a general sense of contempt for discrimination and and inequality. I find it hard to believe that people would have been so passionate (and putting their reputation and even lives at stake) and driven to make a change, without strong emotions being involved.

My question is, how it would affect our societies if we adopted mediation and mindfulness as general principles in our societies. Would there be a risk that people faded into some state of contentment and happiness without caring all that much about what goes on in the rest of the world? From my perspective, the biggest social challenges we face today are associated with problems in the third world. Without anger and frustration, will people ever be motivated to demand a more fair and just world for people in countries far away? Is it possible to achieve that purely with calm reason? Our past experiences, at least don’t seem to confirm that it’s possible.

 
sojourner
 
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02 August 2017 20:44
 
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

Much of the social progress we’ve had in the western world can arguably be attributed to anger, frustration and a general sense of contempt for discrimination and and inequality.


I disagree. I don’t think that’s what “I have a dream” was about at all - anger, frustration, and contempt, I mean.


I share some of your general philosophical concerns about the role of ‘acceptance’ in contemplative practice - I think it’s a concept one has to be very careful with, regarding shades of meaning. I think such terms mean different things as understood colloquially and as understood through the lens of extended meditative practice; and that we don’t necessarily have the appropriate vocabulary to describe the latter.


That said, when it comes to emotion, specifically, I actually think the philosophical framework becomes a bit easier to justify. I think anger, frustration and contempt are rather ‘weak’ emotions - a person who is controlled by them is really not in control at all, they have little freedom to move about and make choices according to their will and are more like a reactive puppet. Alternately, the ‘boundless states’ in Buddhism are supposed to be emotions so ‘strong’ in nature that they are literally, well, boundless, and I think people can achieve great things when experiencing these states - and that the fruits of actions motivated by these states will be different than those motivated by negative mind states. Anyone can hate and condemn; it’s real love and forgiveness that require skill.

 
 
burt
 
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burt
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02 August 2017 21:07
 
NL. - 02 August 2017 08:44 PM
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

Much of the social progress we’ve had in the western world can arguably be attributed to anger, frustration and a general sense of contempt for discrimination and and inequality.


I disagree. I don’t think that’s what “I have a dream” was about at all - anger, frustration, and contempt, I mean.


I share some of your general philosophical concerns about the role of ‘acceptance’ in contemplative practice - I think it’s a concept one has to be very careful with, regarding shades of meaning. I think such terms mean different things as understood colloquially and as understood through the lens of extended meditative practice; and that we don’t necessarily have the appropriate vocabulary to describe the latter.


That said, when it comes to emotion, specifically, I actually think the philosophical framework becomes a bit easier to justify. I think anger, frustration and contempt are rather ‘weak’ emotions - a person who is controlled by them is really not in control at all, they have little freedom to move about and make choices according to their will and are more like a reactive puppet. Alternately, the ‘boundless states’ in Buddhism are supposed to be emotions so ‘strong’ in nature that they are literally, well, boundless, and I think people can achieve great things when experiencing these states - and that the fruits of actions motivated by these states will be different than those motivated by negative mind states. Anyone can hate and condemn; it’s real love and forgiveness that require skill.

Plato’s analogy of the chariot comes to mind, also a statement by al Ghazali in a book called The Alchemy of Happiness: “The wise make lust their steed and anger their sword.” Implicit in that is that horses need to be tamed and one needs to learn how to handle a sword. In part, that’s where meditation practices can be helpful.

 
Ground
 
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03 August 2017 02:56
 
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

... Is it possible to achieve that purely with calm reason?

What is worthwhile to achieve is the outcome of detached rationality. And how this is achieved most efficiently is the outcome of detached rationality, too. Meditation and rational analysis are not necessarily different.

 
Jb8989
 
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04 August 2017 06:23
 
Ground - 03 August 2017 02:56 AM
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

... Is it possible to achieve that purely with calm reason?

What is worthwhile to achieve is the outcome of detached rationality. And how this is achieved most efficiently is the outcome of detached rationality, too. Meditation and rational analysis are not necessarily different.

