June 21, 2009
The movie is about a fascist society which arises after some catestrophic world wars in which people have decided that the source of strife and suffering is human emotion. As a result, they suppress emotions -- often through the use of chemicals -- and prosecute anyone who is guilty of "sense crimes," which amount to inspiring an emotional response, usually through the collection of art.
I'm not done watching it, so I can't really say if it's an overall good or bad movie, although from the start it bears some similarities to other dystopian movies.
But it made me wonder: is it even possible for people to operate without emotions? I think not.
Your subconscious mind is a vast collection of all the integrations you've made. It's the sum of your ideas and judgments. It has to be subconscious because your conscious mind is busy handling the specifics of your life, like driving to work, doing math, sorting the laundry, etc. But your conscious mind can only hold so many things at once, so your subconscious mind feeds it your basic evaluations of things so that you can direct your actions according to those evaluations. This direction is given in the form of emotions.
Although you may not feel ecstatic joy about washing dishes, you feel a pleasant satisfaction at having completed the task (assuming you're a sensible adult who is running their life like a civilized human being) and revulsion at the idea of having a kitchen strewn with fetid scraps of food and dingy flatware.
"Positive" feelings like joy, happiness, love, satisfaction are signs from your subconscious that you are achieving or maintaining your values, things that matter to you. "Negative" feelings like outrage, anger, anxiety, fear are signs that you're losing something that matters to you or that it's in danger.
Without emotions, you would lack the basic building blocks of motivation for doing anything at all. You would not feel revulsion at the idea of spending your life in bed or joy at having accomplished your goals.
What goals could you possibly have? You might randomly choose some goal or another, but it wouldn't mean anything to you to not pursue it or to achieve it. But I'm not certain that even if a goal were set before you that you'd be able to effectively pursue it, even as a sort of automaton. People's brains just don't work that way.
In order to get ready for work without emotions, you'd have to constantly check back in with your basic premises, all the way up through your most distant abstractions in order to logically justify having a career and being presentable for your work every day. Even if we suppose that you're magically able to retain some memory of that long chain of reasoning, you couldn't possibly keep all of it in the forefront of your brain in order to achieve any goal more distant than perhaps checking the mail, but it would depend on how far the mailbox is away from your sofa.
Emotions just seem to me to be essential to even basic, everyday operations as a human being. So, I think these movies and characters, like Mr. Spock, which operate under the premise that emotions can be avoided, suppressed, or stopped are somewhat absurd, much like stories about ghosts or zombies.
Update: The movie is approaching the end and now I have another idea: even if you managed to somehow operate your life without emotions, that doesn't really prescribe the content of your brain. You could still behave irrationally. You could still act like a maniac -- just not passionately. You could choose to either be an agent of the fascist overlords who are telling everyone to suppress their emotions, or you could be an agent of the overlord's destruction.
It's funny, but I've been taping Star Trek episodes lately (Enterprise series) and have been thinking about the same topic (i.e. the Vulcans, the fictional race that regards lack, or suppression, of emotion as a virtue).
The premise of that fictional race is really interesting, and it's the source of some great stories, but I've also found the emotionless characters difficult to relate to, including Mr. Spock. The Vulcan characters are always most interesting to me when they *do not* adhere to their characteristic lack of emotion, and I think the show's writers recognize that and introduce plots that test their premises.
T'Pal, played by a beautiful actress who I would normally find attractive, is rendered less so by her lack of emotion. People without emotion just seem plastic and lifeless. Again, some of the most interesting episodes involving her involve her struggles with emotion and *questioning* her suppression of them.
The whole premise that reason and emotion are somehow in conflict is bothersome -- and silly -- but I can ignore it an enjoy the ride. The series still has a lot of positive points.
Posted by: Jeff Montgomery at June 21, 2009 04:06 AM (MKoHE)
Second, you're right about the necessity of emotion for action. Action requires a person to seek some end, and to do that, he must desire it. Aristotle knew that. In his action theory in De Anima, he argues that desire is essential to action. (I have a paper on that on my web site, for anyone interested.) It also shows up in his account of choice in the Nicomachean Ethics. Choice involves the selection between alternatives based on prior thought and deliberation. So it is, he says, the deliberate desire of things in our own power. So even rational choice requires desire. (That's discussed in my dissertation.)
Posted by: Diana Hsieh at June 21, 2009 12:53 PM (elB79)
Plus Mr. Taye Diggs and Mr. Christian Bale are super hunky.
Posted by: Flibbert at June 21, 2009 01:49 PM (WVKsK)
Posted by: Matt F. at June 21, 2009 02:35 PM (ev0nH)
Posted by: Flibbertigibbet at June 21, 2009 02:46 PM (WVKsK)
Posted by: Boulanger at June 21, 2009 11:45 PM (bVVsH)
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