The Monday Blues

I feel vaguely disgruntled today and I can’t really fathom why. There is just this indistinct sense of irritation and melancholia plaguing me today and I can’t pin down the cause. I have many blessings in my life that I feel grateful for, and no real dire concerns to speak of. Just a few petty inconveniences, but maybe they add up…

My husband has been out of town, and I’m not sure if he’ll return tonight or tomorrow morning. I tell myself he’ll return tomorrow, so that way I might be pleasantly surprised if he returns tonight. But in the interim, I have spent several days in near total solitude, which, while nice at first, tends to weigh on me after awhile. I enjoy my solitude, but I begin to miss the society of others. And friends I might normally have called upon, have also been busy and out of town for one reason or another.

I’m making progress on my work and projects, but it is going rather slower than I would like. Mostly my fault as my attention span is not quite what it should be. But at least I am making forward movement and feeling very ready to be productive today.

I have also been sleeping A LOT lately, and I’m not quite sure why. Maybe I’m a little burnt out and need the rest, though I don’t feel I should be burnt out. So it makes me think I really should nip that lethargy in the bud.

Looking through some recent photographs, I’ve noticed my face is starting to age. I’ve been lucky in that my face had looked pretty much the same from 15 to 25 or so, thanks to having inherited my mother’s soft, youthful Asian skin. But age is beginning to creep up on me, and it wasn’t until I did the facials this weekend and noticed the vast difference a little skin care could make that I realized it’s time to amp up my skin care routine. I’ve been lucky so far in that I really haven’t had to do much in the way of skin care. In my early 20s, I realized inexpensive makeup no longer cut it and I had to switch to higher quality products, but ultimately I needed very few products. But now, on the cusp of 30, I’m going to have to invest in a more extensive skin care regimen if I want to maintain any sort of youthful suppleness and glow.

So all in all, nothing really worth complaining about, but there you have it. Maybe I should go for a walk, get some fresh air to clear my head. Now I think about it, it is past noon and I haven’t had my coffee yet. Perhaps that is the real reason lurking behind the suicidal tendencies…

Oh Hate, How I Love Thee

Perhaps a little known thing about me is that I truly admire New Yorkers’ ability to hate so well. All the New Yorkers or New-Yorkers-at-heart I know are so gleefully misanthropic, I die laughing at their caustic witticisms. They love to hate, and they hate with love. It’s not blind hatred; it is hatred which comes from seeing through someone so well you can’t help but mock their foibles.

I’ve never been able to hate very well, and sarcasm comes to me only in small doses prompted by lively conversation. When I was a kid, even my enemies at school never gave me much to worry myself over. I certainly never had one of those Potter-Malfoy type of relationships. Hating just took too much energy. Why hate when so much else was going on in the world? I very much subscribed to the notion that hatred only hurt the beholder. Very zen, I was.

But now, maybe I’m getting crotchety in my old age. I’m starting to learn there’s two kinds of hate in the world. One is the blind, all-consuming hate that saps you of everything. The kind of “I HATE YOU! I HATE YOU! DIE, DIE, DIE!” kind of hate (Did anyone catch the Dave Matthews reference?), which I still don’t subscribe to very much. The people I could feel this way towards, I just don’t think about often. It’s wearying, and I have other things to think about that are far more worthwhile. Like belly button lint.

But then, there is another kind of hatred. I don’t know if you can even really call it hatred because hate is such an ugly word. It does not at all capture the pure glee there is in hating some people. People I enjoy thinking about because I love enumerating in my head all the reasons they’re deserving of scathing, pithy remarks. People I hate so much, it gives me energy. (Dylan Moran is a god for coining that phrase.) As un-Buddhist of me it is to feel this way, and no matter how I try to Catholic-guilt my way out of it, there are one or two people I can’t help but hate, liberally and gleefully. With these folk, there is no end to the sharp-tongued witticisms and blistering commentary just begging to be uttered. I try to be discreet and keep my thoughts to myself, but I’m fairly dancing with all the vitriol I’d like to spew.

Lest you think I’m a hate-filled, spiteful being, I’d just like to reiterate that there’s only a rare one or two people who bring out my inner New-Yorker. And I swear these people are “special”. Maybe I was just more mature as a kid than I am now, but I think I shall lovingly cling to this little slice of hate pie.