+1

The thing about emotions is that we still treat them and talk about them as if they’re not omnipresent. They are. Not in all reality, but in consciousness. Even in sleep states and within subconscious perceptions. Meditation can help you objectively measure yours and see what’s causing them, what causes them to intensify, what regulates and soothes unwanted ones. And then if you’re real good at it, you gain the ability to put them on a scale. One man’s mild anger is another man’s moderate anger is another man’s rage. Is yet another man’s enjoyment. The key is to embrace emotions, even when they’re intense. It’s easier and smarter than trying to tame or control them. And don’t look at them as good and bad ones either. Even the more physically painful emotions like sadness, guilt, shame and blame are nothing to be afraid of. Not coincidentally fear is yet another emotion. Prioritizing them is what you’re talking about. That’s best performed naturally occurring. Meditation helps emotional clarity, politics, just generally, hurts. Just based off sheer mass stimulus.

 

[ Edited: 04 August 2017 06:25 by Jb8989]
 
 
burt
 
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burt
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04 August 2017 08:55
 
Jb8989 - 04 August 2017 06:23 AM
Ground - 03 August 2017 02:56 AM
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

... Is it possible to achieve that purely with calm reason?

What is worthwhile to achieve is the outcome of detached rationality. And how this is achieved most efficiently is the outcome of detached rationality, too. Meditation and rational analysis are not necessarily different.

+1

The thing about emotions is that we still treat them and talk about them as if they’re not omnipresent. They are. Not in all reality, but in consciousness. Even in sleep states and within subconscious perceptions. Meditation can help you objectively measure yours and see what’s causing them, what causes them to intensify, what regulates and soothes unwanted ones. And then if you’re real good at it, you gain the ability to put them on a scale. One man’s mild anger is another man’s moderate anger is another man’s rage. Is yet another man’s enjoyment. The key is to embrace emotions, even when they’re intense. It’s easier and smarter than trying to tame or control them. And don’t look at them as good and bad ones either. Even the more physically painful emotions like sadness, guilt, shame and blame are nothing to be afraid of. Not coincidentally fear is yet another emotion. Prioritizing them is what you’re talking about. That’s best performed naturally occurring. Meditation helps emotional clarity, politics, just generally, hurts. Just based off sheer mass stimulus.

 

And become aware of the difference between emotions and feelings. Different people use different words for these but the basic distinction is between (1) the basic physiological responses that the body automatically makes, coded into circuits in the brain related to survival and cued by things like availability of food, sex, danger, and so on. These manifest in things like sweating, gut level reactions, muscle and visceral tensions, adrenal and other hormone release, etc. (emotions); and (2) the mental experience of these physiological reactions (feelings). The emotions are genetically programmed and connect directly to survival; the feelings are, in large part, culturally loaded. For example, you’re hungry and your body is saying it needs food. You feel this mentally, but you sit down to dinner and mind your table manners rather than just grabbing the steak off the plate and gobbling it down. Or, you see a sexy woman and feel lust but you don’t run over and grab her, you act as the situation requires.

 
Probus
 
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07 August 2017 13:48
 
NL. - 02 August 2017 08:44 PM
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

That said, when it comes to emotion, specifically, I actually think the philosophical framework becomes a bit easier to justify. I think anger, frustration and contempt are rather ‘weak’ emotions - a person who is controlled by them is really not in control at all, they have little freedom to move about and make choices according to their will and are more like a reactive puppet. Alternately, the ‘boundless states’ in Buddhism are supposed to be emotions so ‘strong’ in nature that they are literally, well, boundless, and I think people can achieve great things when experiencing these states - and that the fruits of actions motivated by these states will be different than those motivated by negative mind states. Anyone can hate and condemn; it’s real love and forgiveness that require skill.

That’s interesting. I have to contemplate on that a bit, before I can issue a response. Thanks!

 
Probus
 
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07 August 2017 13:54
 
Ground - 03 August 2017 02:56 AM
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

... Is it possible to achieve that purely with calm reason?

What is worthwhile to achieve is the outcome of detached rationality. And how this is achieved most efficiently is the outcome of detached rationality, too. Meditation and rational analysis are not necessarily different.

