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The Privilege of Passion June 19, 2013

Posted by shaunphilly in Skepticism and atheism.
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I was out watching the Chicago Blackhawks win game 4 (in overtime) of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, at a local bar I like (because they have a great selection of beer), when I saw that I still had about half a beer to drink once the game was over.  I had brought with me (because I’m totes a nerd, even while drinking beer at a bar with a hockey shirt on) a copy of Nietzsche’s The Gay Science which I started reading again recently.  It’s great because it’s a collection of loosely related aphorisms, so it’s perfect for reading when you don’t have a lot of time, and because it’s just an awesome book.

After reading a section about Nicholas Chamfort (which reminds me that I should read some of his work in the future), I got to section 96, which reads as follows:

Two Speakers.– Of these two speakers, one can show the full rationality of his cause only when he abandons himself to passion: this alone pumps enough blood and heat into his brain to force his high spirituality to reveal itself.  The other one may try the same now and then–to present his cause sonorously, vehemently, and to sweep his audience off their feet with the help of passion–but usually with little success.  Soon he speaks obscurely and confusedly; he exaggerates; he omits things; and he arouses mistrust about the rationality of his cause.  Actually he himself comes to feel mistrust, and that explains sudden leaps into the coldest and most repugnant tones that lead his audience to doubt whether his passion was genuine.  In his case, passion always inundates the spirit, perhaps because it is stronger than in the first speaker.  But he is at the height of his powers when he resists the flood of his emotions and virtually derides it; only then does his spirit emerge fully from its hiding place–a logical, mocking, playful, and yet awesome spirit.

This spoke to me in a powerful way.

I have read this particular book a few times already.  But the last time I read it was a few years ago.  Books like this one reveal how we grow, sort of like how when you read Catcher in the Rye every few years to see how you react to the protagonist.  This little paperback is marked up, annotated (I have a system), and is now starting to fall apart a little.  Yet this section was not marked much.  It had slipped past me the first few times I read it, but not this time.  I have sections so inked up, noted, etc that you can barely read the text, but this one was hardly marked at all.  But today when I read it is jumped out at me.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the relationship between argumentation and emotion.  For many years, my writing, perspective, etc was tied up in powerful and partially irrational emotions.  A few years ago, after a pretty awful part of my life, I was told by a therapist that I should read about Borderline Personality Disorder.  Upon doing research, I discovered that there was a name for the particular brain crap that I had been battling for as long as I can remember.  And reading this section of Nietzsche, it makes me wonder it, perhaps, Nietzsche understood something about what it’s like to be me.  I generally think that Nietzsche had insights into humanity that the vast majority of people do not (and perhaps cannot); the fact that I read this book a few times and missed this one makes me wonder what other aphorisms he wrote, which have so far left me cold, have to offer.

There is a part of me that wants to reach out more, emotionally, to people.  But the fact is that when I allow my emotions to lead, more likely than not I will speak poorly, get caught up in anxieties, or simply lose my place in the conversation.  Arguments, especially in person, make me lose my rationality to some degree because I become enveloped in a shroud of emotions; fear, uncertainty, sadness, etc.  I enjoy conversations, but I have come to accept that there are certain types of tones of voice, body language, etc which trigger feelings that I cannot control.  I can guide them, but I cannot harness them.*

I have this ideal view of me becoming a person who iss patient, kind, and attentive person in discussion.  I listen, understand, and respond without emotion clouding my judgment, or without becoming paralyzed by uncertainty.  I desire to be able to listen dispassionately and allow my intellect to efficiently solve the problem, or at least to understand it.  The problem is that I cannot maintain that calm in actual conversation most of the time.  I may appear calm and collected (and you likely have NO idea how much effort it requires just to maintain that appearance), but the fact is that I’m not.  I’m filled with potential outbursts which are inappropriate, destructive, and (for me as well) terrifying.

So, when I read the section quoted above, I felt like I had at least one person who understood.  There is a strength in me, an intelligence and a perspective  capable of awesomeness, that is hard for me to maintain.  But it is there.  Those emotions which rise up when I become anxious are indeed tempting; it’s much easier to allow those emotions to control my behavior than to remain rational and calm, but I cannot simply remain calm.  I cannot allow my passion to step forward because it’s too much for me (or most others) to handle.  That, and what it causes me to say and do have little to do with what my intellect would say.

Others, who have passion but are not overwhelmed by it, can allow the full force of that passion to flow freely.  It comes across as authentic and meaningful, because they don’t have to restrain it.  That is their privilege.  In my case, since I cannot simply let my passions to freely compel my words and actions, the act of restraining it makes it appear forced–ironically because I am not forcing it out, but forcing some of it in.

So, I cannot allow my passion to flow freely, most of the time.**  There is too much of it, most of the time.  So I will continue to practice resisting the flood, perhaps even to deride it.

But no, I shall not speak ill of emotions and passion.  They are both beautiful and powerful, and wonderful tools for those who can wield them well.  But for me they are often too dangerous and destructive to myself and those near to me, and so I will keep striving to develop the ability to speak with passion put aside, knowing that even in doing this it is passion which is the cause of my speaking, ultimately.  The idea, I think, is to allow passion to fuel my words, not to compose them.

[BTW, I was very tempted to title this piece The Passion of the Anti-Christ, but was not sure how many people would appreciate that reference, even though I’ve already mentions Nietzsche here.]

*If you are thinking, right now, that this is something that I can learn to do, then you are in a place of neuro-typical privilege.   This is one of the key parts of my disorder, and the danger is that I think I can control it, but I cannot.  The best I can do to explain is taht the very process of attempting to control the overwhelming emotion simply feeds it, and before I know it it has taken over.

**There are times when I can.  Those times are sometimes late at night, either by myself (struggling to remain sane, rational, and calm while battling some fear or another) or with Ginny or Gina who try to do anything to help me not hurt so much.



1. Kat - June 21, 2013

Have you tried meditation? This has helped me enormously to feel emotions without letting them control my behavior/speech.

shaunphilly - June 21, 2013

Yes, i have tried meditation. In fact, my years of doing so have taught me skills that help, but do not solve the problem. The problem really is more fundamental and serious than can be solved through meditation.

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