Custody of the emotions

There are a lot of hotheads in this world. Take me, for example. Often I find myself on the horns of a false dilemma. My gut tells me one thing, my brain another. Or rather, they are in rough agreement to start. But then they go different ways. The brain might for instance say, “There is nothing you can do about this, and there is no conceivable influence you may exert on other persons to join with you in doing something, now or in any foreseeable future.” Whereas the gut says, “Kill!”

The heart is somewhere in the middle. I am using these terms in a less than strict anatomical sense, I should explain. I am considering the whole human, in his complexity. This would include the soul. I lose the scientistic materialists along this way, but so it goes. If I wanted to confuse them, I would court plausibility, by using current jargon from brain science. But there is no point. One has a “soul,” and even a “conscience” — harder to lose than any limb or organ, though they go bad more easily. And there are many other things about our human that would look messy in a diagram. But I am not drawing one. I am being, shall we say, impressionistic.

Back to the conflict. The mind is, if anything, too calm. It can construct an argument for inaction in almost any circumstance, and in the exceptions, prefers flight to fight. The gut is more of a wild animal. Calmness is satiety to the gut, and after eating it will go to sleep. When disturbed, however, it goes to fight or flight directly, and the brain is forcefully dragged along. Actual wild animals have better “instincts” than we have, and don’t come to grief so quickly as we do, when we obey ours.

Animals have a bit of moral heart — I have seen them sometimes weighing things — but not such as we have. I have chosen to locate the human forum in what I’ll call the “thinking heart,” to distinguish it from the reflexive valves. It makes those decisions which follow from character, and can make them sharply once that character is properly formed. It is capable of taking the brain’s analysis to committee, and parsing it again. Often it tells the gut to shut up: “I heard you already.”

It has “emotions.” (Good thing I’m not drawing a diagram here.) Its job, in addition to pumping blood, is to legislate on them. Which emotion would be the best idea?

One of the cleverest things C. S. Lewis noted is that a man gets the same feeling in his stomach whether he is in love with a young maiden, or has eaten a tainted fish. I reiterate that we are dealing on a level different from, and higher than, that of physical reaction. The human being has tremendous emotional and aesthetic range. By comparison, his body is stupid. And when the brain is roller-chained to the gut, he presents a farce.

The purpose of education, through more centuries than one could shake a stick at, was to build character. This was why it was not confused with school. And at the centre of things we recognized the human heart. Mens sana in corpore sano is all very well if one is speaking in Latin and thinking in Greek; but as post-pagans know, this is a dodge. Neither is completely within our control. More fundamental to us is the character of the heart, for even the man who is losing his mind will retain splashes of character.

That is the key thing to educate. If necessary, one must embark upon self-education.

For in the end, knowledge is worthless. And being smart is no particular advantage. It is like your stamp collection: you can’t take it with you. Everything you know will be as straw.