Rant against The Righteous Mind

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and ReligionThe Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Recently, I got to read The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt. I was disappointed by the general quality of the book, the style of reasoning and the somewhat surprising conclusions the author draws from them.

Somewhere in the middle of the book, he discusses the type of people he thinks are more susceptible to liberal ideas. As examples he takes great thinkers like Immanuel Kant, David Hume and John Stuart Mill.

He says in the book that the liberal thinkers among them tended to be recluses with some anti-social tendencies.
In order to support this somewhat strange point of his he talks about how these people had few friends, had odd routines and about their dysfunctional or somewhat abnormal personal relations.

He then goes on to analyse the liberal thinkers'(John S Mill and Kant) personalities in light of his interesting Moral Foundations Theory that posits that the human moral system is founded on a few basic concepts that supposedly have their roots in basic human psychology.

According to this theory, these foundations are :-

  1. Care/Harm foundation
  2. Justice/Fairness
  3. Sanctity/Purity
  4. Loyalty
  5. Respect of authority

He thinks that conservatives and conservative thinkers depend on all these foundations “evenly”(whatever that is supposed to mean!) to make moral decisions. Whereas, liberals depend overwhelmingly on the first two to make their moral choices.

At this point the book starts to get really weird. He says that the moral foundations are like taste buds and that moral systems exhibit so much diversity because of the infinite ways in which these “tastes” can be combined to create “cuisines”.

Then, he jumps from this to his follow-on conclusion that because liberals depend on fewer “tastes” to stimulate their moral sensibilities they are less broad-minded than conservatives!! (WTF moment!) Please read the above sentence once more. I wanted to make it all caps. Because, that is how it appeared to me when I read it. It was like a giant big flashing red sign telling me that somewhere something went horribly wrong….

Hmmm…. So, turns out conservatives are more broad-minded when compared to liberals because they crave for and appreciate a more “varied (moral) diet”.

So, the liberal thinkers who made such astounding and paradigm changing contributions to human welfare by suggesting ways of removing fundamental blocks to it in our law, social and political organization and personal behavior and who have had a fundamental impact on our collective well- being in addition to providing the basic concepts that underpin the most sophisticated, peaceful and developed social systems in the world are apparently narrow-minded people because they don’t have as many moral taste-buds!! hahaha

He bolsters his case by talking about how Kant was such a loner and a strange character. He then comes up with a clever experiment. He rates people on a spectrum of qualities at the far end of which lies characteristics that indicate possible autism. He then measures the degree to which their attitudes are liberal and discovers that people who tend more towards autistic qualities are more liberal than the “normal” people.

There is a hidden implication here. The overall point of all these specious arguments, cherry-picking of facts and flawed experiments is to somehow justify his apparent “enlightenment”(more on that later) and awakening to the value of conservatism and his unstated conclusion that liberal attitudes don’t fit with “human-nature”(TM).

This is wrong on so many levels that one feels a little pity for this dude for having spent so much time on confusing himself so thoroughly. It might be true that loners who don’t spend as much time partying and hanging out with friends are more liberal. But, did he ask why? Is it because there are some neurological differences in their brains that make them susceptible to moral deviances and deficiencies or is there something about the typical lifestyle of such a person that causes them to dump conservatism?

Isn’t it likely that people with a scholarly personality will be reading a lot more stuff, spending more time thinking about things and observing others from a distance? Isn’t it possible that the consequent higher level of intellectual development and detached perspective is what causes them to realize that the purpose of human morals is human well-being and not “tasty moral cuisines”(hahaha, what a stupid fucking idea!!) and causes them to be economical with moral principles that make them more judgmental?

Extending this line of reasoning, isn’t it possible that the differences in attitudes of “normal” people and liberals might not be caused primarily by their personalities. That might be only a distal cause. The proximal cause might be the kind of universalist thinking and hunger for other perspectives that reading and thinking can generate in a person. So, if “normal” people with 10s of girlfriends and 1000s of Facebook friends and a party schedule that is limited by his/her liver capacity were somehow encouraged to read and think a lot what would happen?

He never asks these kinds of questions. Instead he just says that Kant and Mill were probably a little weird. But, he is careful to point out that he doesn’t hold that against their conclusions. That would be an ad-hominem attack. And that would be wrong(tut-tut). But… you get the idea! If you are a liberal, you are probably an odd-ball who doesn’t have many friends and is going to get divorced.

Again, he doesn’t fully explore this line of thinking. He just casts aspersions on some great thinkers, makes a half-hearted attempt at ameliorating the rape of logic and then leaves it at that, leaving the reader to fume and rage over it. So, let us examine the conservative thinkers then!

Let us look at the Popes, all the amazing Pastors, God-men, catholic-priests, saints, religious thinkers and conservative philosophers. Let us look at how successful their marriages were and how many friends they had and how few children they abused and how few women they have tortured and killed and how well they can dance the Salsa! Let us do that and see how they stack up against Kant and Mill. If you do that you will also conclude that what the author had was probably not an “enlightenment”.

Equivalence of moral systems

Since all moral systems are basically just a random combination of his moral foundations, all of them are according to him about equivalent. He never makes an attempt to see if the moral systems are tied to social conditions, economic and technological development and average levels of violence and strife in the society. He never tries to discern the overall drift of all moral systems and in which direction they are all headed.