But, can’t detached rationality also be a dangerous thing? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the final solution and what struck me was exactly how emotionally detached the people discussing the final solution were. They did not seem to really express deep hatred and contempt of Jews. It was just a problem that needed a solution. That was what really made it so terrifying. The “fact” that it wasn’t the result of emotional bigotry. But, callous calculations and basically an engineering problem of how to kill millions of people in the most efficient way possible. I especially remember one part, where they discussed just shooting all the Jews but came to the conclusion that it would be too costly and would cause too much emotional stress to the executioners.

 
burt
 
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07 August 2017 17:34
 
Probus - 07 August 2017 01:54 PM
Ground - 03 August 2017 02:56 AM
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

... Is it possible to achieve that purely with calm reason?

What is worthwhile to achieve is the outcome of detached rationality. And how this is achieved most efficiently is the outcome of detached rationality, too. Meditation and rational analysis are not necessarily different.

But, can’t detached rationality also be a dangerous thing? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the final solution and what struck me was exactly how emotionally detached the people discussing the final solution were. They did not seem to really express deep hatred and contempt of Jews. It was just a problem that needed a solution. That was what really made it so terrifying. The “fact” that it wasn’t the result of emotional bigotry. But, callous calculations and basically an engineering problem of how to kill millions of people in the most efficient way possible. I especially remember one part, where they discussed just shooting all the Jews but came to the conclusion that it would be too costly and would cause too much emotional stress to the executioners.

It’s not a matter of “detached rationality” but rather relaxed observation, even of emotional responses.

 
sojourner
 
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07 August 2017 19:41
 
Probus - 07 August 2017 01:54 PM

But, can’t detached rationality also be a dangerous thing? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the final solution and what struck me was exactly how emotionally detached the people discussing the final solution were. They did not seem to really express deep hatred and contempt of Jews. It was just a problem that needed a solution. That was what really made it so terrifying. The “fact” that it wasn’t the result of emotional bigotry. But, callous calculations and basically an engineering problem of how to kill millions of people in the most efficient way possible. I especially remember one part, where they discussed just shooting all the Jews but came to the conclusion that it would be too costly and would cause too much emotional stress to the executioners.


Well, I think it’s worth noting that:

1. A flat affect does not necessarily mean a true lack of emotion - it simply means someone has a flat affect

2. Even where, in the animal world, there is a seeming lack of emotion around aggressive behavior (cats toying with mice, for example), it’s usually associated with more primal behavior - the very thing that meditation, from what studies show thus far, develops us away from.


That said, I do think that when you talk about these things, it’s impossible not to get into metaphysics at some point - and the structure of the universe, of consciousness, of sentient minds - those are indeed very much important to this question. If the “Ultimate Good”, after great introspection, was ultimately “survival of individual beings at all costs”, then yeah, humans would essentially be sociopaths only constrained somewhat by ideology, culture, and enculturated beliefs that condition us towards prosocial behaviors at a Pavlovian level with feelings like pride vs. shame. Strip those away and you’d be right back to the ‘core’ sociopathy.


If you would like to be disabused of this notion, however, please, I strongly urge you to spend any amount of time around people who are devoted to ‘exploring consciousness’ in various ways. Trust me, ask someone who is so inclined what they saw during their meditative experience; or near death experience; or acid trip during college; or during a vision on that shamanistic retreat they went to; or whatever, and there is pretty much 100% chance you are going to hear a LOT about how our true nature is to be one with sunflowers and snuggle at all times and also we should paint with all the colors of the wind. (I say that as someone who’s been there myself, btw, so I’m kidding around but ultimately not knocking the idea.) I have literally never, ever heard anyone say “So yeah, after all that exploration, turns out the meaning of life is that I should get mine and screw the rest of you guys!”. Anecdotal, yes, but still, a high degree of unanimity in the anecdotal realm there.


I think there are even interesting clues to this idea in our language. In the West, ‘love’ is the only emotion I can think of that can be ‘unrequited’. You can have unrequited love, but not unrequited hate (or unrequited happiness, sadness, joy, anger, and so on.) Granted, that’s usually a reference to romantic love, but even so, we generally feel there’s something wrong with the situation if love is unilateral (between a parent and child, friends, in-group / out-group members, and so on.) Why does this apply to love and not other emotions? It’s as if our intuition is that it should be more ubiquitous, that this is the natural state of things between people, whereas other emotions are transitory and individual.