Emotion in the Public Sphere

I just heard (yet another) fantastic discussion on NPR on the US’s use of torture as an interrogation technique. The commentator, who argued that torture is not justified and punishment should lay on the heads of the top policymakers who sanctioned the abuses in the first place, (I’m sorry I missed his name, I only caught 10 minutes of the segment) was very erudite and polite in his arguments and gracious in receiving criticism. In the spirit of full disclosure, I agree whole-heartedly with his arguments. The commentary which follows addresses things his critics have called in to say and I wish to take issue with these comments, not because I disagree with their argument, but because I find fault with the presentation of their arguments—or the reasons they provided. If someone had called in using emotion in the same way to support the commentator’s argument, I would find fault with that as well.

Argument #1: “I’m sick and tired of you Europeans coming here and criticizing America.”
So the commentator had a British accent, but as he so eloquently pointed out, he too has a stake in the issue. His family is fully American, he was there on 9-11, people he knew died in the 9-11 attacks, etc., etc. The point is: don’t assume that because you know one bit about a person that you know what their entire life has been.
But more than that, 9-11, the War on Terror, wars abroad and American responses are global issues. We are not some backwater country living in isolation. Our actions (as a global leader, if you will) have global effects. We’re not talking about some domestic issue like the death penalty or legalizing abortions. We’re talking about issues that have repercussions and consequences worldwide. Other countries have a stake in these issues as well, and therefore have a right to participate in the discussion, even if we don’t like what they have to say.

Argument #2: “Where is your anger?”, implying that if you were truly angry you’d agree torture is necessary. But since you’re a cold SOB, your point of view is invalid.
Commentator’s response: He is deeply angry but also passionate about the values that America and democracies in general uphold. He argues we must stick to our values because it is our values that sets us apart from the terrorists. It’s the fact that we have a judicial system instead of beheadings that makes America great and resorting to the other side’s tactics reduces us.
Hear, hear I say! But I would like to add to that and question the caller. When has anger ever led to wise decisions? We do stupid things, things we regret, when we are angry. When have you ever heard of anger leading to wisdom? (Except by way of a mistake and lesson learned.)
[As a side note, it always amazes me that some of the very same people who will argue until they're blue in the face that America is great because of the liberties it provides are also the very people who are so quick to abandon those liberties whenever it suits them—in this case, presumably because they're angry. But maybe I am wrong? Maybe they believe in liberty but not equality? Or maybe they just think the principles sound good in the abstract, but don't believe in them in real life.]

Argument #3: “Even presented with evidence that torture doesn’t work and has negative consequences, I still think we should engage in torture. Because I have family fighting over there and that’s just how I feel.”
The commentator said he respected this woman’s viewpoint and thanked her for airing her views. But I take umbrage at this kind of argument. I will say that there are valid reasons for her viewpoint even if she didn’t express them and even if I may disagree with them at the end of the day. But I take issue with the notion that in discourse people can fall back on their emotions as a substitute for reasoned argumentation. Don’t get me wrong. I believe emotions DO have a role in public discourse. They help mobilize and inspire people in ways that logic and reason perhaps cannot. They demonstrate intensity in ways that hard facts or numbers cannot. Very few people can argue completely without some emotion, and I don’t think people or their viewpoints should be excluded because they are emotional. But I disagree entirely when people resort to their emotions because their arguments are flawed and they let emotions supercede reasoned debate.

I understand this woman’s point of view and have had to think long and hard about the justifications for torture before finally coming to my decision on where I stand. But instead of arguing she supports the use of torture just because that’s the way she feels, I think the more appropriate response would be for her to examine her feelings on the subject and figure out why, even presented with evidence that torture tactics are not only useless but harmful, she feels they are justified. Is she seeking revenge? Does she think that even if 99% of the time it doesn’t work, innocent people are tortured, and it causes the growth of more terrorism, that the 1% of the time it might work is worth all the risk involved? If so, why? Is there something else going on? Is there a better way to address her core concerns? If that is really her root viewpoint, she should learn to express that. If not, maybe her reaction is just knee-jerk and should be re-examined.

So, issue of torture aside, what role should emotion play in public discourse? Can there be guidelines for its use? When is the use of emotion in an argument or discussion helpful, and when does it obfuscate the point? Are there points where emotion can actually hinder good policy making?

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