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The Mind is Impotent: 2010

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I've just about come over all the way to the Peter Schiff TSWHTF school of economics. As such, I've had to reevaluate a lot of what I thought I understood about economics.

If I'm right, and TSHTF, then a whole lot of everyone else will too.

I'm terrified, really, that the most common reaction will be similar to this:

<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jim-taylor/economists-are-irrational_b_352421.html">People are Irrational</a>

The trend has been to blame the current crisis on the failure of markets and market actors to be rational. It's not even self-interest that's being criticized, but the inability to even pursue it. Mental impotence.

This sort of criticism is typical for the left. By attributing ethical crises to mere brain dysfunction or psychological disorder, any critique can remain morally neutral. The academic left has no need to accept any rational code of ethic whatsoever, and can thus employ vain materialist deductions to draw moral conclusions. Dysfunctional brains on Wall Street = grumbly tummies on Main Street. There's no argument.

In the context of what the next year and onward may be like (catastrophe), however, this line of thinking is very dangerous.

I love the delightful irony of what Atlas Shrugged represents everytime I'm confronted with the possibility of facing a future ruled by these people. It's my only comfort really. Atlas Shrugged is so harshly criticized for have cardboard-cutouts as characters. I used to think as much, for the villains. "The mind is impotent" seemed to be a rather half-hearted refutation of collectivist morality. After all, in 2007 (when I first read it, but I could say 2010 too), the arguments are nuanced, the opposition is intelligent. Academia is studied, rigorous, how could anyone there say that they would believe, "the mind is impotent"?

I discovered that such things have been said verbatim in the past, but the article I posted references the sentiment rearing its head today.

Naturally, the answer is top-down control over individuals. The ethical reasonsing is so convoluted and so repeated and well-known here I won't bother with it.

Instead, I wrote all this so that I can offer a pre-emptive response to the 'human irrationality' argument.

It is this: humans are neither automatically rational or irrational, but any enduring value they produce will be the product of rationality.

This is the cheapest of paraphrasings of something Ayn Rand said a hundred times over. It's not rocket science. In the realm of economic science, the ethical implication is that when man desires wealth, he must be rational. The purpose of economic science is to provide man with a tool to obtain wealth. Irrational men have no need for economic science, therefore.

That is a simplification, but it is in contrast to the fantasy of the leftists: that economics is a tool to allow irrational men access to the benefits of being rational.

THAT is the surest of any explanation I can see for why we're in this mess. THAT is the paradigm for economics we've been pursuing.

So ENOUGH with this 'turns out we're all irrational' BS!!!

I'm sick of these people. Yet they never go away, and they're always the same.

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There are some good points in your post, but I will have to say that there are numerous problems that have led to the current economical crisis we ae facing.

One is that men have lost sight of the work ethic that they once had in the leave it to beaver era, the idea that america was worth working for and thru hard work and doing the job right one could gain status and money, and they have embraced a sense of entitlement where they believe they need only to show up to their job to recieve a paycheck.

Now, the rational man who lives with a purpose is partially to blame for this due to his impotence in being able to relieve these men of their obligation to work and therefore forcing them to learn to be good employees. The rational man has slowly given in to the altruistic belief that all men need a job so all men deserve to have a job, this is not true. Any man who is capable of doing a job well and follows thru with those capabilities deserves a job, any man who does less than that does not. If we were to turn to a fully rational process of hiring and firing then I believe we would turn the economical crisis around and in the process create a more rational society.

Edited by Shadow
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I agree with the article in one respect: people have the potential to be extremely irrational. That is precisely why one should not want to hand over control of one's life to someone else - whether a single dictator, or a group of elected representatives.

Edited by brian0918
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The people ZS is referring would say that's precisely the reason why rational people should control the irrational. The irrational/stupid people don't know any better, so controlling them is necessary. At least, that's the line of reasoning. The whole philosopher king idea.

Many people like to equate rationality with perfection, making the "right" choice it all times, flawlessly, or reason through things completely at all times. Unfortunately, some then think that means people are inherently irrational, subject to cognitive bias, influence of peers, and "animal impulse." Both are incorrect viewpoints. What counts, as you said, is that humans are neither automatically rational nor irrational.

