Thursday, November 14, 2013

The weirdness of unreason

Another World - M C Escher - from Wikipedia

Have you ever been in a meeting where certain people seem absolutely set on dredging up every irrational argument they can think of?


And apart from the frustration, do you ever find irrational ideas a little weird? How do we explain them for example - how do we picture what is going on in the irrational head?

Instead of thinking in terms of rational and irrational ideas, suppose we think in terms of allegiance - a personal allegiance to some social situation, trend, norm, cause or whatever. That something could be allegiance to a person, social group, project, profession, institution, fashion or any one of countless other possibilities.

It may be an allegiance to Arsenal Football Club, holistic therapy, quantum theory, yoga or a political party. There is no difference – it is all allegiance.

So there are no rational or irrational structures inside our heads. Reasons are essentially tactical and strategic. Beliefs may feel like a nexus of rational ideas but are nothing of the kind. Our beliefs and ideas are merely our allegiances expressed in all their infinite variety.

We are not rational, but merely complex, subtle, resourceful and often covert in expressing our allegiances. Reason is how we raise, gauge and foster support for those allegiances, but that’s all. There is no structure to reason other than the structure of allegiance. That’s why your reason can be my unreason.

We have differing allegiances – that’s all.

So we don’t think rationally or irrationally, but merely offer our allegiance to different social norms, situations and events from the trivial to the essentials of daily life. The central influences over these allegiances are numerous, from language to our personal welfare and the welfare of family, friends, business interests and so on and so on.

However, when it comes to less central concerns, many of us do not seem to have strong allegiances and are willing to probe them. Yet this probing, this apparent vacillation can seem odd and obstructive to those with a strong allegiance to a particular narrative or agenda. In my view this explains human intransigence quite well where the notion of reason and unreason does not.

Maybe this is the value of those of us who mistakenly see ourselves as rational. We are not so much rational as able to see the allegiances others skate over in their pursuit of an agenda. By not having strong allegiances ourselves, we are able to weigh their various claims, especially where popular allegiances are neither as beneficial nor as harmless as commonly assumed.

So rational behaviour is not so much an ability to apply reason, whatever that might be, as a reluctance to offer one’s allegiance without weighing the consequences. Often not even then.

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Paddington said...

My take is that it isn't rational/irrational. The difference is a spectrum behaviour. Rational means thinking before you act, rationalizing is explaining after the fact why you did things. I saw the latter in all of my children when they were younger.

Sackerson said...

I forget which modern philosopher said it, but it was to the effect that reason applies to the logical process and not to your basic principle/assumptions.

Very interesting essay on ages of reason and unreason by Archdruid Greer this week, relates to your idea of personal narrative connecting your experiences:

A K Haart said...

Paddington - good point. It's a weakness in the argument which doesn't really account for the anticipation of consequences, especially those we have yet to experience. We seem to do it by analogy with historical precedents.

Sackers - that's an interesting essay. Sometimes I'm convinced and sometimes not.

Although I also take a certain amount of gloomy satisfaction from predicting a decline and fall, my allegiance to the idea is not wholehearted.