The Burden of Rationality
July 30, 2012
It is a privilege to be irrational. It is a privilege afforded by sex, by gender, by skin color, by economic status, by orientation, by geopolitical position. It is a privilege to be able to ignore data, to ignore systems, to ignore how the real world functions. It is a privilege to be able to look at data and proven systems and dismiss it with a single statement.
And every time this is done, the statement is the same. “I don’t believe in that.”
Let me explain to you both why this privilege is a dangerous one and commiserate with those who are burdened with rationality.
To those of us who are minorities, any kind of minority, our world is different than the world of those who are not. As someone who is disabled, who is not heterosexual, and who is autistic my world is full of elements that are impossible for me to ignore. As an atheist and someone who participates in a non-standard relationship model, there are things in the world that are lacking that I’m painfully aware of. It is impossible for me to not be aware of these broken or incomplete social structures. I must be aware of the data related to these things, and I am constantly forced to confront these facts.
I see these same burdens in the women and people of color around me, in the trans* and homosexual people around me, in the disabled and poor people around me. There are aspects of their existence and their world that are impossible to ignore. They do not have the luxury of being irrational about how they live their lives, about doing things generally in any fashion they want. When we encounter characters in narratives that are a minority of some kind who do not succumb to certain stereotypes, we consider them irrational. This has an element of blaming the victim, but in a more general sense it’s odd to see someone who lives within certain societal realities and does not take steps to adapt to them (not conform mind you, adapt – this is about pragmatism rather than idealism).
However, when we see people of privilege not conforming to these narratives (or conforming to other narratives that always include a sense of irrationality), this seems completely normal. Consider the cultural narratives (in films, shows, books, magazines, news reports) of the wealthy child in high school or college. They are permitted by implicit power to act in any fashion they wish. They have inherited the narrative of the aristocratic young of the medieval period (which was, itself, dominated by narratives rather than actualities). There is no social cost, to them, for acting in an irrational manner. They have the privilege and the power to effectively ignore the limitations placed upon the people around them, and consequently pass the cost for their irrationality onto those around them that lack the power to obstruct them.
Love, affection, friendship, joy, happiness, and even money in many ways are not a zero sum games. However, time and energy are. When approached from the outside, every time an Actor (that is, someone with Agency in a game-theory kind of way) does something that is inefficient in resources expenditure or maximization, the cost of this inefficiency is passed onto other people. This can be seen in a meta-sense with the economy (when the government is inefficient with taxes then the taxpayers must pay more, when the rich are inefficient with their own money then the lower classes make less) as well as a localized context (when a store owner prices their goods or services inefficiently then either the employees suffer for hours or the customers suffer under costs that are too high, when a driver mistakes directions or time to travel then those relying on the driver end up paying for the inefficiency in being too late or early to appointments). All forms of inefficiency within our social matrix eventually pass on a cost to those around us. It even passes costs down to non-Actors (such as animals and the environments) when our inefficiencies fail to care for the environment around us. Occasionally these costs are acceptable, such is in the case of responsible construction or in the case of moderate time loss. This does not change the fact that the costs must be paid by someone, however.
Because of this, it is more important the more privilege and power you have to be aware of your capability of being irrational without ever noticing it. You must be aware of where you have no limits of social capability and do not incur social culpability for the things you do and say in comparison to those around you. If you are not aware of this irrationality, then when you are irrational you will both not be aware of it and you will be shifting the cost of this irrationality onto those around you. These costs frequently damage those who do not have the power to respond to them. The easiest meta-narrative to show this is economics.
We understand the costs and structures of economics in how they function and how inequality creates problems for everyone. However, when there is growing inequality and falling wages, the costs of these problems are born by the poor first (which includes people of color, disabled people, and women primarily) then by the middle class. Those who are wealthy do not have to bear the costs of poor economic policy and, therefor, are allowed to act in an irrational manner. Our current economic system is irrational if the purpose of an economic system is to prevent poverty, provide everyone a meaningful existence, and ensure that the flow of good and services is balanced with the demands for those goods and services. Our current economic order is primarily drive wealth and currency up toward the already wealthy without regard to those in the lower and middle classes due to companies and corporate controllers having the privilege to draw said wealth out of their companies without leaving anything behind for the employees that make up the majority of the corporation. These costs are born by the employees who can no longer participate in the economy in the same fashion they were able to before.
In short, the irrational vacuuming of wealth from the lower classes slowly erodes the economy since those who spend money are the ones who propel the economy forward. The wealthy cannot spend the same amount of money as the middle class as one family cannot, by definition, consume the same amount as hundreds of families.
Those of us who are rational, who are logical, who pay attention to data regardless of our levels of power or authority are then tasked with trying to fix the world despite the price we’re asked to pay continually.
(To be continued… >.>)