 
 
burt
 
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burt
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07 August 2017 22:20
 
NL. - 07 August 2017 07:41 PM
Probus - 07 August 2017 01:54 PM

But, can’t detached rationality also be a dangerous thing? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the final solution and what struck me was exactly how emotionally detached the people discussing the final solution were. They did not seem to really express deep hatred and contempt of Jews. It was just a problem that needed a solution. That was what really made it so terrifying. The “fact” that it wasn’t the result of emotional bigotry. But, callous calculations and basically an engineering problem of how to kill millions of people in the most efficient way possible. I especially remember one part, where they discussed just shooting all the Jews but came to the conclusion that it would be too costly and would cause too much emotional stress to the executioners.


Well, I think it’s worth noting that:

1. A flat affect does not necessarily mean a true lack of emotion - it simply means someone has a flat affect

2. Even where, in the animal world, there is a seeming lack of emotion around aggressive behavior (cats toying with mice, for example), it’s usually associated with more primal behavior - the very thing that meditation, from what studies show thus far, develops us away from.


That said, I do think that when you talk about these things, it’s impossible not to get into metaphysics at some point - and the structure of the universe, of consciousness, of sentient minds - those are indeed very much important to this question. If the “Ultimate Good”, after great introspection, was ultimately “survival of individual beings at all costs”, then yeah, humans would essentially be sociopaths only constrained somewhat by ideology, culture, and enculturated beliefs that condition us towards prosocial behaviors at a Pavlovian level with feelings like pride vs. shame. Strip those away and you’d be right back to the ‘core’ sociopathy.


If you would like to be disabused of this notion, however, please, I strongly urge you to spend any amount of time around people who are devoted to ‘exploring consciousness’ in various ways. Trust me, ask someone who is so inclined what they saw during their meditative experience; or near death experience; or acid trip during college; or during a vision on that shamanistic retreat they went to; or whatever, and there is pretty much 100% chance you are going to hear a LOT about how our true nature is to be one with sunflowers and snuggle at all times and also we should paint with all the colors of the wind. (I say that as someone who’s been there myself, btw, so I’m kidding around but ultimately not knocking the idea.) I have literally never, ever heard anyone say “So yeah, after all that exploration, turns out the meaning of life is that I should get mine and screw the rest of you guys!”. Anecdotal, yes, but still, a high degree of unanimity in the anecdotal realm there.


I think there are even interesting clues to this idea in our language. In the West, ‘love’ is the only emotion I can think of that can be ‘unrequited’. You can have unrequited love, but not unrequited hate (or unrequited happiness, sadness, joy, anger, and so on.) Granted, that’s usually a reference to romantic love, but even so, we generally feel there’s something wrong with the situation if love is unilateral (between a parent and child, friends, in-group / out-group members, and so on.) Why does this apply to love and not other emotions? It’s as if our intuition is that it should be more ubiquitous, that this is the natural state of things between people, whereas other emotions are transitory and individual.


Interesting comment about love, NL. My preferred understanding of love is that it is a recognition of identity, of the same fundamental consciousness in another as in oneself with all the emotional and other symptoms arising out of biological and psychological reactions to that recognition. Sometimes, it manifests is unsuspected ways; for example, I’ve been told that in confrontations between hockey players a fight erupts only if preceded by direct eye contact. Of course, we know what direct eye contact can do between a woman and a man. But there are more subtle levels as well. And meditation, clearing the mind, can get some of the barriers that block recognition out of the way.

 
Twissel
 
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07 August 2017 22:48
 

Steven Pinker has some great ideas about the role of “irrational” emotions, such a love and hate (but mostly love).

The signal that I’m committed to an action way past the point when it would be rational to abandon it (because a better option is available), is a necessary signal to my opposite (lover/enemy) that whatever is between us will stand the test of time. If the other side could expect my attitude to change any time there is new relevant data, they probably would act very differently.

