Mistaking feeling for thinking in American politics

I enjoyed reading an op-ed piece in the WSJ this morning headlined “A Muslim Reformer on the Mosque,” with the subhed, “The warriors for tolerance and the antimosque crusaders are both wrong.”

Some bits I particularly liked… this:

Election-year politics, ratings-hungry media and deep personal fear foment raw emotion. In such an environment, “I’m offended” takes on the stature of a substantive argument. Too many Americans are mistaking feeling for thinking.

And this:

As a proud New Yorker as well as a reformist Muslim, I think, and not just feel, that this would be a fitting salute to the victims of 9/11. It would turn the tables on the freedom-hating culture of al Qaeda. And it would subvert the liberty-lashing culture of offense.

Perhaps you’re noting there’s a certain theme in what I like. Of course, I kind of helped you out by boldfacing the important points.

That first one should be made into a bumper sticker:

Too many Americans are mistaking feeling for thinking.

Maybe we should streamline it:

Don’t just feel. THINK.

It can be truly said of so very many things. Sure, I can speak from the gut when I don’t really know what I’m talking about. I did it back here. But I was aware that I was doing it. I told you I was doing it. Am I always that self-aware and candid about it? No. We are infallible. I mean, fallible.

But I try to lobby for thinking whenever it occurs to me to do so. That’s what I was doing back here. A few threads back, I was accused by Kathryn of making like a Vulcan. To which I could only respond, “Captain, Kathryn is being illogical.”

Yeah, we need some passion in public life. But we could use a LOT more Spock.

We got a fever in American politics, and the only prescription is more Spock.

20 thoughts on “Mistaking feeling for thinking in American politics

  1. Kathryn Fenner

    If we would deal with the anxiety these people are feeling instead of dismissing it, we might actually make progress. Feelings are real, and they don’t go away if you ignore them, most of the time.

  2. Phillip

    Well, this of course sounds fine and dandy; the problem is that each side of a political argument tends to claim that reason and logic are on their side and that their opponents are merely reacting viscerally without thinking.

    Then again, if you are going to “think” or “feel,” one should be doing so on the basis of actual facts. There does seem to be a particular disconnect from reality on one end of the political spectrum, as so clearly described by Timothy Egan in his recent blog post at the NYT:


  3. bud

    Seriously Brad if you truly believe that political opinion should be based on a thoughtful evaluation of the facts then you cannot possibly have one scintilla’s worth of support for the Republican party as it exists today. Even your buddys McCain and Graham have gone over the edge in most regards.

    But noooooooo. You continue to pander to this collection of deceivers and fear-mongers. Until you can recognize what the once respectible GOP has evolved into then I’m afraid I’m going to have to lump you into the “feelings” group.

  4. bud

    Yet many Iraqis are not pleased with life. Unemployment is 35%, according to Iraq’s development ministry. Electricity is spotty. Terrorist bombings are almost a daily event. Sunni Arabs, Shiites and Kurds are still arguing over who should be prime minister nearly six months after parliamentary elections were held.
    -USA Today

    Any THINKING person would declare this mission a fiasco.

  5. Doug Ross


    True. People who rely on Beck, Olbermann, Hannity, Maddow, O’Reilly, and Matthews are all just sheep from two different flocks.

  6. Kathryn Fenner

    People who refuse to consider feelings are missing out on a whole lot of useful information…

    One wonders how successful an Ad Man will be if he insists on dealing only in logic.

  7. scout

    I agree with Kathryn. Feelings have to be recognized and acknowledged or they find their own way of seeping out and making themselves heard. This can be done in a thoughtful manner though. And knowing the difference between thinking and feeling and that each has it’s own place is helpful.

  8. Brad

    Yes, yes, yes, of course there needs to be a place for the heart and all that makes us human along with the head.

    But when something goes too far in one direction, you pull hard in the opposite one to try to restore the balance, like getting your crew to lean over one side of the sailboat when the wind is listing it the other way. And emotion has way overwhelmed logic in our politics lately.

    It’s kind of like the way I’m always dissing libertarianism. Of COURSE liberty is important, especially in America. But when our liberties are just fine, and people are going way overboard acting like they think the gummint is overbearing and taking away their freedoms when it isn’t, you’ll see me react by acting like they’re full of baloney.

    It’s about trying to yank people back…

  9. bud

    But when our liberties are just fine, and people are going way overboard acting like they think the gummint is overbearing and taking away their freedoms when it isn’t, you’ll see me react by acting like they’re full of baloney.

    Just ask some poor guy who’s in prison merely for possessing a bit too much of a certain type of plant. I bet that guy doesn’t feel like the government’s overbearing actions are baloney. Freedom is just too damn important to be dismissive about. It needs to be fought for constantly. Otherwise the strong arm of the government will have us all worshipping Big Brother.

  10. Brad

    I love Big Brother. (I hope the telescreen picked that up.)

    Did you hear me, O’Brien? I love Big Brother!… No need to take me to Room 101…

  11. Doug Ross


    You “feel” our liberties are just fine. I “think” they are not. I base it on actual events.

    Like the other day when I walked thru the TSA line at the Tampa airport and the agent told me to go back and do it again because “your stride was too long”. Gee, I thought I had it all covered with my 2.9 ounces of shampoo, my nail clippers being removed from my bag, showing my id to three different people… if someone had just told me that the maximum stride length for passing thru security is 26.5 inches, I would have practiced ahead of time.

  12. Kathryn Fenner

    I repeat that, until we deal with the underlying anxieties that have created the Tea Party and Fox News, we will merely be burning daylight to discuss thinking instead of feeling.

    Perhaps if corporations had not been permitted to dis-employ so many workers, banks and other fiancial institutions to sell financial products to people who neither understood them nor were appropriate customers for them, etc., we would not be in this mess. People are scared, with good cause. We aren’t taking bushels of Marks to buy bread, a la Weimar Germany, but we must deal with this.

    Obama hit some great notes about this phenomenon in his “race/Jeremiah Wright” speech….but I don’t see a lot of effective action in that area, either.

  13. Steven W.

    Several things.

    First, this is a paraphrase of a Mark Twain quote from his “Corn-Pone Opinions” essay which was published posthumously. He said, “We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking.” I think credit is due.

    Second, what is it about people who, upon hearing this immediately get defensive and jump in with phrases like, “But feelings are IMPORTANT!” Well…who said they weren’t?!!! You can always tell right-brained people; they never get what someone *actually* says, but instead reply to some twisted version of it they profess to have heard. NOBODY said feelings weren’t important; what was said was that it’s a mistake to confuse them with thinking. So yes, feel…AND think. And don’t confuse the two.

    Lastly, it’s incumbent upon each of us to get our news wherever we get it, and then USE OUR BRAINS to interpret the facts instead of opening up our heads for someone else to pour their own opinions in. And before people get picky about opinions, ALL OF THE MAJOR NEWS NETWORKS DO IT. Every one of them.

    Try this test to see if you are using your brain when you get your news. If you cannot watch your own particular favorite news network and find something wrong or slanted within 15 minutes, YOU ARE A SHEEP. Wake up!


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