Election By Emotion Part 2
WHEN the late world war was first threatening Europe, the socialists predicted confidently that it would be stopped, before it began, by the refusal of the workingmen of France and Germany to kill one another in a quarrel between their employers. And when the French and German workingmen rushed to arms without a moment’s consideration of their “enlightened self-interest,” Max Eastman wrote bitterly in his socialist weekly that it was evident to him men were “governed not by intelligence but by instinct.” How do you suppose Max Eastman ever attained the age of reason without learning this first and most obvious truth about mankind? And if even the most Marxian socialists have learned to apply it to a war, why should we not apply it to the forecast of an election campaign?
Of course, when you say that men are governed by instinct and not by intelligence, or vote by instinct and not intelligently, you are not expressing yourself with any attempt at scientific accuracy. What you mean is that men commonly act upon instinctive impulses, emotionally and automatically, and not upon reasoned conclusions, consciously arrived at after intelligent thought. And the so-called new psychology has a lot to say about that matter, because reasoned conclusions are an affair of conscious intellect, and instinctive impulses come from the subconscious mind; and the doctors discover that conscious intellect has almost no control over ordinary human conduct, whereas the subconscious mind has every control over it; so that in wars and elections, as a matter of fact, people behave exactly as they do at any other time—only more so, as it were.
To pursue the point a little further, one may say, without being too technical, that the instinctive impulses in the subconscious mind seem to divide themselves into two main currents—the impulses of the egotistic instincts and of those that appear altruistic. In the one stream are the instincts of fear, self-preservation, self-love and so on. In the other are the instincts of affection, the sex-instinct, the maternal instinct, the herd instinct, and so through the whole list which William McDougall first made popular in his famous “Introduction to Social Psychology.” On that showing, one might expect “enlightened self-interest” to be an issue of the egotistic instincts, but the catch is in the word “enlightened.” By enlightened self-interest, the socialist means intelligent self-interest—particularly economic self-interest—arriving at a reasoned conclusion that strikes a balance between possible loss and profit in an action and chooses the path that will lead to a margin of gain. Such a consideration of self-interest is not an instinctive operation but an intellectual one. The ego instincts are not that sort of animal at all. Instinctive egotism has no thought of self-interest in any such sense. It will operate with instinctive satisfaction even when the egotism is ruining the egotist. You will find an entertaining psychological study of the process in George Meredith’s novel, “The Egoist.”
Source: The Outlook, 17 October 1928