Whether deliberation makes something unnatural, and whether it's enough to be genuine to be natural.

Intellectualization is a transition to reason, where the person avoids uncomfortable emotions by focusing on facts and logic. The situation is treated as an interesting problem that engages the person on a rational basis, whilst the emotional aspects are completely ignored as being irrelevant.

Suppose John has been brought up by a strict father, feels hurt, and is angry as a result. Although John may have deep feelings of hatred towards his father, when he talks about his childhood, John may say: “Yes, my father was a rather firm person, I suppose I do feel some antipathy towards him even now”. John intellectualizes; he chooses rational and emotionally cool words to describe experiences which are usually emotional and very painful.

Taken from Wikipedia

One response – an emotional one, maybe – is to vent, to cry or yell or whatever, if anything, comes naturally to you. This reaction, what I’ll call ‘confrontation’, is opposed to an ‘intellectual’ one, what is called ‘intellectualization’, where a person doesn’t act out whatever they’re feeling. You might feel something, but it isn’t visible in your behaviour, either naturally, or by restraining yourself.

Which is ‘better’? Is John a paragon of calmness? Or a bottled up robot, afraid to display his feelings? Is someone who vented openly ‘authentic’ and honest, or simply immature and idiotic? It could go both ways, some might laud him for revealing his feelings, others for the opposite.

Take another example – if someone cuts John off in traffic. Would John be praised for abusing the offender, or instead for shrugging it off, telling himself, ‘I suppose I do feel some annoyance’? I think here the verdict (mine, at least) would, on first sight, be more likely to go in favour of intellectualization.

But that’s more to do with cost-benefit and picking your battles. It’s rarely worth allowing trifles to disturb your peace. Every other week there seems to be a story about someone killing a person for the stupidest and most trivial of reasons, from not giving chutney or sambhar with a dish, to haggling over a few rupees, to a road rage incident. The out-of-control lunatic, ever ready to pick a brawl, far from cutting the impressive or intimidating figure they might imagine, appears as a pathetic unsuccessful idiot with nothing to lose. Intellectualization, if it means not letting trifles get to you, might be a good thing.

But moving beyond trifles – what if it’s something significant, like John and his dad? Intellectualization, you could argue, still preserves your mental peace, as opposed to bawling and raging.

I was angry with my friend;
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe:
I told it not, my wrath did grow.

The Poison Tree, William Blake

But I could just as easily argue the opposite, that it’s in fact intellectualization where you let something affect you more than it needs to, by bottling up and concentrating the emotion inside rather than releasing it. Like William Blake’s Poison Tree, negativity and ill will nurtured till it ate the owner alive, as well as his rival. Perhaps cost-benefit dictates that it’s better to pay the price immediately and have it out, rather than let it fester and accrue interest, growing eventually into a huge debt.

That is the question of which is ‘better’, in the sense of cost-benefit or consequences – which, intellectualization or confrontation, is more convenient, that is, makes my life easier. But it’s more interesting to ask which is natural, which is more authentic. Is intellectualization always ‘artificial’, and confrontation a ‘natural’ response?

It’s easy to see the two are related. If something is artificial for someone, yet yields better outcomes, would they choose to do it? Perhaps John is an emotional fellow, yet restrains himself and intellectualizes because he thinks it’s better for him, the way people might try to ‘become stoic‘. Or he gives free reign to his outbursts – either because he can’t intellectualize, or because he can, yet doesn’t want to, because he believes it’s healthier for him not to in the long run. And in the opposite case, where John isn’t emotional by nature, John might intellectualize naturally as a matter of course. Or he might even, for whatever reasons, go against his tendency to intellectualize and feign an emotion he doesn’t feel.

Is intellectualization then, an escape from emotion, a way to suppress emotions? Again, inauthenticity and benefits aren’t separate; a reason for doing something you wouldn’t do naturally is because you think it’s better.

Freud apparently considered intellectualization a defence mechanism, a way to suppress or escape the emotions involved in a situation. That seems to imply intellectualization as a tactic one employs for one’s gain, an artificial response substituted for a natural one, to reap benefits.

If you define intellectualization as using ‘intellect’ instead of, or opposed to, emotions, then perhaps it is an escape tactic. Instead of confronting, or even acknowledging feelings like anger or envy, I might attempt to distract myself with my self-analysis.

But is intellectualization necessarily an escape from emotion? Is the only way to be angry to yell or smash something? If you think so, then it follows that intellectualization is an escape from emotion, a sophisticated and seemingly ‘intellectual’ one. But I think it’s too strong to claim that billions of individuals must all necessarily express particular feelings in similar ways.

It’s fallacious to claim that an angry person must yell, else he is feigning, controlling his natural instincts and so on. I’d suppose one who yells or rages might not be aware of his mental state. If he is aware, he might be doing it consciously for an audience to serve his purposes, the way someone might yell and threaten subordinates to work. There’s nothing wrong with that; it is, after all, simply cost-benefit at work. That is as much a strategy, a tactic of simulating emotions for a purpose, as any intellectualization to escape emotions, again for a purpose.

When John, for instance, says he might feel antipathy – is that an escape? Or simply awareness of one’s own feelings, which I don’t think is a bad thing, nor even necessarily a defence mechanism. Awareness brings a person closer to a truth. Now what you do with that awareness is another matter. If the awareness brings a tendency to control and curb something I consider as undesirable, then that is suppression, and that might well be an artificial response and escape. But if it simply involves a recognition of what is, of what feeling is rising, without a concomitant reaction, either suppressing a ‘bad’ feeling or encouraging a ‘good’ one, then it needn’t be an escape.

