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Actions are not rational

Written by jayson. No comments Posted in: Ethics, Philosophy

Symbolism is useful to me. It’s for that reason that I appreciate symbolic tools like the Tarot. Not as a divination tool necessarily – I have a special appreciation for the story of the Fool’s Journey. I see it as a great story of an actualizer’s journey through self-realization.

I have two Tarot card tattoos (with my own symbolism added) on each of my arms. The right arm is the Fool – the start of the journey. The left arm is the 19th card, the Moon. This card has special meaning for me for several reasons (in particular, of the moon as a cyclic symbol), but I chose it as the partner to my other tattoo specifically to mark the day when I realized that it was “okay” to reject reason.

Modern philosophy hit its peak with the Enlightenment (a term coined by Immanuel Kant). In summary, it was a quite earnest call to reject blind authority and use one’s own understanding. He wrote a paper to that effect. It was a beautiful call to arms for the age of reason and the enlightened man.

And hey, it worked. Logic, reason, and science has given us some great stuff. They are all useful rituals (science, done correctly, is perhaps the best ritual realized in a long time). The mistake I made, and for lack of a better abstraction, the mistake that philosophy made, was to presume that rational analysis worked because that’s the way things are. That there were reasons we do things, and that those reasons were causes and those causes could be discovered.

The problem I see with this use of reason is that it mistakes abstraction for action, and then applies that abstraction onto people. It assumes that decisions are either rational or irrational (one in a long line of false dichotomies), and further, that rational decisions are good and irrational ones bad.

I realize that people and decisions are irrational. And I mean this in the clearest sense of the word. For an example of what I am talking about, let’s talk about the number “Pi”, which is pretty important to almost everything we do. It is considered an “irrational” number because it never resolves, but is endlessly calculable. But what is it? It’s the ratio of a circle’s radius to its circumference. It’s irrational because it is not actually that ratio; the ratio is incalculable. But circles are still circles aren’t they? It’s not like circles are “wrong” or “bad” just because the ratio of their radius to circumference is incalculable.

But we apply this to people – why? Actions and people (that is, actualizers) are irrational. All that means is that they are complete in a way we cannot talk about by rationalizing them. When action occurs, it occurs because of an incalculable sum of information, inputs, and variables that boil, bubble, and happen. They have nothing to do with rationality – they are, for lack of a better term, arational. They are outside the bounds and context of reason to the point where it is no longer useful to use the same tools (rationalization) to describe them. We cannot expect them to be rational, and when we do, we mistake abstraction for process and accomplish little more than wheel-spinning. At least, that is, if your goal is to be without fear, or hate, and to actualize. Applying rationalization to people and actions is a great way to cut yourself off from them for the express purpose of dismissing their values and supplanting your own – which makes it no wonder why we’re told that we must act rationally.

The key here is this: we make decisions based on far more information (contextual, historical, emotional) than what is seen when someone else considers our actions rational or not. Since we can’t see all this information, particularly in others, we are quick to judge those actions as “not-rational”. The irony here is that we’re correct, but it doesn’t imply that the actions were wrong or bad. The totality of the information contained in an action simply cannot be rationalized. This makes the irrational more than correct, but something that can be celebrated.

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