He fails to appreciate the fact that the greatest advances in human happiness were caused by the abolition of slavery, feminism, recognition of child rights, secularism, democracy, rise of individualism and science – all of which are liberal concepts. These are also things that are spreading the world-over and which most societies are striving-for with higher levels of economic development acting as a symbiotic agent. What is happening here is not the rejection of 3/5ths of human morality(as the author would have us believe).

It is a growing realization that the first two moral foundations have the veto over the other ones.

You should not respect authority that asks you to rape and kill.

You should not be loyal to your teammates to the point that you don’t mind their cruelty to others.

You should not be so obedient that you will go out and kill someone if your dad asks you to.

You should not beat your kids because your religious text asks you to.

You should not abuse your spouse because he/she is not traditional or obedient.

Our moral feelings have a survival value. But, they are also open to exploitation and erroneous firing. The only way to protect ourselves against our own survival instincts is by recognizing the primacy of reason and justice.

He talks about how in India, the unit of social organization is the family and community and how that is so prevalent in most parts of the world(he doesn’t mention that most of those parts are also seriously underdeveloped) as compared to western individualism which is sort of rare(but kind of common in all the developed countries). He doesn’t write much about how women and children suffer under these social systems, how the country has been crippled by casteism and communal thinking and how the idea of sanctity and tradition has atrophied the intellectual growth and cultural renewal of our country.

He doesn’t make a single attempt at trying to answer one critical question. What is the fucking purpose of morals!!?? In your mind you are always thinking, “Please, please answer that!” If you read his book the idea you get is that morals are supposed to be complex and tasty and that liberal morals are just plain boring.

Morality as an end in itself

The author claims that he was a liberal who was suddenly “enlightened” and came to the realization that he was superior to both liberals and conservatives. He gives his acceptance of the moral equivalence of both attitudes as a proof for it.

But, does he say anything to convince us of this equivalence. He narrates some anecdotal incidents which alternately show the folly of both liberal and conservative solutions for particular problems. So, he goes like, “Yeah, so, you see, both liberals and conservatives are occasionally wrong and here I am like a wise old grand-dad watching the little kids squabble over gay-rights and freedom-of-speech. Tch-tch, if only they just sat back and enjoyed each other’s moral cuisines!”. And you feel like punching him in his face for being such a pretentious little prick.

Liberals are only 2/5ths as moral as conservatives

What he fails to analyse in detail is the relative priority of the foundations. Liberals don’t let the last 3 foundations effect their judgement if it contradicts the first 2. This does not mean that they are disloyal, indecent or disrespectful. It simply means that they appreciate that things are not black and white and that at times they will need to go against authority, appear indecent and break away from their groups if that is what is required to be just and compassionate. In short, their morals might be more subtle and complex than it is given credit for in the book.

It is not like liberals don’t like football or other such team sports which are so enjoyable mainly because of the team-spirit and cohesion it creates in the players.

It does not mean that they randomly break laws. Science is considered to be one of the most disciplined professions.

It does not mean that they are incapable of learning from the past or respecting tradition. After all, the most famous liberals are also some of the most erudite people.

So, when he says that conservatives are broad-minded because they consider all foundations on an equal footing, I think that he has got it ass-side-up.

Science and reason fail to appreciate the moral complexity of humans?

He routinely drops lines like, “yeah, so scientists have failed” and “rationality has failed at grasping human nature” etc. etc.. And you are like, “How did this guy get a PhD!?”.

The fundamental idea of science is that humans are fallible and that their individual judgements are of limited value when trying to ascertain facts and truths and coming up with theories to account for them. Science is precisely the solution to the vagaries of human cognition. And whatever our failings, we have to give ourselves credit for coming up with something that has worked so well!

Now, here is this guy saying that science, logic and reason doesn’t work for clarifying moral dilemmas because people just “know” that some things are wrong! They can’t give reasons for it. Obviously, you too think that they are wrong! And you can’t give reasons for it. So, hence we can prove that reasons are useless when it comes to morals.

He fails to appreciate that you can find somethings distasteful but don’t see the need for it to be banned for others or for it to be made an offense that is punishable. What you like or don’t like is different from what you consider to be morally wrong.

Liberals have a ready standard for separating what is wrong from what is merely distasteful. For example, if I were asked his “trick” question,” Is it ok to have sex with your dead chicken before eating it?”. I would probably be shocked for a second thinking why anyone would want to do that. Then, I would instantly say no. Then I would think about it for a bit more and then say, “Hey, I can’t see why you would want to do it. But, I don’t think it is a wrong thing. So, no one should stop you from doing it.”

Now, he says that some people would just say no to it. It is easy to see why. It is obviously a disgusting thing for some people, myself included. So, I can be forgiven if I just say no to it. If I think like that I am probably a conservative. But, nothing has been proved here, mind you. Reason has not been defeated here. What has been proved here is that some people don’t want to follow the lines of reasoning to their logical conclusion and are quite satisfied with giving an answer from their gut.

What he is hoping for here is that people will get confused by his own muddled thinking and conclude that reason is useless when it comes to deciding what is morally wrong and what isn’t.

If he thinks that people just know some things to be wrong regardless of their conditioning or social or intellectual background, then maybe he should have asked this question to jews and muslims.

