Presidential Campaign

Intellectuals vs. ’emotionals’

Democrats and Republicans. Liberals and conservatives. Old and young, men and women, Keynesians and supply-siders, religious and nonreligious — we group ourselves into many categories. And political pundits and historians alike often try to make sense of events and elections based on how those groups act.

{mosads}But, in view of the current political discord rending the nation, perhaps we should consider another possibility: The true divergence responsible for a great deal of our strife is not a matter of age or gender or even political affiliation; it is a battle between the ’emotionals’ and the intellectuals — between the thinkers, wonderers and answer-seekers and those who prefer to be guided by their own personal fears, prejudices and limited experiences. It is, essentially, the pontificators against the reactionaries, and it tends to define every political battle, every discourse and every collective pursuit.

Whether it’s global warming, terrorism, race relations or the economy, we tend to divide along the lines of those who use facts and data to drive their conclusions and those who react to issues on an emotional level, then seek supporting evidence, often cherry-picking said evidence to suit their already-realized conclusions.

That’s not to say that an emotional can’t, on occasion, be correct. In fact, it’s their sporadic correctness that reinforces their beliefs in their methods. But they arrive at their correct conclusions in much the same way they hit upon their incorrect ones: much like the proverbial squirrel who happens upon a nut.

Emotionals take pride in “sticking to their guns,” in “doing things old-school” and in making decisions based on their “gut.” They often take excessive pride in making predictions, even if those predictions are based on nothing but their own personal biases. If they are wrong, they either put it out of their mind or blame it on a foreign factor, often rationalizing to a ridiculous degree in order to justify their already-disproven pronouncements.

Intellectuals welcome new information, viewing it as a chance to improve upon their knowledge and change their analysis of a given situation. But emotionals see new information as a threat and seeks to dismiss it. Anything contrary to their preexisting, emotionally derived notions must be false because, they reason, they already have all the answers.

Emotionals, of course, don’t realize that they are emotionals. Their pride and the fact that they are occasionally correct have convinced them that they are smart and that they have a unique and informed view. But there are several ways, dear friend, to identify them:

  • If they form opinions before having reliable information.
  • If they rely on feedback loops.
  • If they stick to positions long after prevailing evidence has proven them wrong.
  • If they tend to think a particular politician is always right or always wrong, or that a particular political party is always right or always wrong.
  • If they pass on rumors and unsubstantiated claims without verifying them.
  • If they seem to have an allergy to books and a general disdain for facts.
  • If they mistake passion for evidence.
  • If they cite “a guy they know” or “some are saying” as evidence.
  • And, of course, if they have a tendency to label large groups of people.

Emotionals are also often extremely polarized, unable to see nuance or make distinctions. They are shocked when an intellectual can support a candidate while admitting that candidate’s possible faults. It is all or nothing with them; any conceded point or hint of compromise is a sign of weakness. And any argument that runs counter to their preconceived notions is automatically dismissed without consideration. Their anger could fill a stadium, while their knowledge would barely fill a thimble.

Fortunately, many emotionals often split their votes — some supporting Democrats for emotional reasons, others supporting Republicans. It’s undeniable, though, that the GOP, for a long time now, has been courting emotionals over intellectuals. And that strategy seems to be coming back to bite them. Their highly emotionally charged atmosphere has pushed away all intellectuals and divided the emotionals. An incredibly thin-skinned emotional now leads their nominating contest. He forms opinions on the fly, reacts to news without any concern for whether or not he has all the facts, engages in bitter Twitter feuds, and completely disregards data and evidence because they have no place in his inane arsenal of insults.

And the emotionals that support him, many having somehow convinced themselves that they are not bigots, hold him in high regard because, like them (they feel), he “tells it like is.”

The truth, of course, is that “telling it like it is” is simply a euphemism for emotionalism: It’s speaking without thinking and forming opinions based on your gut rather than your brain.

Let’s hope, for the sake of the country, that brains can trump Donald Trump.

Rosenfeld is an educator and historian who has done work for Scribner, Macmillan and Newsweek.

Tags Donald Trump

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