The Irrationality of Emotion?
News of the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown CT has quickly erupted into an ideological war on gun legislation at social media sites (e.g., #GunLawsNow) and among various news organizations (both satire and serious). Many are saying that, on the day of the shooting, it is too soon to discuss these issues, that the country is too emotional to make rational decisions about a polarizing topic like gun legislation.
It is problematic, however, to argue that emotion is an inherently irrational human experience. Catherine A. Lutz writes in her book, Unnatural Emotions: Everyday sentiments on a Micronesian Atoll & Their Challenge to Western Theory:
When the emotional is defined as irrational, all those occasions and individuals in which emotion is identified can be dismissed, and when the irrational is defined as emotional, it becomes sensible to label “emotional” those who would be discounted. In this society, those groups which have traditionally ‘been conceived of as passional beings, incapable of sustained rationality’ . . . include ‘infants, children, adolescents, mental patients, primitive people, peasants, immigrants, Negroes, slumdwellers, urban masses, crowds, and most of all, women’ . . . . Emotion becomes an important metaphor for perceived threats to established authority. . . . To the powerful, this is their chaos; to the groups themselves, it is their impulse toward freedom.
Certainly events like the Sandy Hook shooting stir up deep emotions within us, but this is not what it means to be irrational. The person who shoots 20 children and 6 adults needs to be our example of a person acting irrationally. In our emotional state, we are reminded that we need to take “meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this.”
My sympathies go out to the families of the victims and all of those affected by today’s tragedy.