“Hey, what do you think of me cutting-off a piece of my newborn baby’s penis(circumcision)?”. They would say, “Great Idea! Do you want me to do it?”. But, a mother who has never heard of this practice will probably take a shotgun and take off your head with it if you went anywhere near her baby’s penis with a knife.

So, as you can see, exposure and culture are strong factors in deciding what people consider right and wrong. This might not be anything innate. And it certainly doesn’t prove that reason can’t help refine social practices. For example, circumcision is just plain silliness. Female circumcision is nothing short of a crime against an innocent child. Yet, many conservatives intuitively “know” it to be the right thing to do. People who refuse to consider justice and harm to an innocent child over tradition, sanctity and deference to authority cannot be placed on a level with people who consider fairness and compassion to be of primary importance.

More on his “experiments with disgusting questions”

His experiments with these questions are just plain retarded. If I were asked whether I would want to eat the shit of a particular civet which has been fed coffee beans(Kopi Luwak), I would say no to it. Because, I am not used to it. Now, there are people who pay thousands of dollars for this thing because it is a delicacy.

So, you can see that I don’t want to consume it. But, if it were safe for human consumption, I wouldn’t support any motion to get it banned.

Just like that some actions might not be agreeable to me. But, I will not have them banned for everyone.

But, conservatives don’t want anyone to do the things they think are wrong and the things they consider to be wrong are determined more by dogma and tradition than by reason. And this is where the problem lies. He doesn’t address this issue at all in the book.

In fact, he goes one step further and aggravates the problem further by seeking to justify this kind of insular thinking by attributing such feelings to certain moral foundations. He says, “See this is why people think that way. It is human nature.”.

“Yeah, so what? “. Racism is human nature too. Violence is human nature. Rape is human nature. Murder is human nature. Theft is human nature. Stupidity is human nature. What exactly does that prove? These tendencies might have evolved in response to certain factors in the pre-historic environment of our ancestors. But, that doesn’t justify anything. And, we are certainly capable of recognising these tendencies for what they are. Unacceptable manifestations of primal instincts that need to controlled at any cost. Except maybe murder which is ok during war( I am not sure, actually, about this).

The moral foundations theory doesn’t make social conservatism appealing. It merely explains it in a slightly different and I must add, dumbed-down/scientifically shallow way.

Polarization of political debates

This is the only part that you can read without getting a headache. But, this idea has been dealt with by many other authors and I didn’t think that this book’s treatment of the problem of growing polarization and partisanship in politics was in any way extraordinary.

His ideas on how common ground can be found between people of opposing view points and on the art of convincing people are interesting, but they are neither original nor exceptionally well-presented.

There is a very strong correlation between liberalism and factors like scientific aptitude, awareness and erudition. Social conservatism thrives in an environment that dulls the above factors. What this book has done is merely explain what is already known about this phenomenon in terms of fundamental human tendencies along with claiming that social conservatism is fine because it is human nature.

Well, the real question that one is left with after reading the book is……..

“Am I a narrow-minded liberal or a broad-minded conservative!?”

View all my reviews

Religions and morals

A lot of people harbor a deep suspicion of atheism and atheists. I was recently reminded of this while reading an article on how admitting that one is an atheist would badly effect his/her chances when running for a public office.

This has always struck me as a rather strange phenomenon and I have often wondered why someone would fear/doubt an atheist more than a guy who believes in God. Religious institutions have done a very good job of convincing a lot of people that all the morals required for a person to participate peacefully in the process that society is comes solely from them.

The business of giving advice

It is definitely an easy thing to do. The various institutions which exist in the name of religion and spirituality are more than happy to tell you that everything there is to know and understand about human morality has already been made clear to them through the word of God. Moreover they are willing to interpret these words in the light of the various dogmas they bandy about to tell you what you should do. In return for a sufficient amount of money of course.

But, are they doing a good job of it? I mean, when you pay them to tell you what you should do with your lives you are certainly not acting like an adult. But, at the very least you have the right to expect some value for your money. Right? Maybe a more important and perhaps basic question is whether they really are capable of doing the job they claim belongs to them, well.

Is the business based on a sound product?

I have tried a lot to put aside my very profound disagreement with religion, the kind of philosophy that drives it and the conclusions it arrives at. Most of my problems with it stem from the fact that I have a very strong passion for truth and a belief that it has some intrinsic value which is worth significant sacrifices. Not a lot of people nowadays claim that the religious texts are literally true simply because they look more and more ridiculous with the passage of time. The defense of religion nowadays finds its material in the problem of the source of human morality and the need for psychological comfort and support in times of distress and depression.

If you are going to claim that you already have with you everything required to make an informed decision about such a complex and subtle problem as morals then will you be open to asking deeper questions and critically looking at your own suggestions?

Secondly, given the fact that almost every religious book is full of contradictions, how do you go about choosing which directions to follow, which stories to take in their literal sense, which ones are metaphorical etc. etc.. People in the know say that you have to use your “common sense” or if you feel like you are not up to it leave the questions to the people “qualified” to do it. If it is possible to twist the sometimes incoherent and ambiguous texts into something that YOU THINK sounds right, then what really is the role of the text? Can’t you arrive at the same conclusions by yourself or better still through a wider consultation among people with different perspectives? Going one step further, aren’t these texts of dubious sources and doubtful intentions a force constraining when it comes to reasoning out deep and confusing questions?

