Rationalizing irrationality

irrational adj. UNREASONABLE, illogical, groundless, baseless, unfounded, unjustifiable, absurd, ridiculous, ludicrous, preposterous, silly, foolish, senseless.

I think I’ve discovered the explanation for why some people still support Barack Obama’s presidency: his presidential pontificals and his attempts to “fundamentally” change America—much of it irrational by our historical standards.

We’ve never had a president who had obvious disdain for the American people and our economic and cultural institutions (except for Big Government). Most of the federal plans, pronouncements and policies may seem irrational, but some people believe they are calculated subversive methods to undermine America at its very foundation.

Of course, we’ve had other socialistic presidents and some we could call imperialistic: Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Lincoln and FDR come to mind; and more recently, Jimmy Carter, Lyndon Johnson and even George Bush, the younger, some would say.

And there are avowed socialists and imperialists among our current population that, of course, fervently support statist causes. But what about many others who we might think should know better?

Libertarian Max Borders, editor of The Freeman, wrote an interesting essay (among many others) in 2013 (www.fee.org/the_freeman/detail/effectively-irrational). Thanks to George Leef of the Pope Center for Higher Education (www.lockerroom.johnlocke.org/2014/03/26).

In this work Mr. Borders discusses 30 common fallacies that are used against libertarians: an ambitious “handy guide in the process of engaging in well-mannered reasoned discourse online.” It is both informative and entertaining.

Border’s opening paragraphs prompted me to write. He cites human behaviors that “play a role in the preponderance of dumb policies and dumb views.” I pass these on in the interest of explaining why some among us persist in supporting these views and policies.

The term “rational irrationality” attributes to Bryan Caplan; that is, “if the cost of irrational beliefs is low enough…makes someone feel better about himself or keep membership in some in-group…” and “doesn’t directly harm the holder” he will stick to his view.

“I care and I voted for the first black president,” rationalizes support—until he can’t get access to his doctor, or Obamacare doubles his insurance premium.

Likewise, “rational ignorance” persists if the cost of acquiring information to be better informed is too high. “I won’t read any of that conservative crap; they hate Obama because he’s black.”


About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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