Or their philosophies, at least. The real question is emotions vs. logic. That’s been a thing for a while now, hasn’t it? We say that some people are emotional, or make decisions emotionally, and other people are logical, and make them rationally. Or that it’s a continuum, and we fall somewhere on the spectrum. There even persists a sort of superstition that women are more emotional and men are more logical. That’s a pretty big generalization which doesn’t seem to take into account parenting practices, cultural biases, and…That’s a whole other post right there. But really, let’s get into it. Which is better? Emotion or rationality?
Trust your Feelings
Obi Wan Kenobi is pretty much the quintessential Jedi master, and his mantra is “Trust your feelings”. That’s the best way to see yourself through a situation. Your feelings won’t steer you wrong. They brought Luke to Bespin to save his friends, and eventually led to the redemption of his father (spoiler warning!) Darth Vader. Of course, Darth Vader and the Emperor must have been trusting their feelings too, right? That’s what lets them use the Force. Our emotions are complicated, and can lead us in all sorts of directions. There’s more feelings than just relaxed, happy, and love after all. There’s anger, frustration, hatred, hunger, joy, sorrow, desire, and determination as well. There’s a whole host of them, and we can feel more than one at once, which can make for a pretty complicated emotional soup. Still, that’s who we are, right? Our feelings represent what we are. When I am sad or afraid, it’s what I am. It’s something which is essential to me. Except in Germany, where I would say “Ich habe Angst” which means that fear is something I possess. Or Ireland, where I’d say “Tá brón orm” which means that sadness has come upon on me, like weather. But still, following our emotions means being authentic and being true to ourselves, and cluttering up with reason and incredulity is, as Yoda would say, why we fail.
The Good of the Many
Outweighs the good of the few, that’s Spock’s proposition, which he see as a logical necessity based on his values. Vulcans are obsessed with logic, restraining and denying their emotions in favour of cold rationality. It makes them excellent scientists, and helps them keep a cool head when the situation gets hot. In almost every instance, Spock argues against the consideration of emotion and in favour of a purely logical resolution to a situation. Logic tells us to think about consequences and the reasons that we do things, and discourages acting impulsively. It emphasizes consistency, and calls for justification for our actions. Still, our justifications, our thoughts, those are our own. They’re what we are. Articulating and following up on the logical reasons for our actions, which are based on our values, means being authentic and true to ourselves, while cluttering it up with junk information about emotions is, as Spock would say, highly illogical.
Wait a minute!
I’m going to guess at what you’re thinking and it goes something like “Hey! The conclusions of those two paragraphs up there are contradictory! If it’s true that being rational is the best way of being authentic, then it can’t be true that being emotional is, and vice versa!” And you’re right. Also, you might be thinking “You don’t even understand the positions. Jedi temper their trust in their feelings and the Force with discipline, which is rational. The difference between light and dark isn’t just emotional, it’s about how that discipline is exerted, and to what ends! And Vulcans embrace logic because they recognize the power of emotion. Even Spock learns to strike a balance between logic and emotion, and acknowledges that sometimes the good of the few can outweighs the good of the many!” If you’re a geek, you probably thought those in reverse order, which is cool. We’re on the same page.
The messy truth is that the distinction of rational people and emotional people seems false. It even appears false to say that any one individual tends to be more rational or more emotional, because the difference isn’t real. As you so astutely pointed out, part of what makes Jedi what they are isn’t just their intuitions but that they temper those intuitions with reason. Similarly, what makes the Vulcans such powerful logicians is the profound effect that their emotions have on them. At any and all times, we’re experiencing both emotions and logic, and more often than not we use logic to temper our emotions. When we’re hungry, we don’t just eat the first thing we see, we consider what its properties are, whether it’s ours, and how to prepare it, all of which aren’t emotional, they’re rational. When we’re ordering our preferences, the mark of a rational creature, our feelings influence why we rate things the way that we do. I like chips more than spinach because ever since I was a kid, chips were associated with relaxing and good times, so I’m happier eating them than spinach. This isn’t to say that at certain times or in certain situations we aren’t more open to appeals from one or the other, there’s a lot of strong advertising research that says that’s the case, but that categorizing a person or a class of people like that involves ignoring all the times when they use both together coherently, as well as suggesting that they’re not rational or have no feelings, depending on the side of the coin one places them on.
And they’re not just intertwined in how we deal with them, but how they occur. When we’re angry, or happy, or sad, we’re that way for reasons. We may not always know what all of the reasons are, or even any of them, but if my cat gets hit by a car, I’m not sad because that’s how I am, or just because, I’m sad because my cat got hit by a car, which is a logical connection. It seems like the only way we have to understand our feelings is through logic and reason. In fact, that’s how practices like positive psychology and rational emotive therapy work, and interpreting our feelings through the lens of reason improves our quality of life. Imagine being frustrated with someone, and them reacting by saying “Well, it’s not actually because of what I’m doing. It’s for no reason at all.” Doesn’t quite scan, does it?
So Jedi vs. Vulcan, who wins? It’s a bit of a trick question. Jedi and Vulcans both temper their emotions with reason and do so in accordance with a set of values. For Jedi, it’s understanding the Force’s role in the pursuit of goals (whether those are the preservation of life or total dominion over the galaxy), and for Vulcans it’s discipline over their more powerful emotions because of the consequences of letting them run rampant. They’re both at their best when their emotions and reason are in harmony, and what I’m trying to get at is that so are we. There aren’t emotional people or logical people, there’s just people, and best practice is going to be an acknowledgment that our emotions can be understood through reason, and that we need to be aware enough of our feelings that they can figure in our reasoning for how we live our everyday lives. But maybe I’m wrong. What do you think?