On Thought and Affect (1/11/14)

Our usual array of accustomed thoughts reflect our dominant, recurring affects—and not the other way around. Important implications follow from this. If we genuinely desire to attain mental or spiritual liberation, wouldn’t we be wise to attend primarily to these stubborn emotional patterns, habit-reinforced desires, and inhibitions, and devote somewhat less effort to shopping for new thoughts? Let’s not put the cart before the horse. An authentic (as opposed to a superficial and easily uprooted) transformation of our intellectual bearings and our guiding notions will occur quite naturally and spontaneously after our affective habits and tendencies have been weakened and overcome. But to overcome them: is this not to imply a kind of suppression or vanquishing of various ‘problematic’ desires, fears, resentments, and other stubbornly resistant impulses and habits of the will?

One thing is certain: mere thoughts and conceptual formulations pale in significance and in power when set beside the willed content, affect, passion, or drive that they ‘signify’ on the verbal-conceptual plane. As long as our attention remains confined to the verbal-conceptual level of our (total realm of possible) experience, it seems that very little of substance can be accomplished at this source-level, down in the depths of the affective nature.

The drives, affects, and emotions commonly possess an imperative character that carries over into the verbal-conceptual formulation of the deeper content—inciting the expression of that idea or value in the world, even if that expression amounts merely to preaching or moralizing rather than to actual deeds. Oftentimes, logic itself is implicitly and surreptitiously marshaled into the service of our imperative affects and desires—which prudently and protectively conceal themselves behind this superficially dignifying cloak of unequivocal, rational pronouncements. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the invocation of reason or logic is often a masked attempt to deny—or to apparently dissociate oneself from—precisely these human, all-too-human sources underneath the surface of one’s ‘rational’ campaign. Reason and logic, remember, presume to appeal to standards or criteria that transcend the imperatives (read: ‘biases’ and ‘prejudices’) that move ordinary humans like pawns on a chessboard.


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