A solution policy makers seem to want to make is to harness the power of irrationality. There's a huge problem with that though: it brings about more irrationality. To harness the power of irrationality REQUIRES a large sum of people to be irrational. And the people who strive to be rational and make good decisions for their own life, they're only hurt by those controls which are meant for the irrational people. On top of that, no irrational person is taught how to make a proper decision if the decision is already made and pulled towards one direction. What you end up is a downward spiral, until all that's left is ruins of a civilization.

(As an aside, that reminds me of how pretty much how any dystopia story works, where a few people on top make the decisions, and [usually] the only person with the capability of rationality is left unable to act to further their life or produce anything valuable.)

The most beneficial thing, politically speaking, is to let others pursue their own interests, free to make mistakes, and free to make even *gasp* irrational decisions. That way, destruction will only be brought to those who allow it to happen, provided people are free to avoid dealing with irrational behavior.

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Eiuol, if we were to allow others to make their own decisions even if they are irrational then wouldnt we be inviting our own destruction?

What would there be to destroy if people are free to avoid dealing with the irrational? The extent of one's destruction is to the extent in which one permits irrationality. The only exception to that is initiation of force, the one type of irrationality that cannot be avoided - which is why an Objectivist viewpoint advocates responding likewise with force.

(small writing error in my first post, I intended to point out that when people notice perfect rationality is not in the *nature* of humans, they then accept somehow that the nature of humans is total irrationality)

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in order to avoid irrational behavior and ideas then we would have to pull something like they did in the hitchhikers guide and send all the stupid(irrational) people to a different planet, unless the idea is to curb irrational behaviors when you see them happening.

Then you run into the problem that it is impossible to eliminate irrational behaviors and you would have a trickle effect, therefore causing small amounts of random destruction for eternity and the thinking men of the world will constantly be at battle to restore that wich was destroyed and still be productive.

Ayn Rand may have been right in Atlas Shrugged with the only way to stop the wide spread destruction of irrational behaviors being to stop the motor world. In the ral world, without a Galt's Gulch, only survivalists would be able to exist and the world would regress back to a more primitive state until a time when the thinking men found it fit to take back controll.

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Is the reality that man chooses and perversely desires to be irrational not a confirmation of his irrationality? And given that while human beings have the capacity for reason and rational, virtuous action, but choose not to engage this capacity in favour of electing or tacitly accepting the whimsical direction of another or others, how can one conclude anything other than that it is the nature of man to deny his nature in the absence of immediate, perilous survival requirements?

Obviously (to those who reason with excellence)there is nothing but peril in being enslaved, but without an overt threat to one's immediate survival, few people act rationally and use reason as their m.o. Most actually prefer to be enslaved! They actually believe that security and freedom are dichotomous, presumably because they think themselves incapable of even something so base as protecting their own bodies from physical attack. If they cannot even imagine being victorious in such a base circumstance, then upon what can they presume their ability to provide food, shelter, and cool bicycles for their children, if not through the regulation-enforced distribution of the wealth of other (presumed more capable) people?

It's as if, having become complacent from lack of real-time survival urgency, people descend into a pit of hedonistic infantile bliss-seeking. How else could socialism even take hold? I was watching a program about a tribe of hunter-gatherers and the anthropologist said that the root of sharing what one has with others is in the act of a hunter presenting his tribe with the kill and everyone partaking of the results of his labour.

My immediate thought was that this is an absurd presumption: clearly in a hunter-gatherer society, those who hunt do so with the implicit acceptance of the labour-equity between their occupation and that of the gatherers, who, incidentally seemed to actually have more to do, given that they reared the young children and also built the shelters, made receptacles for storing goods, produced clothing and ornamentation, and also gathered roots, leaves, fruit, and insects for the tribe. This is trading! Not giving away one's wealth.

Anyway, it would mean death for such people to be completely unable to act rationally, to be completely self-denying. They just don't have the luxury of being so shamefully inept.

Yes humans are capable of better. But if they band together to collectively act like lemmings or meercats, then the reality that we are capable of so much more is just a fantastical idea to these hoards of drowning idiots and communists. Eventually, the absurdity of this will come to its obvious conclusion, but it won't likely be during my lifetime, so my concern is how to retain my personal freedom and live the way that suits me. I mean, these people are everywhere!!! :angry: It's like fighting the weather.