Thirdly and this where hints of my problem with religion based philosophy not regarding truth with the value it deserves starts becoming apparent. If you are going to go around saying that somehow you know better than everyone else how everyone should act, then you either be ready to battle the world with your wits or if you are too lazy for that claim the backing of some authority that everyone respects and fears.

You know what everyone fears, respects and bows to!? Yep, you guessed it right! It is the UNKNOWN! Something you are told you cannot understand, control or communicate with yet possesses total and absolute power over you. A lot of people have traced the origins of supernatural thinking to holes in man’s understanding of the world. Though it is an ever shrinking one, it will always be there and it will always have some power over our lives. But, some people have succeeded in assigning an anthropomorphic personality to it and claiming its backing for their actions and words.

The authority

Whatever you say or do has value only as long as people continue to believe in that authority. It is only then you escape from the need to provide clear reasons or results in support of your prescriptions for life decisions. So, it becomes of paramount importance that you first and foremost drive into everyone’s psyche the importance of never doubting that authority. To value faith above all else. To not question you. This is important because this is where it all starts. Built on this foundation of lies the tottering edifice of religious morality rises up in search of answers to the bigger problems. It is only when you start moving away from the stink of the foundation that you get anywhere even close to solving the problems you are interested in.

Where this gets us

Well, what is the end result of it all. More often than not it results in a kind of moral inversion. Instead of starting from the question of what one should do to leave peacefully with others you started with ensuring that whatever you say carries the weight of the truth without any need for experimentation or the difficult test of passing the critical scrutiny of society.

What does this inversion mean? Things that are really important, like honesty, integrity, civic sense, non-violence etc. become somehow less important than making the required contributions to your priests, chastity, credulity, not pissing off your God and ensuring that everyone hears about him or better still believes in him.

It is really when we get to this point that the defense of religion on the grounds that it somehow makes people more moral starts to fall apart. Good people generally speaking find justification for and enough motivation to be good to others. No matter what their religion. The reason for this is that man evolved to be a social animal. That is why the overwhelming majority of people in the world are good. But the bad ones will simply twist things to suit them. Moreover some good people, people of action and strong convictions can simply and easily be prodded into taking their religion too seriously and through that made to do grievous harm to others. The really sad thing is that the firm conviction and absolute trust that unquestioning faith creates in people can act to undermine their own consciences and abate their natural guilt.

An example

There is this funny story I know about a friend of mine. I always used to think that it illustrates the problem of misplaced priorities of faith-based morality pretty well. This friend used to regularly download porn(rather copious quantities of it) on his neighbor’s unsecured Wi-Fi connection. He used to tell us that watching porn was anyway a pretty bad sin that would need some serious confessing to wash away. But, it can’t be helped. He was relieved that at least he didn’t have to pay for his weakness.  This reasoning always used to make me laugh. Watching porn is something people do privately and I can’t think of anything bad that could come out of it. In fact, it might even be helping the mighty American Porn Industry. Not to mention lots of talented young guys and gals who make money from something they are passionate about and enjoy doing!(Hahaha). Plus, in our deeply repressed society it might help douse some fires and improve the collective mood a bit. But, using the neighbor’s Wi-Fi without permission is a pretty bad thing in my book. You are exploiting a guy’s ignorance for your own benefit. It seems even worse, in light of the fact that if the friend ever ran into some trouble that guy wouldn’t mind helping him out.

When things that don’t really matter are blown up into huge crimes it blinds us to the things that actually hurt other people.

I have no problem with people even the ones who are in my life and closely associated with me being religious. But their faith should be a personal matter and it cannot be allowed to influence decisions that affect everyone. On a larger scale, I think, our society needs to consider questions of ethics, law and state powers as completely separate from questions of faith and not allows faith-based bodies to interfere with decision-making in these areas.

The Demon Haunted World: Science as a candle in the dark by Carl Sagan

I just finished watching Here Be Dragons by Brian Dunning which is an introductory video to critical thinking. Most of the concepts and tools which were described in the video were familiar to me. This was because of the book by Carl Sagan I had read a long time ago. I remember seeing a dusty copy of the book in the the public library and being a little put-off then by its cheesy title and uninspiring cover. I must say those were the criteria I used in those days to judge the quality of a book.

I still took the book because of my trust in the ability of Carl Sagan to be interesting and engaging. I was not much of a fan of science or skepticism then. But, the book managed to sow the first seeds of doubt in my mind. I still remember feverishly going through the book as it tore apart one false idea after another. After finishing it in a hurry, I put it down and went into one of my trademark crazy-walking-in-big-circles episodes as I tried to make sense of it all.

It was such a strange feeling. Like living for long in a cold, dark, damp, wet room and then suddenly sensing a strong fresh wind starting to shake the doors and windows and the sunlight poring in through the cracks and holes. It was such a sense of relief and I started to feel, for the first time that I could answer some of the questions that were so deeply bugging me.

I was deeply religious though highly skeptical of some of the stories when I was younger. Part of the reason for my religious character was my ambition. I wanted to achieve great things and I didn’t want to piss off anything that might ruin my chances. God was one among several such things.

