The “Justification” Disease

“What disturbs men’s minds is not events, but their judgment on events.”
-Epictetus

Do me a favor?
Touch your nose.

No, seriously.  Just humor me. 
Touch your nose, dude.
Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Did you touch it?  (Or rebel and declare your righteousness in not doing so?)
Great, thanks.

You were, like, totally justified in touching your nose there, dude.  I mean, I asked you to and everything.  But, it’s not like you need somebody’s permission to touch your nose.  I mean, dude.  You’re always justified in touching your own nose.  You don’t need to come up with a story that explains it — you just do it (if you’re like most of us, you do it a heck of a lot more than you think you do).  You don’t need somebody to tell you it’s okay not to touch your nose, either.  It’s your call, you’re perfectly justified and entitled to touch your nose, or not to touch your nose.

And, of course, you totally already knew that.

So if you’re having to tell yourself a story and a big old song-and-dance routine about how you’re perfectly justified in doing something….maybe you’re not.  You just might be rationalizing behavior you’d never actually do when it’s “situation normal,” because some part of you knows it’s just not okay to reach out and touch that other guy’s nose (with a hammer).

————–
“Emotional Intelligence” (you can google that, and two editions are out now on Amazon) is an important concept, though it tends to circulate only in the business world, and even there it only tends to circulate in its b.s. version of “choose your attitude, but only if it’s a POSITIVE attitude:  just keep smiling and pretending everything’s cool, now matter how ridiculous, inhumane, or stupid events actually get.”

Basically, when you hear something, or hear about something, you’ve got two portions of your brain going after it.  The first is our amygdala.  It’s responsible for your emotions.  The second is, loosely speaking, your forebrain.  It’s a lot more complicated than that, I only have a layman’s understanding of brain science, and it’s Friday afternoon, so we’re just going to say “forebrain” for now, cool? 

So here’s the important part.  The amygdala is really, really fast.  Because your emotions are tied to testosterone and all sorts of other chemicals, a number of which are responsible for you panicking, jumping around, running up and down trees, flinging poo, and all those other behaviors that you just gotta do to avoid being eaten by tigers when you catch a tiny flash of orange in the jungle.

Forebrain?  Not so fast.  By the time you’re done rationally figuring out what that orange flash was, Miss Giant Kitty is holding you down with one paw to keep you from wiggling too much while she snaps your neck like a chicken.

Since we actually survived through the “eaten by tigers” stage of our history long enough to develop into the “it’s really cute when that tiger in the zoo presses up against the glass and my little girl giggles and tries to pet her” stage, guess which one of these two evolution decided got priority over the other?

———–
Ever had an argument with somebody?
It’s okay, you can admit it.  It happened to me once, too.

“I”m Happycrow, and sometimes I argue with people.”
“Hi, Happycrow…”

Ever had an argument with somebody, debunked their argument, convinced them that their argument was in fact incorrect, and watched them come up with lots of new shiny arguments to try to defend their position?
Yeah, they’re totally emotionally attached to that position.  With sticky-tape and stuff, and your rational arguments just aren’t playing crowbar very well, are they?.

Why’s that?  Well, remember that bit about the amygdala?  What’s happened is that their amygdala has heard something, and said “no sir, I don’t like that.  It bothers me, and I bet he’s a poopyhead.”  And because the amygdala is faster than the forebrain, their forebrain started to come up arguments to satisfy the emotional position their amygdala took, even without having realized that the basis for their opinion is totally non-rational.  Their amygdala has taken over the rest of their brain, and the rest of their brain doesn’t even realize it.

For the record, this never, ever happens to me.
More than, like, four times per hour.

———————
That thing is what the “Emotional Intelligence People” call an “amygdala hijack.”  It’s REALLY common on the Internet.  People read things, and it upsets them.  And being hoopy froods with the right to express themselves, they do.

We human beings are an awesome lot.  We’re pretty amazing.  Not very rational, though.  We tend to let our emotions get in the way of our forebrain.  Then we tend to behave badly, which is okay, because when somebody’s said something that hurts your feelings, you’re justified in commenting on that.  Even flaming on it.  Flame wars are okay — people are entitled to say what’s on their mind.

Like, totally entitled.

How’s your nose?

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