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Manuel Casado Velarde, Full Professor of language Española. Institute for Culture and Society University of Navarra.

Happiness: a successful blend of reason and emotion


Sat, 07 Jan 2017 17:47:00 +0000 Published in El Español

We all want to be happy and see others happy. That, at least, is what we have wished for ourselves at the beginning of a new year. And let's hope it does not remain a mere wish. I would like to contribute to this with this brief reflection.

Happiness lies, to a large extent, in knowing how to harmonize, in our daily lives, the emotions and reasons that come into play when we think, speak and act; when we live. It is not an easy task. Especially because the environment that surrounds us does not make things easy, although perhaps it has always been that way. The unprecedented assault on privacy staff represented today by the media -internet, social networks: the omnipresent screens, in short- has caught us defenseless. Who more or less has been overwhelmed in its maelstrom. And this is just the beginning.

The flow of images and emotional stimuli that, at a click, or even without a click, vomits us any site of the network is inexhaustible. Almost unstoppable. Which, if we take a cold look, represents a fabulous wealth of documents, images and multimedia resources. However, are we prepared to make ourselves position of this enormous volume of data and images without being crushed and left without the capacity to respond? Specific terms are already circulating around to describe disorders caused by the lack of an adequate response to these media: infoxication (information fatigue syndrome or intoxication due to information overload), nomophobia (irrational fear of being disconnected), cybermareo, the syndrome of missing out on something, and a host of other addictions of various kinds.

It happens that, for a long time now, centuries, a dominant line of thought has been conspiring by system against that School that we call reason. For this hegemonic thinking, the meaning goal of reality has evaporated. The only thing that exists is pure factuality devoid of value and meaning. Unnecessary facts to which each one can grant the meaning he/she wishes. And this, as we know, applied even to human biology and Anatomy . A divorce has been consummated between "facts" and "values" that has crystallized in the positivist distinction of "judgments of fact" and "judgments of value", depriving values of their rooting goal in reality.

Today, only arguments based on empirical science are considered valid, in the public discussion , in what can be experimented: natural sciences and their practical applications. And, in another order of things, the emotional, which, at the end of the day, is resolved in matters of taste, of subjective preferences. Alasdair MacIntyre called it "Emotivism" in his After Virtue. The rational is dead.

What is at stake in today's dominant culture is nothing less than the human capacity to know the truth, the meaning of things beyond their pure materiality, beyond the pleasure or pain they produce. The intellectual elites have lost confidence in reason as a cognitive capacity. They have decreed that the question of meaning is meaningless.

Perhaps this is the reason for the choice of post-truth as the word of the year 2016 by the Oxford English Dictionary. With this neologism, the Oxford dictionary wants to express that people "think" -that is to say- more with their guts and instinct than with reason or logic; that emotions have replaced reasons.

As Joseph Ratzinger has written on several occasions, reason must be rehabilitated. Those who work in the natural sciences must be reminded that both their research and their practical applications are based on the fact that we assume that the world has a rationality, laws, which we can discover and reproduce by means of our reason. A reason that, moreover, as St. Paul wrote in his Letter to the Romans, "is able to know with certainty that God exists through created things."

From a very different cultural tradition, the Iranian philosopher Ramin Jahanbegloo has been claiming, against the prevailing unreason, to put on internship the Socratic attitude of asking "timeless and universal questions", an attitude that is still as revolutionary today as in the time of the Greek sage. Critical questions that today's culture does not dare to ask itself, often installed in a politically correct mediocrity.

But emotivism is nothing more than a caricature of emotions. One of the challenges we face today in the art of living well, of being happy, is the successful integration of our own emotions. Emotion overrules reason by hook or by crook, reducing it to servitude. This is what the slogan of the latest car model of a prestigious brand says: "Intelligence at the service of emotions". The same political speech destined to persuade has renounced to give reasons. Emotions are enough.

But far be it from me to even try to discredit the blessed emotions. They are consubstantial to our life. It is impossible to live a life without emotions. Without emotion it is difficult to embark on adventures of knowledge or solidarity. "You only learn from those you love," said Goethe. Integrating emotions and feelings does not mean suppressing them: it is about discovering all that these "traveling companions" can bring to life. We are factory-made "polyphonic" beings: our existence is impoverished if we annul or mute any of those powers and Schools with which we have been endowed.

We all need to temper, balance, our character. Try to make our emotions respond appropriately to stimuli. Aristotle said that "he who does not blush for the evil he does is a wretch"; a scoundrel. There are behaviors, our own or others', that, objectively, demand a certain emotional response, positive or negative, and no other. Ideally, we should like what we are obliged to do, and dislike what we should avoid. To achieve, in short, an adequate alloy of reasons and emotions. A good goal for the new year.