I was also plagued by doubts about everything. I was of an extremely curious and questioning disposition and all the contradictory information piling in from all sides deeply confused and troubled me. Is evolution true? Are aliens for real? Why is that different people have different opinions about Homeopathy? When I get sick should I take English medicines? What about their side-effects? When I go and search on google I just end up getting more confused. My family and relatives were not of much help. Even my uncle who is a doctor was rather vague about homeopathy and natural medicine. Most of the explanations for why things are the way they are seemed to me to be half-baked and incoherent. Though I was interested in technology and engineering and liked reading, I didn’t know where to go to access reliable information about questions pertaining to everyday life.

The book opened my mind to the idea that maybe we have much more control over our lives than we think we have. That not every guy who says he knows how some thing works is correct. That there are some things that have been proved beyond reasonable doubt and others that have been thoroughly debunked. It did these things not by merely stating them. It backed them up with evidence, logic and references that I was able to verify. For the first time, I realized that the education that I was put through had cheated me and that the society had failed at giving me the tools I needed to protect myself from frauds. I knew a lot of trivia. But nobody had bothered to sit down and explain to me the art of critical thinking.

I was asked to always keep an open mind and give credence to all view points and be “tolerant”. Never mind the mental dissonance that sets in and the indecision that it leads to. Never mind that quacks are going to exploit you and you might probably place your own life in danger. Never mind all that because we really don’t know the truth…. science claims to be perfect, but it can’t explain everything…. there are things unknown to science… that the ancients knew and exploited. We must never say we know anything for certain…. everything is subjective… truth is a personal opinion… why do you have to choose one over the other? why can’t both/all versions be right? all religions point to the same God… never mind that their followers are at each others necks and that their teachings are contradictory… they are similar at a “higher” level… all medical systems are equally correct… they just represent different approaches to health…. never mind that some of them lack a scientific basis… never give notice to the notion that there might be a best approximation to the truth… all are equally valid… you just have to look hard enough to see it…  modern science is not for real… all the wisdom and knowledge is contained in the vedas… you just have to be clever enough to interpret it…. similar claims about the bible and etc. etc… i was just getting fucking sick of all this fucking bullshit.

This book… it pulled me out of a really deep hole that I was sinking into. I have a streak of extremism inside me and am prone to recklessness and quick action.  The book made me seek out better sources and ask deeper questions. I became a bigger fan of Sagan after reading the book. It a must read for anyone who is not familiar with skepticism and critical thinking. The video that was mentioned in the beginning is also a very good one and conveys the key ideas in a short span of 40 mins.

“… we have strong social values…”?

I was recently going through some newspaper articles and I noticed one about a court petition filed to allow euthanasia of a person who has been in a Persistent Vegetative State(PVS) for 37 years now.

In that article it was mentioned that AG G.E. Vahnavati had said/stated ..

What was applicable to the western world would not be relevant to “our country where emotions and culture played a major part and we have strong social values.

It kind of stuck. Later, I was wondering why and I realized that I was just confused by the subtle hypocrisy hiding in those words. Questions pertaining to euthanasia are certainly very serious and require intense debate and consideration. But, in the process when you bring into picture our “strong social values” things start to get kind of fuzzy.

As I was digging into the topic, I thought it would be a good idea to first understand what social values are. They are quite what they sound like. They are a set of principles by which one engages with one’s society. Now, notice that it is different from family values which pertain to one’s family.

After that I made sure that I and GE Vahnavati live in the same country. Then I started noting down some things which most bothered me about India. We for long insisted on women committing suicide after their husbands’ death. We treat our women badly.  At least implicitly encourage them to be within the four walls of our home and to take care of all the old people in the family without giving a consideration to what their real inclinations might be.

We as a society have committed infanticide and foeticide on shameless and gigantic scales which has resulted in 32 million “missing”(read murdered) women and a heavily skewed sex ratio. Potential inability to pay a dowry in the future and the social stigma that might result from it is enough to scare ordinary people into murdering their babies.

Entire communities are forced to make a living out of removing other people’s faeces manually. Apparently, this does not in any way clash with our “values”.

We brazenly kill our own family members for the sake of our “honour”. Stories of lower caste people being humiliated, raped and butchered by upper castes are routine news items. People who commit these gross crimes are let go with laughable sentences after long, meandering and frustrating judicial processes.

We let the Anti-Sikh riots happen. Allowed the destruction of the Babri Masjid. The Godhra riots that killed and maimed thousands and that too right under the glare of the media with the state complicit in the violation of every standard of human ethics and morality. The people responsible for it are still holding the highest positions in our government. Narendra Modi is winning election after election. What does it say about the morality and social values of the common man? We accuse The West of being materialistic. Yet, for the sake of development we are willing to ignore the screams for justice of our own people.

Our police uses intelligence as a last resort when it comes to solving crimes. I know of a person who was so badly tortured as a boy when he was about my age, that even after decades he is almost fully blind and permanently handicapped. The police mercilessly beat him and tortured him in the locker after he was falsely accused of stealing a gold chain that belonged to my aunty!! It was later found lying somewhere. My grandfather later regretted having communicated his suspicions to the police. But, no one dared raise their voice against them. The onus of compensating them and lifelong guilt fell on him. Where are the social values of those who are supposed to “Protect and serve”!?

