Rational Irrationality

Rational Irrationality

Dumb enough to land 20 seasons of prime time international fame and oodles of money.

Rational irrationality is an interesting concept that I have been thinking of lately. I believe that the concept of irrationality is nothing more than a label to describe behavior or thought which is too difficult or complex to easily and quickly understand. As that implies, every thought and action that is carried out is in fact rational. Take for example, the irrational act of sacrificing a valuable asset, such as a lot of money, for a less valuable product, such as a wrist watch, when the irrational person knows that the same product could be had at half the cost across the street, and from a seller that they trust and want to do business with just as much. Very few examples could better illustrate the meaning of irrationality. What the observer doesn’t know is his motives. He may be buying the more expensive watch to display his indifference to money, and thereby serve a more valuable goal of gaining social acceptance, or at least the kind of social recognition that he desires. Let’s suppose this is the case, then one must ask, is it rational to pay for social acceptance or status? It most certainly is, only that the mechanisms by which we do are convoluted and indirect, by necessity of our culture. One might point out, this suggests that our culture, necessitating this, is a product of collective irrationality in the expectations of its members. We must then bear in mind that a culture is nothing more than a tenuous equilibrium of interests, working together and conflicting to pave direct links to the most common interests, or those interests held by its most influential members, and indirect links to the less common interests, or those interests held by its least influential members, and to attempt to close off completely, typically by law or social ostracism, any interests which are fully outweighed by the counter-interest. For example, for most of the 20th century, the dominant culture of the US attempted to close off completely the ability to gamble, do drugs, and engage in illicit sex, invoking the moral and rational high ground on these issues. Reality always wins in the end, and since the rational interests of enough people create a market for these things, the dominant culture is gradually weakened to accept them. That example serves to illustrate how today’s market is the arbiter of tomorrow’s culture and moralities. In policy, this is especially important in that any law which is passed on the grounds of morality above all other considerations, but which is consistently broken, will eventually be overturned or rendered unenforceable.

Legislating Outcomes vs. Legislating Methods

Car Fire

Because black painted cars are the root cause of global warming. /sarc

The story about California’s ban, or attempted ban, on black cars has been out of the news for so long that I’m not even sure what eventually happened in the end. It may still be going, but either way I want to use it to illustrate an idea that I have been thinking about. I can scarcely think of any law that does not either tell you what to do, or how to do it. Where laws fail is typically in telling you to do something that you don’t want to do, or in telling you to do something in ways that generally result in failure. In the case of the black car ban, the law would be telling people how to do something, with preconceived expectations. The problem is, banning black cars does not necessarily have the effect they desired. Black paint on cars does trap slightly more heat in a car, but it doesn’t mean the passengers will attempt to cool it to the same degree that passengers of white cars will attempt to cool their cars. This assumption that passengers of all colors of cars want to equally cool their cars was made without any research on the subject. Another assumption was made in that it is significantly more costly to cool a black car than any other color. I have only one thing to say, have you ever driven a maroon colored car? And the last thing I want to point out about the failure to legislate methods is that it fails to take into account what people do in response to their own environment and resources. In the black car example, if it requires more work to cool a black car, it will cost the driver more, which will disable him from consuming goods and services that themselves would otherwise leave a carbon footprint. So the moral of the story is, when you legislate outcomes, people will meet your expectations if they are reasonable, but when you legislate methods, reasonable or not, they rarely ever will.