In a world full of rational beings, the irrational ones (even if they only plausibly pretend) have a clear advantage.

 
 
Jb8989
 
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08 August 2017 09:42
 
Probus - 07 August 2017 01:54 PM
Ground - 03 August 2017 02:56 AM
Probus - 02 August 2017 11:34 AM

... Is it possible to achieve that purely with calm reason?

What is worthwhile to achieve is the outcome of detached rationality. And how this is achieved most efficiently is the outcome of detached rationality, too. Meditation and rational analysis are not necessarily different.

But, can’t detached rationality also be a dangerous thing? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the final solution and what struck me was exactly how emotionally detached the people discussing the final solution were. They did not seem to really express deep hatred and contempt of Jews. It was just a problem that needed a solution. That was what really made it so terrifying. The “fact” that it wasn’t the result of emotional bigotry. But, callous calculations and basically an engineering problem of how to kill millions of people in the most efficient way possible. I especially remember one part, where they discussed just shooting all the Jews but came to the conclusion that it would be too costly and would cause too much emotional stress to the executioners.

You’re confusing being emotionally disengaged with being detached from rationality.

As a rule of thumb, being able to regulate the effect that certain emotions have on your mind can help you stick to the issue at hand and think logically. It’s generally a helpful way to get to the root of an issue that’s been eluding your rational mind. Or to hone in on circumstances that seem complex. The reason is because emotions can distort your perception and can cause a misleading sense of things if they’re not kept in check. Again, this is better done by embracing them rather than some fruitless attempt at trying to constantly control them, which generally just winds up stifling certain parts of your personality that you might need at a later date. Thus, being too emotionally disengaged, especially from dramatic or important things, is where we start to see sociopathic and narcissistic tendencies kick in. Are they hurtful people? Sure! But they’re also commonly very intellectually lazy and unreasonable personalities too. Make no mistake, a lot of the times they arrive in those states stoically.

[ Edited: 08 August 2017 09:47 by Jb8989]
 
 
sojourner
 
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08 August 2017 19:15
 
burt - 07 August 2017 10:20 PM

Interesting comment about love, NL. My preferred understanding of love is that it is a recognition of identity, of the same fundamental consciousness in another as in oneself with all the emotional and other symptoms arising out of biological and psychological reactions to that recognition. Sometimes, it manifests is unsuspected ways; for example, I’ve been told that in confrontations between hockey players a fight erupts only if preceded by direct eye contact. Of course, we know what direct eye contact can do between a woman and a man. But there are more subtle levels as well. And meditation, clearing the mind, can get some of the barriers that block recognition out of the way.


Agree on the first point, not sure what you mean by the latter (It seems to me that heated passion - whether aggressive or romantic - has something of a dualistic element to it - I mean it’s not something one tends to feel when making eye contact with oneself in the mirror, after all.) Regarding the first point, having the occasional experience of feeling sure that I know someone, while knowing rationally that I don’t, is certainly something I associate with meditation. Not in a passionate or emotional way at all, just in a very familiar way, like “They feel like my next door neighbor who grew up across the street from me!”, even though again, my rational mind knows that’s not the case. I like to think of that as a recognition of shared humanity with most of the usual ‘filters’ removed - seeing people as fellow humans first and not being self-conscious of the usual things.

 
 
burt
 
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burt
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08 August 2017 22:22
 
NL. - 08 August 2017 07:15 PM
burt - 07 August 2017 10:20 PM

Interesting comment about love, NL. My preferred understanding of love is that it is a recognition of identity, of the same fundamental consciousness in another as in oneself with all the emotional and other symptoms arising out of biological and psychological reactions to that recognition. Sometimes, it manifests is unsuspected ways; for example, I’ve been told that in confrontations between hockey players a fight erupts only if preceded by direct eye contact. Of course, we know what direct eye contact can do between a woman and a man. But there are more subtle levels as well. And meditation, clearing the mind, can get some of the barriers that block recognition out of the way.


