Homo irrationalis (playing stupid)

It is strange to see how in economics and politics persistently is hanged on to the idea that people are  rational beings. It is presumed that people take rational decisions, choosing in their own interest, as they perceive it. The scientific disciplines of politics and economics are completely based upon this assumption (the so called ‘homo economicus’ assumption). This assumption however is clearly wrong, as every psychologist can tell you. That is why these ‘sciences’  time and again make wrong predictions about the voting and economic behavior of the public. (Recently there is an undercurrent in economics that has a more realistic approach, be it that this still is composed of a small minority of scientists).

If people make no rational choices, on which basis their choices then are grounded? Their choices are mainly based upon emotions and feelings, partly conscious, partly unconscious. Most of these emotions are labeled negative: fear, inferiority, self-doubt, anger or rage, uncertainty, etc. A few are positive: love, compassion, joy. Unfortunately in many cases the negative emotions unconsciously are dominating.

We can see this on all levels in society. It is clear that those who voted for Trump as president, did so clearly against their own interest, at least over the long term. Although they may have misled themselves, thinking that they were voting based on  their own interest, they clearly did not. The image of their interest surely is distorted by their negative feelings: not being seen, not being accepted, feeling unsafe, etc.

We also can see it on the levels of our leadership. President Trump f.i. certainly is not grounding his decisions on rational considerations, even not so on his own interest (although he may think he does). He denies climate change (will he still do so after the melting of the permafrost or the flooding of Houston?), he wants to build a wall between the US and Mexico, he wants to create jobs, that he cannot create, and so on and so forth. He is basing his decisions on (unconscious?) fear and rage, in an impulsive way. That is why he is so dangerous. He could just launch an atomic bomb – just like that. I always am amazed that there are still people who think you can negotiate with Trump on a reasonable base. One can’t. (If you seemingly have a deal, he always can break it).

But also more ‘normal’ politicians and economist don’t act on rational grounds. They still think a maximum temperature rise of 2 degrees is feasible, which clearly is not so.*) They still think one can control Kim Yung-un, or Erdogan, or Rohani, or Assad. They all will fall, but not by external pressure, but due to the the internal developments in their countries. (Erdogan will be the first. When dictators start building megalomaniac  palaces you know the end is near). One cannot make deals with them, because they too are not acting on rational grounds (that is not to say that you shouldn’t communicate with them).

So we have this beautiful capacity of using our brains, but unfortunately we don’t. It would be wise however if we anyway do use them in our private lives. That is not to say that we should neglect our feelings, but our decisions should be based on a mix of reason and feeling. This is called common sense. In order to be able to do so we have to know ourselves. Work to do!


*) This was already known by those who were willing to  to see it in 2007. See Earth Fever, Living Consciously with Climate Change,  by : Judy Mcallister, Erik van Praag and Jan Paul Van Soest, 2009, page 53.

Disclaimer: I apologize for mistakes in my English. Blogs are cursory – not stuff for correction by a native speaker.


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