It’s not easy being rational

Republican presidential candidates fight over who “believes in” science the least, in a party where accepting the reality of global warming is political suicide.

Anti-vaccine crusaders fight against the imagined evils of MMR and HPV inoculation, despite overwhelming clinical evidence that immunization is both remarkably safe and an indisputable life-saver.

American voters continue to elect money market shills, while knowing that their representatives intend to continue to sell them out to the interests of the 1%.

Fundamentalist Christians, and many similarly-devout Jews and Muslims, reject the fact of evolution, ignoring or mis-explaining away a body of evidence that is as comprehensive and compelling as the case for gravity.

Tens of millions of netderthals know everything about World of Warcraft and the Kardashians, yet have little knowledge of and even less interest in anything that can’t be expressed in 140 characters or that takes more than six seconds to “learn.”

It’s a frustrating, even a terrifying, time to be rational.

And it doesn’t help when, as I wrote here a couple of months ago, much of the progressive left equates logic, empiricism, science, and technology with a fascistic corporate tyranny.

If it’s hard being green, try being rational for even a little while — especially if you have as much of a fondness for the precise as the reasonable.

When your companion is upset when it rains and you point out that it was forecast to rain, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it has, you can expect a reaction that lets you know that you’re even more annoying than the weather.

When you hear a TV newcaster say that today is colder than any day this month, and you point out that her statement is impossible, the look you get says that you should just keep quiet and listen to the news.

When you talk to a friend about GM foods, and you mention that almost all of our food is GM thanks to 10,000 years of agriculture, you quickly discover that some facts are less welcome than others.

When another friend tells you that she’s taking homeopathic “medicine,” you know better than to ask her if someone has finally done even one peer-reviewed scientific study that provides any evidence that homeopathy isn’t just pseudoscience.

When you talk to someone who claims that God exists because believing in him makes people feel good, or that angels are real because people see them all the time, you know that your best counter-argument is simply to find someone else with whom to talk.

When you overhear someone claim that it was William I who won the Battle of Hastings and conquered England in the 10th century, you struggle mightily to keep yourself from jumping in with both feet to make both corrections.

Or when you’re at the mall, trying to make sense of the window signs. “Tuesday’s Are Senior Days” tells me that Ms. Weld is over 65, which I happened to know already, but it says nothing at all about the store’s pricing policies. And “Unbelievably Low Prices” is a useful warning not to trust anything that store tells me, but it certainly doesn’t make me want to shop there, which I assume was their intent.

I could go on and on, and on some days I do. Today is going to be one of those days.

It’s not bad enough that people routinely conflate wishes with truth, and belief with evidence; or that they mangle the language to talk about “a dam bursting in an historic town that was built only last year,” and much worse; or that they say proudly that they don’t know anything about the subject, except what they think about it — it gets even worse when smart people trot out a stable of logical fallacies and errors of argument and show them off proudly, like the latest pictures of the family.

“You can’t prove that there’s no dragon/alien/cyclops in my garage” is always popular, used widely before “Therefore, dragons/aliens/cyclopses exist.”

So is “They had single-payer health care in the USSR, and everyone knows that the USSR was evil … .” When you point out that the USSR also had passenger trains and toilet paper, you’re told to stop being a smart ass.

And the ubiquitous, “That’s my opinion, and it’s just as good as yours.” No, now is not the time to start a discussion about evidence. Just run away.

I’ve changed my mind. I’m not going to go on and on. It’s too depressing.

I’ll just head over to the mall and offer to help a few store managers fix the errors on their window signs.

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3 thoughts on “It’s not easy being rational

  1. Irrationality seems to be the minds solution to grasping with our absurd existence… though it seems more applicable to the masses… belief becomes truth, as you say… distractions from the inconvenience caused by thinking. Yet it provides some humor for the rest of us – not the ‘ha ha’ kind, but humor nonetheless.

    • Yes, but don’t you just hate the dryness of the laughter? — I like to have a tall glass of water nearby whenever I contemplate life.

  2. There used to be a book called Straight and Crooked Thinking on this subject which was very popular. It didn’t seem to stem the flow much though. Eats Shoots and Leaves will as likely do little.

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