Posted 29 days ago
Is rationality dead? Will impulse and lies and propaganda take over the current century? Recent politics sure seems like so, and Rothman does a good job at summing up some reasons for this shift:
In a 2014 book, “The Revolt of the Public and the Crisis of Authority in the New Millennium,” Martin Gurri, a C.I.A. analyst turned libertarian social thinker, argued that the unmasking of allegedly pseudo-rational institutions had become the central drama of our age: people around the world, having concluded that the bigwigs in our colleges, newsrooms, and legislatures were better at appearing rational than at being so, had embraced a nihilist populism that sees all forms of public rationality as suspect. COVID deniers and climate activists are different kinds of people, but they’re united in their frustration with the systems built by experts on our behalf—both groups picture élites shuffling PowerPoint decks in Davos while the world burns. From this perspective, the root cause of mass irrationality is the failure of rationalists. People would believe in the system if it actually made sense.
People are upset at the rationalists in control of government. The ideals of neoliberalism and bureaucracy seem to be fumbling to keep up in politics, as irrational anti-vaxxers, conspiracy supporters, and what-have-it are gaining voices in the public sphere.
I thought this article was going to address this issue a little more, focusing on why people fall to irrationality. Instead, it shifts to looking at a group of "rationalists," which, honestly, seems contradictory and a sort of cult in itself. People talk in weird jargon about being rational and live with pseudo-scientific, pseudo-statistical beliefs about "updating" their views. It's interesting, but something I will stay far away from. Rothman does sum it up well, however:
Bayesian reasoning implies a few “best practices.” Start with the big picture, fixing it firmly in your mind. Be cautious as you integrate new information, and don’t jump to conclusions. Notice when new data points do and do not alter your baseline assumptions (most of the time, they won’t alter them), but keep track of how often those assumptions seem contradicted by what’s new. Beware the power of alarming news, and proceed by putting it in a broader, real-world context.