Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Make Love, Not Sense.


I will for now table our other discussion of love in favor of this one. Did you really think Yoffe's response was so bad? She's no Herb Stein (the original Prudie), but she's probably not that far off that the boyfriend lacks some emotional/social intelligence. I am sort of wondering what is exactly going on in their relationship, and the letter's lacking in details. She is indeed conflating substantive positions with rhetorical skill--but what kind of arguments are they having? She appears to not take it personally when the arguments are impersonal, i.e. about politics or "world issues." But what does she mean that he applies such tactics to their relationship?

What, precisely, are they fighting about--her right to have certain feelings, the validity/reasonableness of such feelings, or whether or not he is properly responding to her feelings? Likely, as a sentient human being with full autonomy she has the capacity and freedom to feel, so he's probably not arguing about her right to feel. He's probably arguing against the validity of her feelings when they become positions, and so he attacks her positions on the basis of logic and reason--except that logic and reason aren't her bases. And his response is not what she wants, so she feels like she's not being listened to and bullied into sublimating her feelings when she concedes logical grounds. In any case, his combative, college debate approach to resolving such relationship issues could make him a douche, or as you say, autistic bully. Does the boyfriend see every argument as a chance to be right? How does he get to being right? Does he merely have to be correct, or does he have to demonstrate his superiority over her? If he would rather be right than listen to his partner, I'd say he is deserving of some disapprobation and she of some sympathy.

I think they're arguing about their different approaches to arguing. Like you say, it's a communication thing, which is now a bullying thing. He's combative and skilled in rhetoric, she just wants to tell him how she feels without being asked to interrogate the underlying reasoning and justify her feelings. More importantly, she wants him to respond to her feelings without immediately launching into a debate. That's pretty annoying. Sometimes you just want to talk to someone or hang out, and they bust out all the "you're wrong and let me show you how." Most feelings like jealousy or possessiveness or clinginess make no sense. I cannot explain, rationally, why I feel jealous when I have no "reason" to doubt my partner's fidelity. I probably can't explain why I miss my partner after only a day or two apart. But you're right, not all feelings are equally valid. If I feel jealous and then communicate this to my partner, he's entitled to say, and this is a perfectly valid form of counter-argument, "you have no reason to worry because 1) I love you, 2) I promised to be faithful, 3) you should trust me, 4) we're both entitled to have friends of the opposite sex, 5).... etc." Of course, rhetoric has an element of style, so bully is as bully does, and there's way of allaying your partner's emotional concerns in ways that are non-combative and more inviting of mutual dialogue than "let me tell you what you should feel." But if I were insistently jealous, no logical or emotional defense from him could convince me otherwise. And if there was no reason to be jealous (whatever those reasons may be, e.g. past conduct, present change in behavior, emotional detachment, whatever), then yes, this feeling is unreasonable. In which case, she's wrong, he's right.

However, let's assume, because we are generous, that the letter writer is complaining about being challenged for simple emotions that cannot be explained by logic or reason but are nevertheless not to be considered "irrational" or unfounded. E.g., missing him after a short absence, wanting to be listened to, wanting affection shown in a certain manner, etc. If he says "don't be ridiculous" to all of these things, he's being a bit insensitive. The way in which you communicate is linked to the issue of empathy, so for me it is not either/or, but one and the same. There's that time, place, manner restriction to speech. You don't need to turn everything into an argument or deploy such tactics in every situation--this is why I agree with Yoffe that perhaps the boyfriend lacks a certain emotional intelligence. There's a certain line between level-headed reasonable and douchey, and it's not hard to cross for those so inclined to combative, bullying ways of communicating.

My post title is of course a joke, but there's something to be said about choosing love over choosing to be right, if "right" can be so determined by you. I will always concede being in error about a fact. But it's like my fork example from one of my earlier posts. It may be gauche for me to use the wrong fork, but to point it out publicly or make a big deal about it demonstrates a greater lack of social intelligence. If I were the boyfriend, I'd cut the girl some slack if the emotions/issues she's talking about are reasonable. If they are not, he's not going to convince her through logic otherwise anyway. Actually, if I were either of them, I'd break up.

I am somehow avoiding responding to your posts in a personal manner using personal anecdotes. Although you know well that I have also trod in your lapsed-Objectivist shoes. All I can say is, man, I am glad I am over that. Sort of. Intellectual/rhetorical olympics tax the patience and crush the spirit. As a denizen of the Ivory Tower, I'd rather hurl myself out of the window than endure that at home after a day in the seminar room.

This post is too long. But I think in my next post (unless I write more about that love stuff) I have to link this back to "mental whateverness" and the idea of "smart enough for me." Actually I can probably integrate the two. What level of intelligence is necessary for you to love another? How do you define that intelligence?
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