India has a great and ancient culture. But, like everything else it has its flaws. Some of them unconscionably serious. They won’t go away if we keep harping on our relative social superiority vis-a-vis The West! If I were asked to choose between being born as a low-caste person in India and as a poor person in say… Denmark, I am sorry to say, I would have to choose the latter. This might have something to do with my shaky belief in our “strong social values

More about the case

Vahanvati said western parameters seldom applied to Indian conditions and culture. “We do not lead our terminally ill parents or kids to death. Who decides if one should live or die? Who knows tomorrow there might be a cure to a medical state perceived as incurable today. And won’t leading the terminally ill impede pro-life medical research?”

The above words, dripping with moral condescension sound more like rhetoric than the cold, hard considered opinion of a man of the Law. “We do not lead….”!!??  We daily DON’T save thousands of lives than can be saved with simple steps like clean water and cheap drugs. “We….” ha!! What right does he have to sound so supercilious!? “Who decides ….?”. Yes, while you are wondering about such profundities we are unknowingly deciding to prolong someone’s unnecessary suffering.

If pro-life research is going to receive a shot-in-the-arm by prolonging this for a few more years, that would be great. But, a way to restore dead brain tissue hasn’t yet been even conceptualized. It will certainly be not ready in time to help this person. And from what I could gather from the article, there is currently no research that is being helped by this suffering. If I am wrong correct me.

A contradiction….

After stating that western ideas and the recommendation of our own Law Commission would not work given our Strong Social Values and the importance of emotion(have no idea what that means, will come to that later), the AG goes on to say,

Mercy killing would result in a dangerous situation as it would be easy to eliminate others if such a thing was allowed in the country, …

Hey, I thought someone just said something about Strong Social Values(TM). That should prevent something like that from happening, right? Well, no! There will always be people who are bent on misusing the law and there simply is no way that the state, atleast for now can prevent that from happening. THAT, is in fact a good argument as opposed to SSV(TM).

Then there is an observation by Justice Markandey Katju

“We are also concerned that once this is allowed, there will be too many such requests from relatives. There is a possibility that relatives in collusion with some doctors may bump off the patient claiming he/she is in a PVS though he/she may not be really so.”

I found it difficult to find any evidence for SSV(TM) in the above remark as well.

Matthew 7:4-5, “Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

I don’t believe in God or the Bible. But, I think this verse sums up what I am feeling right now pretty well. I have frequently come across people who try to put down other people’s culture and social systems. They say that they are sexually promiscuous, immoral, unhygienic, lack love for their family, are selfish and other such things. But, we never pause to think of our own faults. Every society has a system that works for itself. It wouldn’t be nice if we were to consider one to be stronger or better than the other.

In the west independence and initiative are valued more than filial attachment and subordination. I won’t pit one against the other because there are merits to both approaches. After a lioness raises its cubs it drives them away when they reach a certain age. That doesn’t mean that the lioness doesn’t love its cubs. Just because westerners don’t allow their kids to stay with them until they finish college or expect their sons and daughters to take care of them in their old age doesn’t mean that their love is weaker or that they have weak values. I think they just have a more realistic grasp of human nature. But, again, that’s just a personal opinion.

Emotional Justice?

I don’t know a whole lot of stuff about justice. But, Amartya Sen in his book The Idea of Justice seemed to make out a strong case for justice rooted in reason. Emotions, at least in my opinion need to be allowed to impact decisions only when it doesn’t clash totally with reason.

Here, the AG says it’s cruel, inhuman and intolerable to withdraw life support to the nearly dead woman. Why? Why should a person be forced to put up with the pain of sores, brittle bones, decaying teeth, a lifeless body and a compromised mind incapable of communication for 37 years? To satisfy the emotional needs of the society? To not “undermine” the 37 yrs of blissful experience that she has already had the luck to endure? The hospital has certainly done a commendable job of taking caring of her. Maybe, they feel that they are responsible, in an indirect manner for what happened. Maybe, they are doing it out of pure love in which case it would be interesting to see why they don’t provide free care to all who need it and not just focus obsessively on this one case. But, should the consideration given to “not undermining” their efforts over the last 37 yrs be given greater priority than the everyday suffering and indignity that the woman is going through?

Should we really consider the case as a test of our SSVs or as a question posed to our collective morality and decide based on considerations like minimizing pain and indignity? I was just wondering how “emotions” and petty rhetoric can help us decide these questions…

Continue reading

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

When I was a kid, I absolutely hated History and Geography, mainly because of the need to memorize facts and trivia. After I completed my 10th boards I immediately cleared my brain of all the “crap”, because, my childish mind could barely grasp the significance of the dates and events and worse still, the texts didn’t even try to explain it.

The same goes for biology and chemistry. Whichever text you pick up, you always notice that it is loaded with information. I had recently put down my thoughts about the importance of information vis-a-vis wisdom or knowledge. The texts go about explaining how reproduction happens or the principle of photosynthesis as if they were merely mechanism to be studied, without explaining the awesome origins of such systems and their necessity to life on earth.

Textbooks always were atleast to me, something to be memorized. Recently, I read Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru and The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen. The meaning and the breadth of perspective conveyed by these books is simply too awesome for words. When you consider that the Discovery of India is a book written by a single person while in jail, and the fact that it tries to convey an idea of India that took 5000 years to evolve, you feel  a sense of profound wonder and admiration. The vision and power of Nehru was rooted in his incredible understanding of India.

