Man Is the Irrational Animal


Mark Kleiman points out that most of us need to hold more or less rational beliefs about our professional lives. “Even people whose stock-in-trade is deception—con artists, stockbrokers, lobbyists—have to observe the rules of arithmetic when it comes to totting up the take.” But that’s only half the story:

Most of the time, though, people aren’t at work, and much of what they think and talk about has little if any relevance to practical decisions in their own non-working lives. Freed of the need to think rationally, most people seem to prefer the alternative.

Yep. This is why, say, it costs nothing to claim that evolution is nonsense and shouldn’t be taught in schools. For the 99.9 percent of us who don’t work in fields that require it, evolution doesn’t affect our daily lives in any way at all. Believing or not believing is affinity politics and nothing more. This explains how Donald Trump gets away with being a buffoon:

The deepest mistake is to regard someone who acts as if he doesn’t give a damn whether anything he says is true, or consistent with what he said yesterday, as stupid….As far as I can tell, Donald Trump simply isn’t bothered by holding and expressing utterly inconsistent beliefs about immigration, or for that matter denying obvious facts in the face of the crowd that witnessed them. And it doesn’t much bother most of his voters, either….And if we deal with it by imagining that Trump, or Trump voters, are “stupid,” we’re going to make some very bad predictions.

We forgive a lot in people we like. Liberals forgive Hillary Clinton for her lawyerly and incompetent defense of her email practices. Trump fans forgive the fact that he makes no sense. But forgiveness is a virtue, right? I guess that makes Trump’s supporters the most virtuous folks on the planet.

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

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Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

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