It’s true that Molly Worthen’s title–Stop Saying ‘I Feel Like’–grabbed me for philosophical-linguistic reasons: I have both argued the point at RedState and tried to practice it whenever I speak or write; if one aspect of conservative doctrine is to preserve and foster objective reality, steering a culture from shipwreck on subjective shoals, it behooves those in the wheelhouse to speak a lot less about our precious feelings and a lot more about, to quote Francis Schaeffer, True Truth. I have discovered the wonderful freedom of replacing endless and vapid projections of my current emotional state with references to much higher authorities, and I am conversely much more interested in reading contributors who take the pains to do the same. (Life may not always be nasty, poor, or brutish, but it does still tend toward being too short to hear the private opinions of thousands of us who will–let’s be frank–be completely unknown, in this present evil age, within a few short years.)
Worthen’s piece does not disappoint in that regard. After correlating the spike in usage of the phrase “I feel like” to recent decades of descent into relativism, and noting that it has become nearly synonymous with “I think” or “I believe”, she notes several consequences, including in both (what used to be known as) academia and political discourse, where it becomes the non-falsifiable end of all discussion:
These people don’t think, believe or reckon. They “feel like.” Listen for this phrase and you’ll hear it everywhere, inside and outside politics. This reflex to hedge every statement as a feeling or a hunch is most common among millennials. But I hear it almost as often among Generation Xers and my own colleagues in academia. As in so many things, the young are early carriers of a broad cultural contagion.
The phrase says a great deal about our muddled ideas about reason, emotion and argument — a muddle that has political consequences.
“I feel like” masquerades as a humble conversational offering, an invitation to share your feelings, too — but the phrase is an absolutist trump card. It halts argument in its tracks.
When people cite feelings or personal experience, “you can’t really refute them with logic, because that would imply they didn’t have that experience, or their experience is less valid,” Ms. Chai told me.
“It’s a way of deflecting, avoiding full engagement with another person or group,” Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, a historian at Syracuse University, said, “because it puts a shield up immediately. You cannot disagree.”
This is what is most disturbing about “I feel like”: The phrase cripples our range of expression and flattens the complex role that emotions do play in our reasoning. It turns emotion into a cudgel that smashes the distinction — and even in our relativistic age, there remains a distinction — between evidence out in the world and internal sentiments known only to each of us.
If our students have any hope of solving the problems for which trigger warnings and safe spaces are mere Band-Aids, they must reject this woolly way of speaking their minds.
We should not “feel like.” We should argue rationally, feel deeply and take full responsibility for our interaction with the world.
Who could rationally disagree? I feel like she hits the nail on the head. (Yes, yes–just seeing if you’re still with me.)
But moments after reading Ms. Worthen’s piece–in the NYTimes, did I mention that?–it came, as to Bunyan’s Christian, “burning hot into my mind” that her careful and sensible argument also absolutely incinerates transgenderism’s raison d’être, encoded in the irrefutable phrase “I feel like I’m a (insert opposite of one’s biological gender)“. To quote Mr. Jenner, “There’s nothing more, nothing better in life to wake up in the morning, look at yourself in the mirror, and feel comfortable with yourself and who you are.” And what single factor defines the self that he feels comfortable with? “Gender identity is who you are in your soul“–that soul being the (supposedly) pure, gnostic, feeling essence that has nothing to do with the objective reality that he saw in the mirror until recently.
Even the Target corporation website’s description of the charitable motivation behind their recent reality-denying bathroom policy adjustment could not avoid using the phrase: “Everyone deserves to feel like they belong.”
As Andrew Mullins’ (CL–recommended by a friend, but I do not know the site) The Hidden Dualism of Transgenderism points out:
[Transgenderism asks us] to believe that one’s life project should be guided by such feelings. Yet feelings are fickle, we all know that. Emotions enrich, and they can empower us to act, but they can also be dead wrong. Who has not unleashed his or her passions and then had to humiliatingly apologise? If we reduce our sexual identity to a mere feeling of gender, we betray the central importance of gender in who we are.
This is the old lie of dualism wrapped up in another cloak. We are not simply our minds. There is more to personality than thoughts and feelings. Persons are a complete body and soul package, not reducible to body or psyche, at least if the person is healthy and mature.
Feelings cannot become the yardstick by which we measure our actions. They may spur us to do good — to help the poor derelict we are walking past — but to run one’s life on feelings will be totally unhelpful. To change one’s body to suit them must be a false remedy for whatever troubles the soul.
So, bravo Molly Worthen for wielding truth against this current head of the Zeitgeist hydra–and, credit where due–the NYTimes for publishing it! Tough old world, this–no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get away from objective reality. At least, that’s what I feel. (Gotcha again!) OK, let’s try the first chapter of Romans instead (hard to go wrong with Romans–it being the Readers’ Digest Condensed Version of the entire Bible):
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
The thing is, God always makes his truth come out, eventually; I am glad that this NYT article* is one little piece of that process in this current battle.
* Hey, don’t blame me–he uses all kinds of entities to do the job: Pharaoh, Balaam, Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus. Don’t they want to be important too?