Tuesday, 22 November 2016

The New Anti-Rationalism

Rationalism has a specific meaning in philosophy: it is the creed of the rationalists - those who believe that knowledge states cannot be derived solely from sensory input. As it happens, my tent is guy-roped firmly to a tree in the centre of the rationalist camp. However, for the purposes of today's rant, I am using the everyday meaning of rationalism - i.e. the creed of those who reject ideas that are logically inconsistent.

(If you are thinking, 'What the hell is he going on about? I only come here to read the anecdotes about the crazy people that drink in the pub," thanks for stopping by, but this isn't one of those weeks.) 

Still here? Cool. Let's begin by defining some more terms.

Why, you might do very well ask, do we need a term like 'anti-rational' at all? Surely the opposite of 'rational' is 'irrational'? 

As previously stated, a person who is rational rejects logically inconsistent ideas. A person who is irrational does not or cannot reject logically inconsistent ideas. An anti-rational person happily disseminates ideas with no regard for their consistency, logical or otherwise. The anti-rational person has no desire to establish truth (or at least eliminate falsehoods). They wilfully choose to ignore truth in favour of provoking an emotional reaction.

We are living through an age where anti-rationalist rhetoric is being used to gain political ground. In Europe, the last great age of anti-rational rhetoric was the 1930s and it culminated in events that led it to become rather unfashionable for quite some time.

George Santayana's quote is apposite here: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The generation who fought Fascism in Europe are mostly too dead to give their great-grandchildren the clip round the ear they deserve for joining the English Defence League and Le Front National.

In his essay, The Ancestry of Fascism, Bertrand Russell describes three characteristics of reason:
  1. Reason relies on persuasion not force.
  2. Reason seeks to persuade by the use of arguments that the user himself finds completely valid.
  3. Reason values observation and induction over intuition. 
You only have to look at the recent American election and the plebiscite on Britain leaving the European Union to see that the second and third characteristics have been abandoned in much political discourse. If President Donald Trump carries out his threats to the American Moslem population, then the first characteristic falls as well.

The Ancestry of Fascism is included in the collection In Praise of Idleness


The Ancestry of Fascism makes for sobering reading. It was written in 1935 and presciently predicts both the Second World War and America's decisive involvement in its termination. Russell also points out that: "Rationalism and anti-rationalism have existed side by side since the beginning of Greek civilisation, and each, when it has seemed likely to become completely dominant, has always led, by reaction, to a new outburst of its opposite."

The latest anti-rationalist discourse is extremely dangerous at a time when the world needs to address the threats posed by anthropogenic climate change.  

We are in dire need of an outbreak of rationalism.    

   

49 comments:

  1. No sir, this post is the problem with the world. This trafficking in the belief that those who disagree with me are simply not rational, while dressing it up in objective language to sound like some academic authority on the state of the world IS, to use your cleverly coined phrase, anti-rational. Voting for a person who you believe will advance your personal prospects further than the competing candidate is precisely rational, on the other hand.

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    1. I think the author is saying quite the opposite. He is saying that he would love for his opponents to have taken a rational if opposing position. As it is though, much of the current political climate (mostly right, some left) builds position and policy on non-rational, non-logical, unsound thinking. Historically, that kind of thing leads to some pretty horrible things (normally not until a majority of the people are suffering, which is not the case in the USA.)
      Does it occur to you that your answer to an essay on the dangers of non-rational behavior is a non-rational screed?

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    2. If your definition of rationality is the singular pursuit of self-interest, then yes. But sadly, that is usually a quickly self-defeating way of looking at the world. US vs. THEM is exciting to the emotions, but WE, together is the only script for long-term progress.

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    3. Satisfying the emotional side can be addictive. It just so happens we've gotten very good at satisfying the ego and the emotional needs of the people rather than logical/physical needs. Instead of building bridges we've built infotainment channels that pump us full of joy and rage and other strong emotions. We spend our time turning things into battles where the winner is a hero and the loser is an evil terrible person. It's less about facts and more about feelings.

      Anti-rational is more like fully-emotional and in that kj, you are a perfect example. You know that need to shout “No sir, you are wrong”? That's anti-rational. “...dress it up in objective language...” and “cleverly coined phrase” are both emotionally charged. I read what you say as “you make us feel inadequate and we don't want to feel that way” which is understandable. But really what you mean to say at the end is “we vote for the person we feel will do us right” and that, is anti-rational.

      Trick is if it's a boring conversation that hurts your head that's when you know it's very likely rational. Well, unless you're a complete nerd but even that can go super anti-rational when calls for sources become a shouting match.

