Friday, February 23, 2024

The pitfalls of pure rationality

Being rational with regards to the surrounding natural and physical world is undeniably good for our survival. We learn the effects of touching a hot stove and never attempt to do it consciously once we are older than 4. We know that driving on ice makes a vehicle hardly controllable, and tend to avoid it. This cause and effect paradigm is incredibly helpful for navigating the natural world. We don't need constant empirical proof for stuff like that. We don't need to deconstruct any social constructs.

However, I believe that this paradigm, when applied abstractly to human-made institutions and enterprises, skews our social understanding and navigation abilities. It fabricates toxic conventional wisdom and explanatory models that supress basic reasoning in a local, context-sensitive manner. The Scottish philosopher David Hume famously said that "reason is a slave of the passions". Once you start viewing the world through deterministic mega power structures and institutions, you are no longer sensitive to your local environment. You stop seeing a window of possibilities and the particular qualities of the people around you. Many of these assumptions are time- and region- sensitive and can become even less relevant with time.

If you become overly hooked on formalisms like behavioural economics, cognitive psychology, evolutionism or the geopolitical power struggles, you are no longer an ingenious free-acting agent. You attempt to explain the behaviour of your neighbour with theories developed by distant academics. You start taking decisions symbolically and in a virtue-signalling manner – "I will buy from another brand because I believe that someone I don't know 5000 miles away is a creationist".

What would the cure be? Develop social intuitions. Observe your local surrounding environment and the people around you. Try to listen to their personal stories. Tell them yours. Then you can probably figure out what's valuable for them, what drives them every day. Applying that knowledge in the economic realm might change the world for the better.

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