Necessity, dependence and emotions

There are certain biological necessities: we must eat, drink and sleep. We cannot live long (and certainly not well) without satisfying these basic needs. There are also certain pleasures in extension of them: eating refined meals, drinking good wine, and so on. With these things it's different - they are an extra, coming on top of those necessities. We may appreciate them, and try to arrange our lives so that we have the pleasure of them often, but that doesn't mean we think of them as indispensable. When the circumstances of our lives change and we get less of them (even, in extreme cases, none of them anymore), we might think of that as an impoverishment, but not the end of our world.

That's the sensible attitude, anyway. Some people, though, seem to feel stronger about these things. They actually value them so much that they have problems accepting to let them go when the situation calls for it. (They might even consider acting against their own better knowledge, contrary to their own best interests, to moral or in extreme cases legal considerations; perhaps not normally for a good bottle of wine, but think of drug addiction as an obvious example.) It's not so difficult to imagine such a situation. Think of the lover of great cooking who is invited to a gala dinner (known to him to be prepared by a famous chef), but whose aunt has been admitted to a hospital earlier the same day, with some severe illness. He can only go to one place in the evening - how will he choose? If he opts for the dinner, that tells us something about his character, doesn't it?

This is no longer just a preference, it's dependence (in the sense that we treat something as if our well-being depended on it). It's another way we stop deciding for ourselves - we are inclined to choose some course of action, just because of our fear of losing (or hope of gaining) that preferred, or rather depended on, thing. (Dependence of that sort also opens us to blackmail, or at least may make us prone to give in to others who can influence whether we get what we depend on.)

If we look at it the other way round, we can learn something interesting about the emotions here, too. People get emotional about those extras precisely to the extent they depend on them, rather than just viewing them as extras. They may become afraid of losing them, or entertain hopes of gaining some more of them, or feel pleasure just in anticipating them. Contrast this with the person who takes the sensible stance. She may also go for the extras when they are available, but will as well live without them when they aren't. She won't get emotional about these things: knowing their proper value, there won't be any fear or wild anticipation with respect to them.

Interestingly, then, these emotions indicate an error of judgment: taking something as more valuable than one should take it. Looking at that thing with a realistic view of its value, would simply make the emotion disappear. (Although the over-estimation may be so deeply entrenched with some people that it would be hard for them to ever get to that point.)

Then what about emotions that we might have about threats to our health, or bodily integrity? What's in question then is not an extra, but one of the more basic needs I mentioned. Does that make a difference? Well, it's certainly a different sort of case. But still, remember that at least in some instances, people have valued the lives of their children, the freedom of their country, or justice and truth high enough not to compromise it just for avoiding physical pain, or death. Take care.
Copyright © 2007-2012 by Leif Frenzel. All rights reserved.