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Stop Being Rational
by   Richard   Rieben
First Posted – 1 January 2004
 
Technology and technologized education and value-systems have created a rash of people who think in terms of bits and bytes. This suped-up, scientific rationality has led to a number of mathematical/mechanical proposals for organizing ourselves – politically, socially and/or economically. A number of these fantastically intricate plans have come from either Cartesian French-Canadians or from idle computer programmers (or both). Precisely because of their empirical foundation, the intricate schemes they devise are unconnected to reality and human nature. They are built upon statistical information and mathematical/probability modeling, which may be sufficient for designing a computer program or scientific experiment, but not for describing humanity, nor for designing human environments. Utopia is a fine, fun, fantastical concept, but it has nothing to do with the real world or with real human beings any more than sci-fi fantasies have.

At some point in this bizarre evolution of rational insanity (Western empiricism), I urge people to stop being rational, and start using common sense and reason – instead.

Human beings are defined, accurately, as animals with a capacity for rational thought. It is a distinctive characterization. It does not preclude a capacity for love, honor, awe, courage, reverence, joy, friendship, sorrow, fear, envy, or lust. In the framework of reason – that is, common human sense – we have the capacity to understand and integrate our multi-dimensional, manifold capacities. It is explicitly because of the potential of reason – rationality – to integrate and assimilate our otherwise disjointed human capacities that the capacity for rational thought is our crowning, definitive characteristic. That is, it is a contextual value – to the context of our humanity.

To engage in the rational process out of context, mechanically, whimsically and purposelessly – for the sheer love of order and precision – might be innocent good fun or compulsive neurosis, depending on the spirit of the venture (and the broader, human perspective one has on one's engagement). Most mathematicians, engineers and applied scientists are aware of this difference where their "rational" fantasies bump into their human reality, some of them even get their priorities straightened out, eventually.

But due to cultural and educational priorities on scientific wizardry, people increasingly dream up these complex, mechanical, technology-dependent systems which they propose for human habitation (architectural, political, medical, sociological, educational, etc.). But true rationality does not lose the human context at the drop of a syllogism.

The first priority of rationality is to understand ourselves, not to make or engineer ourselves into more accommodating units for rationally constructed boxes. Such mechanically devised boxes are always based upon a limited understanding of the human being. They display an arrested development in terms of understanding the human condition and in terms of understanding what our rationality is for.

You can employ your reason to do crossword puzzles, but this is not the main purpose of this tool – it is not why we have it. I have no objection to people who do crossword puzzles or to people who design utopias based upon intricate, empirical, scientific theories and models. I imagine these pursuits are personally fun and satisfying to the people so engaged. I just hope they don't, based on some unbalanced sense of their own brilliance, think that the rest of us have any reason to take them seriously. I also hope they are not demented enough to try to force their schemes on other people – and, if so, that other people have enough sense to see these context-dropping scientists for the underdeveloped human beings that they are, and don't think that, just because they cannot be logically refuted, the mechanical schemes have either human value or human context.

I poke fun by suggesting we stop being rational – and start using common sense. The problem isn't with our rationality, but with how we apply it. Not just the methods, ways and means, but the context. Common sense is the exact same tool, but grounded in the appropriate context – and not nearly so easy to hijack.

 

copyright © 2005 by Richard G. Rieben