Agree on the first point, not sure what you mean by the latter (It seems to me that heated passion - whether aggressive or romantic - has something of a dualistic element to it - I mean it’s not something one tends to feel when making eye contact with oneself in the mirror, after all.) Regarding the first point, having the occasional experience of feeling sure that I know someone, while knowing rationally that I don’t, is certainly something I associate with meditation. Not in a passionate or emotional way at all, just in a very familiar way, like “They feel like my next door neighbor who grew up across the street from me!”, even though again, my rational mind knows that’s not the case. I like to think of that as a recognition of shared humanity with most of the usual ‘filters’ removed - seeing people as fellow humans first and not being self-conscious of the usual things.

Trump feels it when he looks at himself in the mirror…

 
Jb8989
 
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09 August 2017 08:55
 
burt - 07 August 2017 10:20 PM
NL. - 07 August 2017 07:41 PM
Probus - 07 August 2017 01:54 PM

But, can’t detached rationality also be a dangerous thing? A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the final solution and what struck me was exactly how emotionally detached the people discussing the final solution were. They did not seem to really express deep hatred and contempt of Jews. It was just a problem that needed a solution. That was what really made it so terrifying. The “fact” that it wasn’t the result of emotional bigotry. But, callous calculations and basically an engineering problem of how to kill millions of people in the most efficient way possible. I especially remember one part, where they discussed just shooting all the Jews but came to the conclusion that it would be too costly and would cause too much emotional stress to the executioners.


Well, I think it’s worth noting that:

1. A flat affect does not necessarily mean a true lack of emotion - it simply means someone has a flat affect

2. Even where, in the animal world, there is a seeming lack of emotion around aggressive behavior (cats toying with mice, for example), it’s usually associated with more primal behavior - the very thing that meditation, from what studies show thus far, develops us away from.


That said, I do think that when you talk about these things, it’s impossible not to get into metaphysics at some point - and the structure of the universe, of consciousness, of sentient minds - those are indeed very much important to this question. If the “Ultimate Good”, after great introspection, was ultimately “survival of individual beings at all costs”, then yeah, humans would essentially be sociopaths only constrained somewhat by ideology, culture, and enculturated beliefs that condition us towards prosocial behaviors at a Pavlovian level with feelings like pride vs. shame. Strip those away and you’d be right back to the ‘core’ sociopathy.


If you would like to be disabused of this notion, however, please, I strongly urge you to spend any amount of time around people who are devoted to ‘exploring consciousness’ in various ways. Trust me, ask someone who is so inclined what they saw during their meditative experience; or near death experience; or acid trip during college; or during a vision on that shamanistic retreat they went to; or whatever, and there is pretty much 100% chance you are going to hear a LOT about how our true nature is to be one with sunflowers and snuggle at all times and also we should paint with all the colors of the wind. (I say that as someone who’s been there myself, btw, so I’m kidding around but ultimately not knocking the idea.) I have literally never, ever heard anyone say “So yeah, after all that exploration, turns out the meaning of life is that I should get mine and screw the rest of you guys!”. Anecdotal, yes, but still, a high degree of unanimity in the anecdotal realm there.


I think there are even interesting clues to this idea in our language. In the West, ‘love’ is the only emotion I can think of that can be ‘unrequited’. You can have unrequited love, but not unrequited hate (or unrequited happiness, sadness, joy, anger, and so on.) Granted, that’s usually a reference to romantic love, but even so, we generally feel there’s something wrong with the situation if love is unilateral (between a parent and child, friends, in-group / out-group members, and so on.) Why does this apply to love and not other emotions? It’s as if our intuition is that it should be more ubiquitous, that this is the natural state of things between people, whereas other emotions are transitory and individual.


Interesting comment about love, NL. My preferred understanding of love is that it is a recognition of identity, of the same fundamental consciousness in another as in oneself with all the emotional and other symptoms arising out of biological and psychological reactions to that recognition. Sometimes, it manifests is unsuspected ways; for example, I’ve been told that in confrontations between hockey players a fight erupts only if preceded by direct eye contact. Of course, we know what direct eye contact can do between a woman and a man. But there are more subtle levels as well. And meditation, clearing the mind, can get some of the barriers that block recognition out of the way.

Are you saying that some Hockey players who fight each other in the game are doing so out of love triggered by a glare?

 
 
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