But is awareness without a concomitant reaction possible? That leads me to a more general and interesting question. Intellectualization, I’d say, is a form of awareness – awareness of your emotions. Not just intellectualization, but is awareness itself, of any kind, a precursor to artificiality, to games?

Is the very awareness of my emotions, for instance, the first and inevitable step to strategies and tactics? The moment I recognize I am angry, perhaps, the calculations begin. Whether it is worth being angry over, whether I value my mental peace too much, whether a show of anger might have benefits and thus be a net positive. Can I only be natural or authentic if I’m not aware of what I’m feeling? Does the awareness of something, in short, destroy spontaneity, as I begin the calculations and analysis?

Now what makes something artificial as opposed to natural? One standard of artificiality is simply ‘calculation’ or ‘deliberation’. Evaluating options and consequences, cost-benefit analyzing each option and selecting the one with the best consequences. It’s a very broad definition, perhaps unreasonably so. John feels upset, John is aware he’s feeling upset, John, after reflection, decides to display his displeasure. What he portrays is still what he feels, there’s no false pretense. This is opposed to John becoming upset and showing it, shorn of the reflection. In both, perhaps outwardly exactly the same behaviour, such that an observer mightn’t be able to tell the difference, yet the former deliberate, and thus by this definition artificial, and the latter not. What you have then, is an even higher standard for naturalness – one beyond genuine, in that even something genuine need not be natural.

Is that too much? Another definition would be ‘artificial’ in the sense it’s usually used, that is to say, behaviour that is ‘affected’. So John feels upset but decides not to show it, or, conversely, John doesn’t really feel upset but wants to appear so. The difference from earlier is not total – in both, John deliberates – he acts out what he thinks is the optimal response. The difference is simply that in the second case, his behaviour is ‘affected’ – it’s different from what he really feels, though it is deliberation just like the former.

It’s relatively easier to claim that the latter case of affected behaviour – pretending to be what you don’t feel – is artificial. The harder question is whether the former is too – whether awareness itself destroys naturalness. The chain, if so, would be that awareness is the precursor to deliberation, and deliberation means the death of naturalness. There are two assumptions to be questioned – does awareness lead to deliberation, and does awareness then make something unnatural?

Interestingly, and rather unexpectedly, I find two of my previous essays, intentionality and sincerity with a motive, were about these very ideas. The first question, whether awareness leads to deliberation, is the question of intentionality, and I think the answer is not necessarily. It can, but it needn’t always.

Can the crude mind become sensitive?

Listen to the question, to the meaning behind the words. Can the crude mind become sensitive? If I say my mind is crude and I try to become sensitive, the very effort to become sensitive is crudity. Please see this. Don’t be intrigued, but watch it. Whereas, if I recognize that I am crude without wanting to change, without trying to become sensitive, if I begin to understand what crudeness is, observe it in my life from day to day – the greedy way I eat, the roughness with which I treat people, the pride, the arrogance, the coarseness of my habits and thoughts – then that very observation transforms what is.

Similarly, if I am stupid and I say I must become intelligent, the effort to become intelligent is only a greater form of stupidity; because what is important is to understand stupidity. However much I may try to become intelligent, my stupidity will remain. I may acquire the superficial polish of learning, I may be able to quote books, repeat passages from great authors, but basically I shall still be stupid. But if I see and understand stupidity as it expresses itself in my daily life – how I behave towards my servant, how I regard my neighbour, the poor man, the rich man, the clerk – then that very awareness brings about a breaking up of stupidity. You try it. Watch yourself talking to your servant, observe the tremendous respect with which you treat a governor, and how little respect you show to the man who has nothing to give you. Then you begin to find out how stupid you are; and in understanding that stupidity there is intelligence, sensitivity. You do not have to become sensitive. The man who is trying to become something is ugly, insensitive; he is a crude person.

Jiddu Krishnamurti, Think on These Things

Awareness would be me recognizing my crudeness or stupidity; deliberation is me trying to mould myself into a sensitive or wise person. Awareness is John knowing he feels resentment or anger, but need not imply John having feelings about the feeling – not angry about feeling anger or resentful about feeling resentment.

Does awareness make something unnatural? As I just mentioned, awareness might or might not engender deliberation. If it doesn’t give rise to deliberation, then I think, it doesn’t make a behaviour unnatural. To say mere awareness does so would be to claim that the only natural person is the unreflective one, who has never looked inwards, someone who acts entirely spontaneously, without a thought preceding action. On the contrary, as Krishnamurti describes, awareness can bring about a transformation – to a new behaviour, as natural as the one it replaces.

And when awareness leads to deliberation? I would say deliberation probably makes a behaviour, even a natural one, unnatural. The upset man pretending to not be upset, or the indifferent one feigning displeasure behave unnaturally, but just so is the one who feeling upset, wants to show his disgruntlement. It’s worth mentioning that ‘unnatural’ is not always equated with ‘wrong’; a parent, for instance, might put on a show of displeasure to teach their child.

The best example of such deliberation is sincerity with a motive. There is such a thing as being sincere with a motive, as a pose of poselessness, being rather too frank about how frank and open you are. The ‘calculated crowd pleaser’, for instance, calculating the intended effects on an average audience before supplying a performance of sincerity and emotion. Going back to the subtle distinction between genuine and natural, you have something genuine but not natural.

I began with the idea of writing about intellectualization, as defensive tactic or an underlying awareness or both of them. That instead led to the more general and interesting question of whether awareness is a precursor to deliberate tactics and the idea of the natural as something beyond the genuine.