Your emotional slider.

Which style is your emotional control? Is it like a dial, requiring you to turn quite a few revolutions to dial up progressively more intense emotions? Or is it like a slider, allowing you to immediately flip it all the way up to maximum volume? A dial is usually considerably more nuanced than a slider. Turning it requires coordination of, generally, thumb and forefinger. Right now, pretend you’re tuning a dial. Notice how your thumb and forefinger work together, and how many times they have to coordinate just to turn the dial one revolution. As you turn the imaginary dial, hear the volume getting louder as you turn clockwise. Now imagine a slide control. You can easily flip the slider all the way from barely audible to deafening.

Think about how you react to situations, facial expressions, tones of voice, or things people say. Taking my analogy further, what emotional state corresponds to off, or perhaps the lowest setting of volume? I would say that’s apathy–feeling nothing, what psychologists call “flatness of affect”. What about depression? Shouldn’t that be a negative setting? Depression, and other long term chronic emotional disturbances, don’t belong in this analogy, since I am talking about the strength of emotional reactivity here, not chronic conditions. If apathy is the lowest setting on the emotional volume switch, what would be the highest? What emotions engage bodily activity the most? Specifically, what emotional reaction gets your heart and lungs moving fastest, your temperature going higher and your muscles clenching most? You might say, anger or fear.

But anger and fear have gradations. I am going to say, somewhat arbitrarily, that outrage and terror each have the strongest emotional charge. Of the two, terror is far more likely to be the result of a realistic and appropriate stimulus, and is less subject to self control. For example, imagine that you are sitting on a sandy beach at the bend of a scenic river, just enjoying the sun and the soothing sounds of the water, (really get into it) when you notice an odd ripple in the water. Suddenly, a huge crocodile comes charging out of the water, just a few feet from you. I doubt you would feel anger. Your instant terror would be overwhelming, even paralyzing. Terror, unlike anger, generally has no slow burn, no volume switch. It’s more of an off-on switch. Since my purpose in this essay is to encourage self control, let’s concentrate on outrage.

Recently, a correspondent from Prager U interviewed various tribe members on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. The subject was how native Americans feel about “cultural appropriation”, one of the favorite shibboleths of the Perfectionist Progressives. All of the interviewees liked the idea of Native American names for sports teams, especially the Washington Redskins. A couple of the respondents named themselves fans. They felt it was a way of bestowing honor on their toughness and warrior spirit. One respondent, more perceptive and intelligent than most Harvard grads, said “outrage has become a national pastime”. It was that observation that prompted this essay.

Outrage is not only a controllable reaction, it is often just a “self important” indulgence, and usually something taken up on behalf of others who don’t even feel any outrage about the issue, like the Washington Redskins brouhaha. It has become a national pastime among those who can’t wait to signal their virtue, those whose emotional volume control is definitely a slider, with a very short throw from apathy to outrage. Try putting the emotional volume on a dial instead. Even that little thing will make a difference.

An interesting aside: One of the amusing things I do to test how far political correctness has infiltrated is by listing words that my Apple iPad refuses to complete after I have typed most of the letters. For instance, it won’t complete spanking (it turns it into sparkling, spinning, sparking but even when I type in every letter, it still suggests other words). Same with Redskins. I noticed that I had to type in every letter of Redskins after I typed Washington, but with every other NFL team, I could type the city and the first letter or two of the team name, and the iPad would complete the whole name with the first letter capitalized! Another example of the elite–tech firms–schooling the rest of us hillbillies (which it spelled in full after I typed hill).