      We are emotional creatures =( =) =/

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    4. I think his argument stands. Honestly, there has been a strong trend toward a fashionable arrogance on the left that I find utterly disturbing as of late. To try and accuse the right of this exclusively is misplaced, particularly if you are attempting to state that the right is the more emotional side. Look at the flag burnings and the protests that occurred following the election. To try and judge those as anything but emotional shows the bias that has become so prevalent lately among the left.

      This isn't to say that the right remains blameless. A look at climate change is telling in the failings of the current right, but to absolve the left in doing so isn't just emotional, it's arrogant.

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    5. I don't care about left or right. Economics can go either way and neither left nor right can claim objective truth. So I have no problem with people voting Trump, even though I personally don't like him or his policies.

      However there are some areas where there IS an objective truth and in those cases it is fair game to call the other side a bunch of idiots or anti-rational or whatever you want. Top of the list is climate change.

      Scientists and the rest of the world know it is a big problem and man made. This is not politics it's science. Why do the republicans and Trump pretend it isn't so?

      If you are a climate change skeptic then please understand that you are wrong and it is most certainly real and a problem that is a genuine threat to us and more so our children.

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    6. The problem is that the promises their candidate made are almost certainly against their best interests and its starting to look like they are incredibly unlikely to happen anwyay. Anyone who understands business and economics knows what will happen if the US leaves its various free trade agreements, puts a substantial tariff on Chinese goods and deports 11 million people. So voting for him is obviously not rational. Does the candidate actually have to say to their faces "I promise I will fuck you over" for it to be irrational for them to vote for him?

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    7. Presumably there are some views that can be appropriately characterized in the manner this author characterizes them here. If we want to argue as to whether this view or that view falls into this category, that's certainly fair. But to imply that there are no such views is, as has been often repeated, exactly the problem.

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    8. The problem isn't with the blog owners rational, rather, it is with the blanket under which he places the entirety of Trump voters. Anti-rationalism is a major concern, and individuals following anti-rationalist ideals belong to both pro-Trump and pro-Hillary camps. To claim that his argument is inherently anti-rational because you disagree with a singular component of it is equally as bad as the Blog owners mis-representation of the conclusion of some Trump voters as anti-rationalist.

      There are people who voted incredibly emotively in both camps.

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    9. If you aren't basing your belief that your candidate will advance your personal prospects on rational information you aren't be rational. Just because someone thinks something doesn't make it a respectable opinion, you have to produce logical, rational reasoning as to why you believe in a candidate if you want people to respect it as a rational opinion. There is irrational people who vote in every single election, both sides of this election had many irrational voters, one side "trumped" the other. Rinse and repeat every 4 years for eternity, half the population always pissed.

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  2. Concerned citizen22 November 2016 at 14:17

    Could this perception of recent events not be due a conflation of empiricism and rationalism?

    Two opposing conclusions can be in a sense rational. Economics as a science may be rational, but it is not necessarily empirical. That is to say, one could come to two different sets of conclusions about the same data, and it would be difficult to empirically prove one version to be Correct.

    Is an alternative interpretation anti-rational?

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    1. Not at all! As long as an argument is governed by some consistent internal logic, it does not even have to share an axiomatic core with its opposing arguments.

      To expand on your example, both neoclassical economic theory and Marxist economic theory are rational economic theories. Each establishes a logical core and derives conclusions based on its respective internal rules. Each reaches a wildly different conclusion, but neither side would (should?) call the other "anti-rational."

      To be anti-rational, it seems that you have to advance logically inconsistent or self-contradictory statements, while maintaining the capacity to differentiate truth from falsehood. To do this wilfully in order to provoke an emotional response (i.e. trolling) seems to me to be the essence of anti-rationalism.

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    2. Concerned citizen23 November 2016 at 03:34

      That last question was rhetorical. I mean to say that just because these political pundits have a different outlook to the author doesn't necessarily make them anti-rational. Sadly he didn't give us any examples to work with.

      Thanks for your clear definition of anti-rationalism. I'd be interested to try and put some arguments to the test!

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  3. Nice read, sounds quite academic. However, your argument doesn't even apply. It's funny to see you state that there is a lack of rationalism in the world and you apply it to the American political system. I do admit Trump has said quite jarring and outright untrue things, but so has the other candidate. You pointed out they abandoned your second and third points, yet if you apply it like you did, both candidates would be at fault. Yet you had to take that jab at Trump. People aren't irrational, they are presented with a choice and they choose based on their self-interest. If people vote because they belief in a certain set of beliefs of that candidate, how is that irrational?

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    1. Voting based on values and morals is one thing. Voting based on information with no factual backing, and an unwillingness to listen to the truth IS irrational.

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    2. Examples please. The blog and comments are lacking in this respect, it's not just you above..

