The Dangers Of the Pathos Mindset in a Democracy

Start at the beginning...

I taught writing for over ten years in American public high schools. A large portion of this time was spent on argumentation. I have always believed that schools, or more precisely schooling, have a fundamental responsibility to teach students, or at least expose them to, methodologies of argumentation. To my mind it seemed like letting children leave my class with the ability to self advocate and argue seemed like an ethical and moral responsibility.  Invariably the teaching of this process always  came back to Aristotle and his appeals to reason. (Those old dudes were smart).

Let’s start with a brief introduction:

Aristotle argued that one had to “appeal to a person’s sense of reason” to win an argument. He brilliantly pointed out that there are really only three approaches to this process: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos, or more colloquially known as Ethics, Emotions and Logic. Ethics are a little bit tricky in this context. Ethics to Aristotle weren't equated to morality as we often do in modern times. To Aristotle ethics were centered upon the notion of appealing to higher authorities: whether they be gods, experts or scholars. (Yes convenient to include himself as a scholar I know). The second methodology was Pathos, or emotions. Aristotle aptly observed that some people could be forced into perspectives or decisions based upon an appeal or a manipulation of their emotions. Aristotle argued that this appeal was the weakest and the most dangerous since it rejected fact, reason or evidence. Lastly, we have Logos or logic. Logic was rooted in outcomes or what was likely to happen next. Aristotle argued that logic had to be the predominant form of argumentation for a society to function. He supported the notion that Logic was tantamount in the creation of laws, famously quipping: “The Law is Reason, free from Passion.”

So what...

Now, in 2016, Donald Trump is the President. His unlikely rise to power is a fascinating, terrifying and illogical tidal wave solely consisting of toxic, pathos laden Populism. A group of mostly poor and middle class white people have let their anxieties, fears and fleeting majority status propel them to a decision that has no grounding in logic or ethics. Trump supporters themselves are quick to point out this watershed moment in American emotional reactionism almost as a kind of unsolicited merit badge. They have rejected the ethical appeals of every scientist about climate change. They have rejected the unequivocal  evidence of the economic growth that has historically occurred when each party has the White House. They have voted against the logical outcomes that would have benefited them financially in terms of education, paid maternity leave, social security, lower taxes and medical care. Quite simply they have chosen to validate a form of feelings based group-think instead of  eight years of positive economic, civil and global momentum.

So here we are. A lifelong conman has scaled up his Trump University formula and appealed to the emotions of a disenfranchised and illogical group. Spurred by the Internet's amazing power to allow people to seek out fake, dangerous and unsourced means of emotional validation, we have the most uninformed electorate in American history. Republicans and Democrats alike have been gleefully ingesting a buffet of absurd misinformation that gives them a temporary emotional validation paired with side effects that take far too long to develop, resulting with no hope of slowing their voracious emotional appetites.

What does it all mean?

I have many, many Republican, friends. These are good people, normal, hard working, just, fair, and well-intentioned. They are just scared in a different way. They see hate and injustice in the world as well. It just affects them in a different, more visceral way. This is why when you ask your Republican friends about why they voted for Trump, they point out their concerns. They are laying the platform for their emotional appeals to your reason.  The game has changed. Don’t bother to instill logic into the conversation. You will go mad. Instead. Walk down the rabbit hole. Address their concerns. Appease their emotions. It is only in a state on comfort and acceptance that emotionally fragile people can be reasoned with.

Now you can point out the irony here of how The Right calls liberals 'whiners'. How they talk about buckets of  liberal tears. It isn’t going to matter. They are emotionally charged. It’s going to be a while. Don’t expect the bipartisanism Obama strived for in the first two years of his majority. It’s going to be all reactionary for some time to come. If you feel like it is a very difficult time to be a logical, rational and reasonable member of the human race. You are more correct than you may ever know.  

RIP Aristotle. You wouldn't like 2016 America very much.