Keith's NO EMPIRE Blog

A radical dissident perspective on various topics. Comments welcome at

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

The Logic of Irrationality

Upon first reading, the title of this blurb may seem a contradiction in terms. Don’t “logic” and “rationality” go together? Alas, no. Something is logical if it is consistent with relevant assumptions. Something is rational if it is consistent with observable reality. Assumptions which are not rational lead to irrational conclusions which are nonetheless completely logical within the framework of the initial assumptions. In other words, ideological assumptions have logical consequences even if these assumptions are irrational. That is, ideology tends to define reality even when irrational so that behavior is governed by the logic of the ideology, not by rational thought. For purposes of discussion, ideology is a subjective vision of reality.

In discussing group ideology/mythology, we must keep in mind that in navigating the real world, humans rely much less on instinct and much more on cognitive interpretation than other animals. In order to cope with this higher level of complexity, it is necessary for humans to organize cognitive inputs through the use of simplifying paradigms and normal bias to identify patterns and provide a framework of order. This is done at the individual level and at the group level. For all or most of human history, being a member of a supportive group/tribe was an essential component of survival, hence, the majority of people willingly adapted their individual biases and simplifying paradigms to be consistent with the established group ideology/mythology so as to fit in and promote harmony/solidarity.

The fact that most humans willingly adapt their cognitive interpretations to be consistent with group ideology/mythology is very significant. The tendency for individuals in a group to evaluate situations from the perspective of a shared ideology creates a de facto internalized behavioral guidance system consistent with group objectives. It should be noted that group ideology and group objectives do not reflect the input of the various members of the group, rather they reflect the biases and objectives of the group elites, who basically control the overall thrust of group activity, and who are generally more concerned with personal ambition than group welfare.

Group ideology formalizes group power relationships and differentiates the group from other groups. The greater the irrationality of group ideology, the greater the group ideological uniqueness, hence, the greater the “us” versus “them” cohesion and solidarity. On the other hand, too much irrationality inhibits the group’s ability to interface with other groups or with that part of physical reality defined by the ideology. For those groups that are primarily non-ideological, such as single interest groups, hobby groups, etc., internal cohesiveness and tribal solidarity are minimal. For groups united by a common ideology, however, a key point is that most people simply accept the assumptions of group ideology without rational verification, and that these assumptions form the basis of their logical interpretation of reality, and that this interpretation is usually not swayed by rational argument. Rather, “debate” is almost always a logical defense of group ideology.

The logic of the irrationality of group ideology is essential for comprehending political economy. All ideologies are, to one degree or another, irrational. All are subject to the internal tension which results from the need to be at least minimally irrational in order to achieve a minimal threshold of internal cohesion (believers versus others), and to be at least minimally rational in order to have some ability to interface with other groups and the physical world. The greater the rationality, the better the interface and the less the internal cohesion; the greater the irrationality, the greater the internal cohesion and the poorer the interface. You can’t maximize both. The tendency seems to be an emphasis on group cohesion at the expense of rationality, particularly when the group feels threatened.

The implications of all of this are somewhat staggering. Discussions, debates and arguments influenced by ideology are not so much an attempt at evaluating the rational truth, but a defense of personal/group ideology. My irrational beliefs versus your irrational beliefs. The notion of a rational economic man or a rational political man are absurd. Most people are a bundle of bias and emotion waiting to be exploited. Faithful followers. Leaders are a bundle of bias and emotion waiting to exploit. Power seekers. Society may be thought of as individuals united in defensive solidarity whose actions are guided by the power seeking proclivities of the elite. Furthermore, the natural inclination of elites to engage in deception to achieve their goals means that society is, to a significant degree, a group of individuals united by fealty to fraudulent misrepresentations of realty.