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    3. Trump was an example. In this context he's a better example than Hillary. Mentioning Trump as a member or representation of a group doesn't exclude anyone else. When naming a dumbass as an example of a dumbass one does not need mention all other dumbasses or some dumbass of an opposing party. I can say Hulk Hogan is a fake wrestler and you're not going to complain I didn't mention any of the other fake wrestlers. The world is not reduced to America's two political parties.

      As for your last question let me present the Heaven's Gate cult.

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    4. "If people vote because they belief in a certain set of beliefs of that candidate, how is that irrational?"

      Because the belief of said candidate is often unfounded. And no, I'm not talking about Trump exclusively. If you honestly believe that strict alignment of belief structure is all that's required to reach a rational conclusion, then it is likely that you're part of the problem.

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  4. Emotion is the driver of all human action, rationality is a sophisticated tool invented/evolved to satisfy these emotional drives. Emotion is the only thing that gives us a reason to prefer one outcome over another. Rationality is always subordinate.

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    1. Do you think other animals are driven by emotion? Or is this just a human trait?

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  5. "We are in dire need of an outbreak of rationalism."

    One can easily make the case that we are. The populace has rejected the irreconcilable position that a nation can simultaneously sustain a generous welfare system and open borders. They've rejected the notion of poorly vetted "refugees" from terrorist hotbeds in an age of frequent terrorist attacks and warnings of infiltrated refugee camps. They've rejected the concept of severe trade imbalances that have contributed to stagnating or lower standards of living for many Americans. The odd idea that racialist, identity politics can lead to racial harmony has also been dismissed. I could go on, but the point is made. What the author perceives to be irrational when viewed through the lens of his partisan bias is perfectly rational from the perspective of the tens of millions of Americans who reject his view.

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    1. What do you mean "they rejected?" 1.7M more people voted for the things you are listing than against them, if we're talking about America.

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    2. Writing from the UK.

      The author provides no examples but instead nods to 30's Germany, so is hinting sufficiently for this reader to find himself in complete agreement with your response.

      I am rational in combining births and net immigration, then subtracting deaths and concluding that an annual 500,000 newcomers to an island with a 63m population does not bode well for me or the indigenous culture. This influences my politics and therefore my priorities where I can acknowledge that it may be anti-rational for me to make climate change a lower concern than immigration. But rational me knows that the former is going to exacerbate the latter in the long run, so I must be damned the rationality of making immigration a bigger concern than the environment.

      Perhaps we, out of necessity, are entering a post-rational era.

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    3. What do you mean by "generous" welfare...$400/month is not a livable income. I find it interesting when people like to think that welfare is this wonderful thing where you can be lazy and jackoff all day while getting a check...no it's a shit way to live and you need to learn that it's extremely ignorant to assume life is amazing on welfare.
      Next, our borders are fine, we use a two year heavy vetting system that terrorists wouldn't take the time to pass. It wouldn't make sense to be displaced for 2 years then maybe get clearance into the country. It's asinine to think so. Also, if we kick out all the illegal Mexican immigrants, who do you think will do all the shit jobs for less than minimum wage that they all do.
      Your connection to the real world is flawed and painted in white patriotism.

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    4. To "Writing from the U.K.": I am a Democrat in the state of Georgia in the USA. I voted for Hillary Clinton, and I would have voted against Brexit; I was very disappointed with the "Leave" result. I am devastated by Trump's win. My political beliefs are probably more inline with 'What do you mean by "generous"', but I am impressed with your contribution to this debate. If the discourse in the USA (and probably the world at large) was as intelligent and respectful as the argument you made, we would all be much better off.

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  6. Banning Muslim immigration is the initiation of the use of force instead of persuasion and is therefore anti-rational. Every other government action is the initiation of the use of force instead of persuasion, but Mr. Rationalist does not label it anti-rational. Now tell me again how anti-rational people disseminate ideas without concern for consistency.

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    1. The rational idea behind it is that the risk of terrorism decreases significantly if you ban an entire religion of people

      I think the argument is that this is being used on purpose to push a ball down a "slippery slope", and unfortunately the slippery slope argument is literally the *entire media* right now

      Not all slopes are slippery, or even continuous for goodness sake. In this case, some slopes don't even exist, or were fabricated by misintepretation

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    2. It also makes an entire country want to kill you even more...Maybe if we were inclusive, people wouldn't be persuaded into joining the "intolerant western world". Stop saying all muslims should be banned and maybe they won't want to kill you.

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  7. It would be completely rational to euthanize defective babies since they are a drain on society.

    Just saying...

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    1. And eat the Irish ones!!!

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  8. Psh whatever

    Ps best comment on here

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  10. I agree with you on this.We can see how everyone is irrational by the formation of groups like feminism aside from like you suggested, political grounds.When you stated that we are in dire of rationalism, I do agree with you as we as a society cannot progress in a deluded and well, irrational way.Some may challenge my outlook on this as I am speaking something based off of subjective awareness.However, note that objectively speaking, a rational society is a peaceful and sucessful one.

