The Rationality Problem

The philosopher Ayn Rand held as a postulate that the inherent rights of humankind stem in part from the fact that man is by nature a rational animal and can only exist properly by being allowed to use his mind. This is correct in its essence but should come with a caveat. The human psyche did not evolve strictly for its ability to divine truth, it evolved for its propensity to cause the user to perform actions that contribute to the propagation and success of the genes. An inherently unbiased human mind, if it ever existed, would presumably have been selected against in competition with people who had minds that skewed the worldview in their favor. In a reality where competition is the norm, a self-righteous certitude that one’s own actions are just is indeed a potent armament. Rationality does not come naturally in human beings, it is achieved through the conscious suppression of various internal devices that cause us to fudge calculations in our favor which is why both sides in litigation often feel simultaneously that they are in the right. A true dispassionate reckoning is possible only with effort and this underlies a great weakness in attempting to deal rationally with people; rather than being geared toward rationality, the default mode of thinking in human beings may well be a mysticism invoking misunderstanding of existence.

Enter now the consideration that in a world of increasingly complex ideas a bias toward self deception is not always helpful. Self interested action, when it is not combined with respect for the rights of others (and this is an important distinction), can be a source of interpersonal conflict. It is both in the interest of the individual and of society at large to avoid these types of mutually debilitating conflicts whenever possible. Morality, as we know it, is a code by which society attempts to reign in the most egregious excesses of the individual especially in regard to the commission of wrongs against society or torts against individuals. This is of course the understanding in abstract terms of ultimate cause, it’s not how ethical breaches are experienced by people in real time. In the world ethical breaches are experienced (except in the case of clinical sociopaths) with the concomitant feelings of guilt, shame, contrition, and in some cases social ostracism or other group oriented consequences. The emotions that underlie these actions evolved because they can incite the individual to useful interpersonal behavioral strategies. This is to say that while the ultimate cause of these emotions is indeed rational, the proximate cause (the emotions themselves) are not. As such nature often points the way and drags even a stupid individual kicking and screaming toward an ensmartened path. The flipside of this, however, is that when our instincts don’t match well with a situation, they are also capable of leading us to the wrong answer. The ick factor of humanity can cause us to avoid harmful contaminants such as mice and carrion. It can also cause us to act unfairly to the detriment of people of a different sexual orientation.

What is my point dear readers? My point is that the basis of human morality does not reside in some metaphysical pie-in-the-sky abstraction, morality is based in the things that are endemic to the human condition which is to say that it is properly founded upon human nature. Absolute rights and wrongs do exist in the world, the root of which are are to be found in humanity which is also where redress should be focused when those rights are violated. Moral perfection is realistically unattainable not because we are in need of some Divine Being who will ultimately give a sense of worth to an unworthy humanity (a criminal and anti-human philosophy if I ever heard one) but simply because we implicitly acknowledge the potential for conflict between the individual and the group and as civilized people we set the bar high. As such we also value mercy when transgressions occur because a world where a ubiquitous tit for tat reciprocity exists for bad actions would in many ways be inhumane which is why familial blood vendettas, as entertaining as they can be, are largely avoided by decent Charles Darwin fearing people and are now regarded as a social faux pax.

I actually don’t remember my original point. Fuck.

In summation Walt Whitman is a douche and the writings of Peter Nguyen should be upheld as the standard for all humanity. This message will self destruct in 15 minutes.tatu illuminati

3 Responses to “The Rationality Problem”

  1. Phelps says:

    One of the things that I made fun of Rand for is that she didn’t trust people who didn’t smoke. The funny thing is that lately I’ve found that I don’t trust teetotalers as much as people who drink. I know that the reasons that I come up with are rationalizations, not rational, and I can’t figure out why I feel this way, other than, “I drink and they don’t.” I even wonder about people who I know have good, rational, medical reasons not to.

  2. mexi says:

    Weed smoke ooks me yet drinking of alcohol does not. I think it’s that the illegality of the drug has given the smell of marijuana smoke a stigma in my mind that I cannot shake (I say this although I have friends who smoke it and I don’t think any less of them for it but I think that takes a conscious mental correction on my part). Ayn Rand also initially called homosexuality disgusting (which I think was a function of the ick factor) until she later changed her mind and decided that sexual orientation itself was not a proper morality issue. If even a cyborg like Ayn Rand (I hesitate to refer to her as a Randroid because she’s not actually a copy of herself) deals with such deep seated visceral issues, it must be something we all have to contend with (yes I ended with a preposition).

  3. Anglo says:

    religious deities are oftren created as the figment of imagination- cavemen had to rationilize thunderstorms somehow. Modern religion is definitely used as a political tool to control others. Notice how only the clergy was ever literate back in the day. Anyways- avoiding a tangent here- Norms are created by people- not Jesus or Yahweh or Allah or Zoroaster- and and social control enforced by people- not Jesus, Yahweh, Allah and Zoroaster (and two of those are the same damn thing). So the whole right and wrong thing exists in all societies. Some cultural taboos are universal- incest for example- others differ. Murder has different legitimization in different societies. The point is, we are controlled not by moral handed down to us by Moses because someone told him something on a mountain, but we are kept in check by other people.

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