XIII. Personal Emotions

The most elementary emotions pertain to the individual: his personal survival, his personal welfare, his comforts, and his desires. They are rightly called "selfish" feelings because the interests of any other person are incidental. The personal emotions are the first that we feel, as children are entirely self-concerned and must be taught to consider the welfare of others.

In general, "selfishness" is discouraged and portrayed as immature or juvenile - but very often it is a person whose own selfish motives conflict with the interests of others that accuses others of selfishness and demands that they acquiesce to his needs and disregard any concern of their own. This is not altruism, but an extreme form of selfishness that demands others sacrifice to benefit oneself.

In common conversation, personal emotions are called "passions." This indicates a very strong personal attraction or repulsion to something that often cannot be justified logically. A passion is something that is wanted for its own sake with no other explanation, whereas personal emotions in general can often be linked to a desire to achieve a specific state or outcome. The passionate person is not satisfied until his passion has been fulfilled, regardless of any other outcome of his actions.

With that in mind, the "selfish" emotions are not necessarily immature emotions - if there is a rational justification for a personal emotion, it can rightly be called a refined emotion.

In terms of survival, the welfare of oneself precedes the welfare of others under most circumstances. If no member of a species takes an interest in its own survival, then the species cannot survive. And so, self-preservation is of the utmost importance. The consideration of social emotions in the next chapter will consider this further.

As with any other animal, man's personal interests are the security and sustenance of his own life and the preservation of his genetic material in future generations - so the basis of personal emotion is basic survival needs: to flee danger, to feed, and to reproduce. These needs have not been abandoned in civilized society, and remain of great interest to refined people, but the manner in which the needs are met tend to be sophisticated and indirect - and the direct gratification of those needs is considered vulgar.

Consider the matter of sexual intercourse, which is widely regarded as the most vulgar of personal desires. We are constrained by society to refrain from engaging in sexual activity with wild abandon, and are constrained to rituals of love, courtship, marriage, and the support of a family. In this way, society places rigid constraints on the behavior that is acceptable in pursuit of sexual desires, but has not abolished the functional practice necessary to reproduction and sustenance of the species.

To some degree, we see the refinement of the reproductive urges in the animal kingdom: some animals have elaborate courtship rituals in selecting a mate, reproduce only during a certain season, remain coupled as necessary to protect and nurture their young, and so on. This is not because of civilized refinement, but again because they are demonstrating instinctive behaviors that are not learned or reasoned. It can be argued that man's behavior is merely a refinement of these most basic urges - but again, the act is preserved and the method is constrained.

In the politics of society, the degree to which restraint should be practiced, and the manner in which it should be implemented, are subject to much debate. They are in fact arbitrary, though the functional result is the success of the society itself: a society that too far restrains its basic passions withers and dies rather than flourishes. The same can be said of an individual. It is therefore necessary to recognize our passions and accept their necessity, but to control the degree to which we are ruled by our passions, lest they become harmful to us.

Returning to the animal kingdom, there does seem to be some restraint on the instincts of animals. A lion instinctively hunts prey, but only does so when it has a need of meat. A pride of lions has the capability to destroy every prey animal, leaving the carcass to rot, and thus deprive its own need of a future supply of food. The fact that the pride does not do so is not evidence of rational thought - it is a constraint upon the instincts by which it is caused to act.

As man lacks, or has subordinated, his instincts he has likewise disconnected himself from their inherent constraints. A man will eat so much that he will become grotesquely obese, constrained only by the feeling of pain that comes from overconsumption in a given session of feeding. In the same manner he has the ability to disconnect the natural limitations on his instincts - to engage in the "sins" of gluttony, sloth, lust, freed, and so on. These are simply the effects of the removal of constraints on his natural urges.

And so, there is very little need to develop the personal emotions - our very nature has ensured that we experience them in abundance. Instead, the need is to train, govern, and control these emotions and consider the actions we undertake in response to them. Culture and society serve as a guide for so doing, but the constraints of society are in some instances too much and in others too little. Society discourages us from being violent with others except under certain circumstances (the defense of self, family, or nation) - but the man who is incapable of violence even when it is functional is labeled a coward who is not violent enough.

The general principles of emotional control, restraint, and mastery are entirely applicable to the management of personal emotions:

  1. To refrain from physical expression to prevent the escalation of emotions
  2. To change the manner in which we respond to emotional cues to avoid damage or create a positive outcome
  3. To be constant in exercising the more desirable responses so that they become habitual
  4. To avoid situations in which harmful emotions may be evoked
  5. To avoid thoughts which provoke harmful emotions

Finally, he suggests that the personal emotions are like a team of horses: they have the potential to be very useful if they are trained and controlled, but they have the potential to be very harmful if allowed to be completely unrestrained. And more, a well-trained horse will behave itself without the constant administration of the whip and the spur - but it requires considerable effort to train.