2010-09-12

Unreasonable rationality

The other day I read somewhere that you can make a rational decision, but that doesn't mean you're reasonable by doing so. I guessed the same would go for the opposite. I had to contemplate a while on it, wondering about the fundamental difference between the two. Are they incompatible systems of decision-making, or is there some sort of relationship among them? I came up with the following answer.

To be rational means that you roughly follow a certain value system in which material and scientific issues matter most, and emotional or spiritual least. If, by applying the scientific method, you can serve an emotional interest as well - fine. But looking after the emotional issue first would be regarded as irrational.

Let's say you have to shift to a new place and there's a cat with you. You cannot move to the cheapest, nicest place because they don't allow pets. So you take the less attractive, more expensive flat where you can stay together. From a rational point of view you'd be silly to act according to your emotional relation to a "disposable thing". It's irrational to give up a financial advantage. Many people get rid of their pets in such a situation. But others find it more reasonable to go for the other solution: keeping the cat at any cost.

So what does reasonable mean?
The term simple states that you act according to reason. You have a reason to do something, whatever that may be. That reason could be anything, and as long as you have it and your actions reflect its logic you can always claim sanity. It might be irrational, but there is sense in what you're doing, as opposed to nonsensical, random, insane, impulsive, or compulsive decisions and behaviours. To be reasonable means to be connected to a value system, any value system, and it can contain science and materialistic points, although it is not limited to those; it means you are likely to have a much broader perspective than a physicist or an investment banker, because you are not an expert with a narrow range of interest.

It means even more than that.
From a reasonable point of view, not only the nonsensical, but also the rational way often represents insanity. Why is it, that there is enough food on Earth for twice as many people, but more than one billion are starving? Why is it that we use drinking water for flushing off faeces? Due to rational decisions which save us time, money and effort our whole civilization, especially in its current form, is a global madhouse full of insane people making foolish decisions and acting like maniacs - absolutely unreasonable.

What makes a merely rational person an unreasonable one is that they leave out vital information, crucial reasons, fundamental values other than pure matter and instant benefits. They may act on just one thing, e.g. immediate money profit, and forget about (or dismiss) longterm or "side" effects, such as the biosphere getting damaged to the point of collapse or humans being deprived of their dignity til they claim it back with violence.

Ratio (latin: the mind) is condemned to repeat foolish acts over and over again because it is limited to science and logic which, by categorization, reduce knowledge to an abstraction of the actual thing and which are by (self-)definition just fractions of what is going on within a human life and the biosphere as a whole.
You cannot reduce reality to abstractions and expect the outcome of your acting upon those images of reality to be consistent with the real thing.
You cannot have a value system that dismisses feelings as irrational and expect the outcome to be worth living for human (and other) beings. Much worse so in a world where cybernated units, the apex of rationality, would run the show, as The Venus Project promotes it.
You cannot achieve working solutions while you "arrive at decisions" by assuming that "the real problems in the world are technical" when in fact they are not. There's more to life than this. So much more than this.

It took me a while to realize that but finally I arrived at a point where I see no more use in pimping up our social systems or, heaven forbid, our gadgetry which failed to make life better for 10,000 years now. Rationality itself has failed, and it isn't likely to do better within the next ten years either. To believe in that sounds Utopian to me, insane even.
It's fine to have water desalination devices and electricity and virtual libraries which all help in patching problems of industrial civilization. But as far as I'm concerned, that's far from constituing a solution. The real change will be a shift from rational to reasonable, and from there to spiritual which is a state beyond reason, because there is no more need to argue.
Spirituality can end world hunger, regardless of (and freed from) scientific rationality - which created the problem in the first place. You can call me irrational to say so, or even unreasonable, and you would be right. I have nothing to add.

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