Edited by Imogen
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I've just about come over all the way to the Peter Schiff TSWHTF school of economics. As such, I've had to reevaluate a lot of what I thought I understood about economics.

If I'm right, and TSHTF, then a whole lot of everyone else will too.

I'm terrified, really, that the most common reaction will be similar to this:

<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-jim-taylor/economists-are-irrational_b_352421.html">People are Irrational</a>

The trend has been to blame the current crisis on the failure of markets and market actors to be rational. It's not even self-interest that's being criticized, but the inability to even pursue it. Mental impotence.

This sort of criticism is typical for the left. By attributing ethical crises to mere brain dysfunction or psychological disorder, any critique can remain morally neutral. The academic left has no need to accept any rational code of ethic whatsoever, and can thus employ vain materialist deductions to draw moral conclusions. Dysfunctional brains on Wall Street = grumbly tummies on Main Street. There's no argument.

In the context of what the next year and onward may be like (catastrophe), however, this line of thinking is very dangerous.

I love the delightful irony of what Atlas Shrugged represents everytime I'm confronted with the possibility of facing a future ruled by these people. It's my only comfort really. Atlas Shrugged is so harshly criticized for have cardboard-cutouts as characters. I used to think as much, for the villains. "The mind is impotent" seemed to be a rather half-hearted refutation of collectivist morality. After all, in 2007 (when I first read it, but I could say 2010 too), the arguments are nuanced, the opposition is intelligent. Academia is studied, rigorous, how could anyone there say that they would believe, "the mind is impotent"?

I discovered that such things have been said verbatim in the past, but the article I posted references the sentiment rearing its head today.

Naturally, the answer is top-down control over individuals. The ethical reasonsing is so convoluted and so repeated and well-known here I won't bother with it.

Instead, I wrote all this so that I can offer a pre-emptive response to the 'human irrationality' argument.

It is this: humans are neither automatically rational or irrational, but any enduring value they produce will be the product of rationality.

This is the cheapest of paraphrasings of something Ayn Rand said a hundred times over. It's not rocket science. In the realm of economic science, the ethical implication is that when man desires wealth, he must be rational. The purpose of economic science is to provide man with a tool to obtain wealth. Irrational men have no need for economic science, therefore.

That is a simplification, but it is in contrast to the fantasy of the leftists: that economics is a tool to allow irrational men access to the benefits of being rational.

THAT is the surest of any explanation I can see for why we're in this mess. THAT is the paradigm for economics we've been pursuing.

So ENOUGH with this 'turns out we're all irrational' BS!!!

I'm sick of these people. Yet they never go away, and they're always the same.

This is why I think we are really in for a crisis of civilization. This is not primarily an economic collapse, but an intellectual collapse.

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How? As long as we ensure that everyone's rights are respected, you can isolate yourself from the irrationality of others to a great extent.

Yes, this is the idea, more or less.

In reality, the mind is certainly not impotent. One reason, especially today, why people claim that it must be, is so that they can be granted permission to tinker.

Tinkerers. And tinkerers like to tinker, because they are in fact on some metaphysical quest to defeat reality. This is why they both tinker, and are so quick to claim the mind is impotent.

They hate a world that requires reason to gain prosperity. It means reality is real. They can't stand this.

My speculative theory about one motive is that I think some people can't feel like they are real, unless they deny reality. They must be more real than reality. The supremecy of reality frightens them.

"We are the world", Keynesian economics, vegetarianism, Avatar, the green movement, socialism, etc. are all merely manifestations of this one central fear. I think. And I think that fear is merely a learned behavior. Some people are forced to live according to their reason, including their own moral reasoning. Others live second-hand, and this includes spiritually/emotionally. The latter are frightened to give up altruism, because they hav no learned experience in a universe where they might not be the receivers of it. Just my theory.

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Is the reality that man chooses and perversely desires to be irrational not a confirmation of his irrationality? And given that while human beings have the capacity for reason and rational, virtuous action, but choose not to engage this capacity in favour of electing or tacitly accepting the whimsical direction of another or others, how can one conclude anything other than that it is the nature of man to deny his nature in the absence of immediate, perilous survival requirements?