The Argumentative Indian

The Argumentative Indian is a masterpiece of an awesome intellect and demonstrates how reason combined with history can help one make informed choices. The book tries to expound India’s traditions in the field of debate and experimentation. The incredible breadth and depth of Indian thought as illustrated will easily amaze and render shallow and petty the ideas of even the most hardcore nationalist bigot.

The book deals with some of the biggest questions that face India, like Secularism, Globalisation, Nuclear Weapon Testing, Hindu Nationalism, the perception of India in the West etc. and tries to provide a balanced view on these matters. Efforts by people to define India and it’s thoughts and traditions in narrow and simple  terms appear silly to the point of almost being funny after reading the book. Some things like the fact that no other classical literature deals with atheism, agnosticism and free thought like Indian literature does with the same depth, beauty and power was a true eye opener. The Lokayata and the Carvaka schools of thought mentioned in the book and Madhavacharya’s Sarvadarshasangraha caught my attention and I did some more reading on Wikipedia on these topics.

The bits about the the rise and fall of Buddhism, an agnostic religion and it’s roots in Hindu literature are very enlightening. The myth about India having developed it’s culture in isolation is thoroughly destroyed by masterfully crafted arguments.T he designs of the Sangh Parivar for radicalizing sections of the Indian population with hideously distorted versions of history and the political motives for that are elucidated in some detail.

The most important thing that the book demonstrates is that things rarely have simple answers. Impulsive and “intuitive” decisions do more damage than good, and things that “sound” right more often than not turn out to be based on fallacies of the highest magnitude.

After reading this book, Discovery of India and a few anecdotes about Indira Gandhi’s prodigious reading skill by Natwar Singh I realized the true significance of the words

Men of power have no time to read, yet the men who do not read are unfit for power”

Michael Foot

Each one of us has power to influence the future of our nation and our people in ways that we might not yet realize. Wielding this power responsibly requires us to honor our duty to be informed about the decisions we make. Sadly, the Indian primary education system has failed most tragically in this highest duty. India’s problems will take longer to solve without this being remedied first.

Another thing, I noticed is that a lot of people are extremely proud of everything Indian and use their prejudiced assumptions to make easy decisions when faced with choices. Do you support the Indo-US nuclear deal? Well, the US is bad, so no! Do you think that the greatest contribution of India to the world is spirituality? How do you explain away the morbid caste system? Should India let her culture be “destroyed” by ideas from outside?

India was great in several ways and like anything else, had her failings. It is important we understand that and learn to be proud of the truly noble things and try to learn from our past mistakes. Efforts by people to impress others with stuff about Vedas being the ultimate source of all knowledge are an insult to the authors’ spirit of inquiry and do gross injustice to the true nature of the works. Indian classical literature is admired for it literary excellence and the unique perspective it offers of Indian classical thought.

Similarly, the modern day obsession with glorifying the past and trying to prevent changes to our society find a mention in the book.

While we cannot live without history, we need not live within it either.”

Amartya Sen

A thought…

When I look back at the years I spent trying to learn Indian history in school and the amount of lasting knowledge I gained compared to the ideas that I gleaned over a week’s time from reading a single book, I feel that maybe, something, can be done differently in our school system. If schools encouraged students to read these books instead of depending on textbooks and then prepared question papers that encouraged them to share their ideas, I think, a lot might change.

India’s Unending Journey by Mark Tully

I go to the Public Library at Ernakulam with a list of books that I want to read. But, I can almost never find the ones that I am looking for. Instead I just pick up something with a nice cover and end up reading it. I don’t know what will happen to my reading habit once the classes are over. I might become more discriminating and eventually just stop reading altogether.

I have recently been reading a lot of books which have tried to elucidate the necessity and advantages of maintaining a scientific outlook on life. So, I decided that maybe I would read a book that has a different message.

Mark Tully was  a BBC correspondent in India who had a great fascination with Indian culture and ideas, which he says might have been due to his close ties with India since he was very young. From the beginning the book emphasises the importance of believing in a higher power and of religion in our lives. He describes various religious festivals in India, the myths and ideas behind them and the messages that they try to spread. He also tries to drive home the point that all religions speak of the same God or whatever that he calls  a “Higher Power” and that the teachings of the various religions are true in their own peculiar way.

He criticizes the arrogance of scientists and has even named a few including Dawkins.  He says that they discount the value of intuition and “other” ways of knowing things and says that there are certain things that science doesn’t understand. He also admits that he has been unable to obtain even a rudimentary grasp of the field and that he feels as if he is on shaky ground when he argues with people with intellectual leanings.

He also describes his childhood days and the role of the school that he studied at(Marlborough) on himself. He feels that the rationalism and the competitive attitude espoused by the school is not entirely correct. He also describes his attempts at priesthood and the reasons for giving it up.

Mark Tully has also tried to spell out his position regarding economics. He warns people against dogmatic belief in any particular economic model and emphasises the importance of trying to find the middle path.

The underlying message of the whole book is that people need to find balance in everything. That everyone should be open minded. We should value our religious traditions and by way of example he sites the examples of the religious festivals in India and the devotion of the pilgrims, which he thinks makes them happy. He also says that the replacement of religion by materialism as God has resulted in moral bankruptcy in western countries. He feels that secularists are responsible for provoking believers into religious fanaticism and that the state should try to give due to credence to the religious beliefs of people.

