Surf-Head

Psychiatry in waves.

Emotional Alchemy

Digital humanity?

In ’93, Spy magazine put out a parody of The New Yorker, which included a brief review of the live-action Flintstones movie, credited to British literary demi-god Martin Amis.  The genius of that parody was how completely out of touch the cleverer by ¾ faux Amis appeared, attributing the brutish, Neanderthal dynamics to a uniquely post-Reagan backlash, suggesting John Goodman improvised “yabba-dabba-doo,” and entirely missing the antecedent of the iconic, 1950’s cartoon.  It was hi-freaking-larious that an aloof intellect such as (faux) Amis could miss the whole point of the film, not to mention basic cultural history.  But I fear that most folks wouldn’t get that level of joke these days.

A friend sent me a link to a piece in the Atlantic titled “The Dark Side of Emotional Intelligence.” I can only assume that it was an earnest article, depicting the last 20 years of coining and studying the construct of “emotional intelligence,” which seems to bely an intellectual and statistical analysis of the strange and magical world of emotions (stage direction: getting mildly sarcastic). Yet, to me, it read like the Flintsones parody.  Despite a fair and balanced explanation that an understanding of the emotional valence of imagery, gestures, music could be used to project empathy, caringly sway, or overtly manipulate others in the name of purported good or evil, I kept thinking “Does someone really need to write this out?” or “Is this breaking news?”

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My sense is that the absurdity of the existence of this article (internally the piece is solid) is born out from two perspectives.  First, perhaps people have become so completely out of touch with their “emotional intelligence” that they actually need it explained to them.  That strikes me as a sad state of affairs.  The term “emotional intelligence” itself has always struck me as a desperate, digital-age, Aspergers-trending Hail Mary, in its attempt to translate the mystical and unwieldy world of emotionality into bullet-point-able intellect.

Second, a growing fascination with data collection for data’s sake alongside the rush of high-speed digital reproduction and virtual connectivity has abetted a creepy coopting of emotionality under a geeky, obsessive rubric. Somehow, a systematic, analytic breakdown of the emotional structures lends a sense of control to one who is not limbically or viscerally comfortable with emotions, akin to intellectualization in psychodynamic theory.  But this is as ridiculously off-mark as attributing the taste of a great wine to millimolar equivalents of minerals and phorbyl-esters, or calling Barney Rubble a post-Reagn anti-hero. I’m fairly certain that these misguided attempts at emotional alchemy will always pale compared with digging for true gold.

N.B. This apparently has nothing to do with surfing… Just laying the groundwork for which the answer will always be a thinly veiled iteration of surf… GD

Greg Dillon, M.D., is a psychiatrist in private practice in New York City and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Public Health at the Weill Cornell Medical College. more...

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