Age of Emotion

In this age of emotion, we have developed a dictatorship of thought. If you do not feel the same as the powers-that-be demand – political, social, or religious – then you are attacked, not by facts, but by shame; an emotional ostracism from society. Fact has been twisted, turned and downright ignored for so long that it no longer holds sway in argument. The danger is the minority, or unpopular, voice is completely muted; a loss of freedom of speech. The complexity is that the division of popular and unpopular, majority and minority, is nearly equal. There is no clear majority and the struggle for dominance rocks the bedrock principals, on which our country governs.

I think the start of the current age of emotion goes back to the 1980s and the evolution of the MADD organization. In addition, CNN Headline News brought the Iraq War live to our living rooms, touching off fierce competition for viewers and readers of other media outlets, and igniting a return of Yellow Journalism and the Party Press. The 1980s was the founding of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers and in 1984 was the driving force behind raising the age a person could buy alcohol to 21. In many states, the age a person could legally drink alcohol also was raised to 21. I was a senior in high school in 1980 and didn’t think the group would do much when it first started. First, the improper grammar of its name rankled me. I thought, if it couldn’t put together a grammatically correct name, who would give it credence? More importantly, this was a group motivated by emotion – a mother’s grief of the death of a child by a driver who was drunk – a drunken driver. It was a campaign based on emotion, not fact. Law is purposely an involved and lengthy process to allow emotions to cool and reason to come to the forefront. I didn’t think this crusade against drunken drivers would influence the law for years, but it only took four to change national policy.

CNN Headline News was not only a new television station, but also a new format. It offered news all day long, instead of just morning, afternoon and evening. It became the watched news outlet soon after it came on the air because it provided live coverage of the Iraq War, all day long. The war unfolded right before your eyes. A person didn’t have to wait days or even hours to learn what was happening overseas. It was right there on your television, 24-7, happening live. CNN, started by Ted Turner, had several reporters and cameramen travel with a military unit, something now called embedded.

Newspaper readership and viewer points for other television companies fell with the advent of Headline News. The response, in my opinion, was a return to Yellow Journalism and resulting to Party Press. Yellow Journalism is traced back to the late 1800s when Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst competed for readership of their rival New York newspapers by sensationalisizing news; focusing on scandal, and going on crusades against popular targets, such as political corruption. They used banner headlines and cartoons, particularly one called “The Yellow Kid,” to attract readers. It is from that cartoon that the term yellow journalism was coined. It’s been a long time since I studied this in school, so I double-checked the definition with Wikipedia and Encylopedia Britannica.

In my memory the idea of yellow journalism went back to beginning of the formation of the United States when politicians would buy or start newspapers to further their campaigns and trash their opponents. Another trip to Britannica for the answer:

Party press era, period (1780s–1830s) in United States history when news editors received patronage from political parties, usually in the form of government printing contracts. An editor would readily endorse a party’s candidates and champion its principles, typically in line with his own beliefs, and in return would receive support for his six-cent paper. This gave the editor, who often also served as printer, writer, and business manager, a sense of prestige and power in society, and patronage was critical to the paper’s long-term economic stability.

“… The American press saw extensive growth during the party press era. In 1783 the newly independent country had only 35 newspapers, but by 1833 it had 1,200. The nonadvertising content of the party press era was primarily political news and interpretation, including abuse hurled at opponents. Most editors prominently displayed the names of a party’s ticket for weeks. Editors also printed speeches of major national and state political leaders as well as significant government documents.”

The derogatory term “in bed with” applied to party press. The newspaper was in bed with the political patron. Now reporters are embedded with military units or political campaigns. I don’t see a lot of difference between the two terms.

We’re back again at sensational reporting with little or no fact. It’s all about feeling and appealing to emotion rather than intellect. Apparently, it’s a 100-year thing for America. It shapes how and what we think as a society. I first noticed how firmly emotional thinking was fixed in our society with my children who would say “I feel …” rather than “I think…” One day my daughter was telling me what she thought about something that was clearly an act of the brain and not the heart. I corrected her to say “You think that …” and she could not wrap her head around that phrase and insisted she felt. ‘I feel’ is emotional, ‘I think’ is reasoned, but for her it’s one in the same. To her, thinking is doing math, feeling is stating her opinion.

The problem arises in our response to emotional campaigns, such as sexual identity, climate change, woke, and critical race theory. If you agree with whichever side, you are seen as good and solid. If you disagree, you are a bad person who doesn’t care about the earth or people and you become the focus of scorn and ridicule. Well, who wants to be the bad guy? Who wants to be scourge of the society? Who wants to say no to a grieving mother holding the picture of her dead child? Emotions cannot be right or wrong, they can only be yours. Because there is no marketplace of ideas, no place to debate facts, and the reaction to speaking up for your belief is vicious: businesses are sued and smeared, neighborhoods and cities are destroyed by pyro protestors and politicians have mobs at their doorsteps hurtling insults and/or rocks. One side is no better than the other, as there is such a minute difference between majority and minority of opinion, and it varies from community to community. We all are acting as spoiled children, demanding the truth for outselves, unwilling to listen to other voices.

It is not by chance, that freedom of speech is among the first listed in the Bill of Rights. Freedom of speech embodies freedom of thought and feeling, the liberty to decide your own course. When we allow one part of society to silence our voice by tyranny or exclusion, we lose our freedom of speech. We subjugate our individuality, our thought and reason, and yes, emotion, to the bigger or louder collective of society. Such groups which willing silences others, will not stop at the social realm. As we have seen, these social pressures have moved into the political realm and we will be the weaker for it.

John Mills, a 1800 philosopher, put it this way in his essay, “On Liberty,” regarding the freedom of individual inward domain of consciousness, thought and feeling, and expressing and publishing opinions.

“No society in which these liberties are not, on the whole, respected, is free, whatever may be its form of government; and none is completely free in which they do no exist absolute and unqualified. The only freedom which deserves the name, is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.”

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