On Rational Irrationality
There have been several instances in my life that forced me to redefine what I thought was possible for both great and terrible reasons. Whether it's something personal in my own life, or societal shifts both big and small, it can usually be traced back to a simple truth coined by a science-fiction author that is a fundamental axiom of most social sciences; that man is not a rational animal, but a rationalizing one.
What this means is that people will not always act in their best interests or in a logical manner even when their choices seem to be objectively ranked. It's easy to see the darker side of this, especially now that the mask hiding many people's irrationality has been ripped away. This can manifest as the worst aspects of human nature. Sometimes this is due to subjective viewpoints. The inability to fully empathize with others has always been a difficult social hurdle for as long as there's been societies and it can lead to selfish, short-sighted, and ultimately self destructive behavior. This tendency can turn misunderstanding to conflict, fear to hatred, and pain into a perpetually reinforcing cycle. It takes a painfully honest look at our own decisions or the introduction of new perspectives to break away from this pattern, and not everyone has the means to make that leap.
But there is a bright side. History is riddled with examples of people taking risks in the face of what must have seemed like impossible odds. By spurning convention, every once in a while, greatness resulted and the world was changed. Some of the greatest works of art, scientific discoveries, and acts of heroism have flown in the face of what appeared possible. A hip-hop play about America's first treasury secretary makes no sense. None of us, when in high school could have imagined seeing a black president in our lifetime. The odds of successfully navigating an asteroid field are approximately 3720 to 1.
Just the existence of life in any capacity, let alone the diversity and splendor we are a part of, is such an insanely improbable development that it makes sense that we haven't been able to find it anywhere else. Every trait, adaptation, and mutation was at some point a genetic wild card; untested, unplanned, and in the overwhelming majority of cases, unsuccessful.
It's funny to think similar trains of thought guide the wage-slave buying a dozen scratch-its, and the engineers that put us on the moon. It is this very unwillingness though, to give up or accept the perceived obstacles we face as reality that, on a large enough scale, and on a long enough timeline, redefines what is possible. I don't know how we'll overcome the darker side of this tendency. Maybe we can't. I hope I'm wrong though, and I'll continue to at least believe it's possible.
Thanks for listening,