Really really advanced economists have demonstrated how even drug addicts act incredibly rationally. Granted, common sense tells us that's absurd, but in fact, understanding why it is absurd is a great feat!

If you think about it, there are plenty of reasons why apparent 'irrationality' is completely rational. In drug use, the dopamine reward function is 'optimized' or 'maximized' according to highly rational decisions made by the drug user. Likewise, a lot of what we'd call irrational is quite rational. Economists like explaining the 2000's and the 2008 crisis by blaming 'systemic risk'. I.e.: it was incredibly rational to keep buying into the system why prices were rising. For a more average example, procrastination is technically very rational - leaving off the task at hand for the last possible moment. You technically don't need to complete a task until it needs completing, right? You'll be wasting time beforehand otherwise. What if you died in a car accident tomorrow? Your exam coming up in two weeks will never happen. So why not party instead of study?

But that's the problem isn't it? I suppose the drinking might lead to the car crash, but, that's sort of the point. You have to look at the big picture. For procrastination, you have to evaluate risk. Okay, so let's say you do, and still 'optimize' your procrastination. Well, what if you didn't account for 'black swan' opportunities (risk being set aside)? And the financial firms of 2008 didn't do so well in the end (well, before the bailouts). And drug use has obvious 'holistic' negatives.

I would contend that humans are very very very very rational. They say baby human will crawl out onto a glass surface that suspends them from a tall height, ignorant of the possible danger - whereas baby animals see the height and know instinctively to avoid it. I don't want to go into evolutionary psychology to far, but I suspect that a dumbing down of instinct corresponding to an increase in rational capacity most definitely occured in early man. Otherwise, I think man's intelligence would cause him to do dumb things like eat himself to death.

Obviously, we still have some instincts to protect our species' survival (sex drive, hunger, etc.). Some people, unfortunately, seem to be managing very well in eating themselves to death as it is! Nevertheless, I do not think rationality would be possible without a corresponding 'conquest' of instinct.

In looking at the big picture, we get some help from Ayn Rand. As creatures of reason, our lives are necessary objects of rational choice. Thus, there is a rational basis for moral choice independent of instinct.

Humans, I think, are incredibly rational. The problem is that they learn bad concepts that obscure to them a rational basis for choice, leaving them with their instincts only. Instincts are based in reality, so are helpful guides that somewhat correspond to the rational. However, in the case of obesity, envy, lust, or drug use, we can see that man begins to apply his rational faculty to irrational objects.

True rationality is a concept, then. And the extent to which a society's philosophy embraces it is a predictor of that society's propserity and success.

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ZSorenson, I agree with you. The paragraph you quoted from my post was an obviously failed attempt at irony. Sorry. :blush:

I think the underlying premise is what catches people in irrational-rational behaviour. What I mean is that while a drug addict behaves rationally according to the premise (stemming from his desire for bliss through drug-induced highs), clearly the premise itself is faulty, so both the desire and the following behaviour are irrational, but taken without a proper foundation (for instance the value of his life and time, effort, etc...), the behaviour is a perfectly rational response to the premise.

I think that many (even most) people labour rationally under these false pretenses. To someone with properly formed, rational premises, though, it is clear that their premises are false, their behaviours are rational only if their premises are true, but because their premises are not, the behaviour and thoughts are all irrational.

It is very difficult to convince most people to look at their premises, though. Most people just act according to an arbitrary code of conduct handed down by someone else and then behave accordingly- seeming rational to everyone else who is doing the same, but examined wholistically, their whole perspective is flawed from the outset, and thereby irrational.

This is why it's like fighting the weather. The reasons behind why people do things are so arbitrary as to appear random, but of course, as with the weather, there is always a reason behind it, but because I cannot control or influence either, I am left in the rain/reign of illegitimate premises.

So, I do what I can to increase my circle of influence as big as my own abilities allow (which is admittedly quite small presently), and act rationally according to my own examined premises. For the most part, that is already so challenging that I really cannot even much consider what the rest of the people in this world are doing, except for entertainment. I can't really take their actions seriously; I just don't have the time. I aim to recognise obstacles and avoid them. That's the best I can do.

But I understand your pain. I do.

Edited by Imogen
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