22 November 2013

Rationality Has A Bad Rap

Next time you are playing word associations with someone, start with the word “rational”. Odds are, they'll reply with something like “robotic”, “emotionless”, “cold”, or the like. That's the reputation that rationality has. As a result, the entire concept of rationality becomes something that people actively avoid. They don’t want to lose their soul; their flavor; their spice, because being rational, to them, means flattening out and being dull and unfeeling. That's really a shame because rationality is extremely beneficial to both the individual who utilizes it and the society that promotes it. And it absolutely does not preclude being passionate, or even spiritual.

Rationality has a PR problem.

In fiction, the hero is often a romantic who adheres to a code which restricts his actions, while the villain is practical and logical, unencumbered by irrational ethics. It's the very fact that the villain doesn't need to compromise that tells us he will be defeated by the principled and creative masochist who sacrifices himself for seemingly no reward. Logic scares people. They watch movies like I, Robot and think that because the most “logical” solution to saving humans is to imprison them, then anyone who favors rationality over gut feelings is capable of atrocities in the name of their goals.

In the eyes of the wary, ideas like eugenics, social darwinism and totalitarianism are agendas perpetuated by the logical conclusions of those who endorse them. Meanwhile, these people embrace the chaos, hardship and discord in their lives, seeing it not as a sign that things are badly managed, but as the cost of living free. They do not see themselves at a disadvantage. To them, rational, objective self-improvement is unethical because it violates the integrity of their personal identities.

Rationality is simply a way to identify your best choices and, by extension, be more effective at the things you do. It does not turn you into a sociopath or a robot. It does not strip the emotion from an experience. It allows you to analyze whether or not your actions are achieving your goal. It seeks to minimize the impact of the negative and enhance the benefits of the positive. If rationality were a person, it would say, “you are free to be emotional, just try not to make any important decisions during that time.”

Most of us live rough lives and make many mistakes. If you manage to survive them all, you usually pop out the other side saying you wouldn't have done it any other way. These are our natural biases speaking. Personally, I've made plenty of mistakes throughout my life and, yeah, I'm still proud to be the man I am. However, you just can’t say that I wouldn't find myself in a better situation if I had been a bit more rational along the way.