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    1. You know what's funny is that feminism is *exactly* what my first thought was! Anti-rationalism to gain political ground. Doing stuff like forcing fake questions into the situation to blow up the people that are being reasonable, etc.

      (the strange thing is just trying to imagine how far gone those kind of peopl etruly are if thats the kind of value they place on having power)

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  11. Ok, yes we are dealing with a significant amount of anti-rationalism (i.e. feminism, the propagation of a species which somehow exists when our bodies are designed to create children when the woman is in a state of submission) - but also this "anti-rationalism" you are speaking of is more like.. it's being used a *lot* more by the media in order to make the rest of the world think that Trump is a fascist, that he's a racist, that he's all these awful things that he's not.

    It's absolutely ridiculous.

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    1. I can't tell if you are serious or trolling. If you are trolling, I guess you are doing a good job, but should probably get a life. If you are serious, you are woefully stupid. I wish I could be more polite, but you are at the point that someone should inform you that you are embarrassing yourself.

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    2. I assume you've been denied by many a woman. That's okay man, you don't have to hate on an entire gender just because you can't get laid. Look, if you are dumb enough to think that women are solely on this Earth to birth children, then your bible thumping brain probably is too far gone anyway.

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    3. I want to be super clear here. Are you suggesting that feminism is inherently invalid because our species only procreates when women are in "a state of submission"? I do hope that I misunderstand your statement; if you believe firmly that sex, and therefore procreation, only occurs when women are in a state of submission, than you are firmly proving the need for feminism in whatever culture you are a prominent member of.

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  12. But if anyone wants to argue against the concept of having borders, you can go ahead and take the doors and windows off of your house and see how that goes, and then see who was right in the long run.

    Hint: it's *in favor of* having borders - regardless... scientifically speaking... etc.

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    1. Did you just say that every house is it's own country? With that logic, when you're in your house..screw everyone thats outside my house. But when you go outside, screw everyone outside my city..then state, then country...Your argument isn't for safety, you don't like muslims.

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  13. This seems like a subtle academic way to say Trump is showing signs of Nazi Germany. Clever, but unfortunately both sides have provided plenty of fascism traits. I think you used you have a bias against Trump. Especially if you're speaking about 1930s Germany and Trump before Trump has even taken office.

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    1. You realize Trump is appointing known racists to positions of power. Racists known to spout antisemitic rants.

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    2. Let's be fair here: the blog post doesn't suggest even for a minute that Hillary's camp shows no signs of facism, or that she is clearly the "correct" alternative to Trump. I agree that this blog post clearly has a bias against Trump, but does that make his arguments incorrect? One can have an opinion, and even a bias, and base that opinion on sound reasoning. In fact, that is largely the argument being made in said post: people are basing their opinions purely on emotive responses.

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  14. I really appreciate this article. I recently posted an open letter to The president elect with rationalism in mind. would you mind checking it out and maybe commenting?

    partisancheese.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/an-open-letter-to-president-elect-donald-j-trump/

    greatly appreciated.

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  15. Actually, history is pretty clear on the fact the Nazi Germany put its fate in the hands of cold cruel rationality. Trump is the complete and utter opposite of Hitler. Racism in germany was not in essence an emotional too, it was an ideology, science.
    We do live in anera of anti rationalism which has its perks like ``not killing useless people`` and its downside, having useless people. Choose your poison.

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  16. It is not anti-rationalism. It is tribalism. My tribe is better than yours. Logic works in my tribe but all rules go out the window when dealing with people from "other" tribe. For examples see nazis, communists, ISIS crazies, religious nuts, etc.

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  17. Annnnd, another biased anti-Trump write-up dressed as something else.

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  18. While aniti-rationalism is indeed a problem, the more profound problem in our culture is greed manifested in corrupt elections and biased news media. Modern American elections are extremely expensive. Poor people don't have the resources to contribute to campaign funds so politicians generally curry funds from the rich. Rich people generally see politics as a financial investment so politicians are forced to implement policies which favor the rich. Then they have to lie about their motives to appeal to voters. News media are forced to serve the selfish interests of rich owners who are more interested in further wealth than they are interested in honest reporting. All it takes is a subtle bias to every article, over report one side a little, under report the truth a little, and decades later corporate media is a vessel for corporate propaganda. It is this disgusting loyalty to greed and corruption which explains popular rhetoric. Greed is the underlying problem and it has given rise to anti-rationalism along with income inequality, massive incarceration, crony capitalism, and a variety of other social ills.

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  19. This is good knowledge gaining article.support for anti-social behaviour This post is really the best on this valuable topic.

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