There where a lot of other things mentioned in the book. But, I don’t think they added to the ideas that a person might absorb from reading the book.

My take on it:

When reading the book one has this strong feeling that the author is trying to take credit for his failings. He also pushes a very strange kind of reasoning where he admits that he knows nothing about the opposition, but tries to keep harping on how happy the Masses at church made him. He also appears to labour hard to balance his belief in Christianity and his  belief in the validity of other religions, most of which seem to push contradicting ideas.

His treatment of tantric wisdom can impress only the most unread and suggestible of people. While he says that people should not fall for dogmatic beliefs as far as economic theory is concerned and should instead look at what works and what does not, he seems to be glibly oblivious as to how that can sit well with religion which is nothing more than dogma and unreasoning belief.

While he blames religious riots on the poor understanding of religions, he never provides any convincing explanation as to why people should not believe their religious texts literally. He also does not give a convincing explanation of how he balances his religious convictions with that of others. The position that he proposes is a highly metastable one and he never seems to realize that religion in itself can never provide an internal check on itself as it is based on belief which by definition is trust in something that cannot be verified.

His admiration of the vulgar and obscene displays of mass idiocy that some of the festivals in India are, is somewhat sickening despite the vague and “intuitive” explanations he provides. He never seems to grasp that ordinary people with their limited resources and time that they can devote to self-delusion and “doublespeak (1984 by George Orwell)” might be easily lured into superstition and admiration of fake and shallow phenomena. He does not understand or admire the real mysteries and suggests that people do what he has done, which is be amazed by their own ignorance.

He also does not think along common lines about how religion has stymied and sometimes just completely overshadowed debate and action on the real issues, and worse, does not even provide any reasons for his observations.

Reading the book will convince anyone about the difficulties of believing blindly and being human at the same time.

Someone also needs to explain the difference between culture and religion. India has a very different culture and this has influenced what some call it’s religions. This has kind of confused Mark Tully.

What is rationality?

Since I was a young kid, I always thought that I was a reasonable person. Later, I realized, most people think that way.

Questions

Sometimes, we meet someone and describe him as rational. Most  people seem to be  irrational to us. I mentioned in the beginning that everyone has a desire to be or atleast appear to be rational. Why then, do people differ so much in their opinion? Why do some people end up appearing stupid while others are respected for their rational and common sense soaked minds?

“Two roads diverged in the woods.  I took the one less traveled, and had to eat bugs until Park rangers rescued me.”
— Jim Rosenberg

Why is it that we humans who call ourselves the most rational beings mindlessly destroy the only place that can sustain us in this overwhelmingly vast emptiness? Why do Homeopathic professors exist? How can Reiki practitioners be raking in guilt-free money? What is the definition of rationality? Why do Republicans win elections? How does the Sena convince people to organise riots? What is the driving force behind violent Jihad?

All these were questions that interested me. Actually everyone has probably wondered about it at some point or the other. But, we just dismiss of these questions by saying that people are crazy. But, we never wonder why people want to be crazy. Or what qualifies a physiologically normal person to be crazy and thus by definition irrational.

After reading a few books and observing a statistically irrelevant number of people I somehow get the feeling that I am rational enough to write about rationality.

Why make such a fuss about rationality?

Humanity is a pretty intriguing phenomenon. We have by far, been responsible for the largest amount of change on this planet. Whether this change is for good or bad is obviously another question altogether. Which among our qualities is most responsible for the kind of dominance that we have achieved over nature? Scientists say it is the opposable thumb. People with more holistic approaches suggest that it could be a combination of our intuition and other neurological faculties combined with a weak physique and fear that is responsible for our current state. Some people like the Pope think that God made Man in his image and obviously He did not want his image look weak. The reason for the last thought being that it somehow seems more “mysterious” and “transcendent”!

Whatever people say about the reasons for humanity’s supposed superiority over the rest of all creation, everyone seems to agree on the point that humans are rational. This is one statement that is rarely challenged. This makes it very important to try and understand what rationality is. “What is the use?”, one might ask. I believe that an  understanding of  the limits and possibilities of this very colourful phenomenon can make all of us better decision makers and more capable of  contributing to our societies.

A closer look!

Humans are a very curious race and most probably, someone might have tried to understand the nature of rationality before. The ancient Indian civilizations, Greeks, etc. are possible candidates. What is certain is that people have definitely learned how to exploit the phenomenon. Religion is a great example of this.

The systematic and objective study of the human psyche received a big boost with the works of Freud whose theories are considered mostly obsolete nowadays. Since then scientists have tried to understand the workings of the mind and whenever the mind is under study, insights into the mystery of rationality are inevitable.

How is it that we go about the process of making a  simple decision, like for example, what to wear or which course to pick? This is a well studied question and Management students actually study different models that can predict the above decisions. Generally. it is supposed that, we first pick one choice based upon some undefinable feeling. Then, we try and rationalize the choice by coming up with reasons for it. We make a weak attempt to challenge the choice. Then, if it passes the test, we go with the choice. This is the favourite method of most of us humans. There isn’t anything extremely rational about the whole process. But, this is the only way our brains can process the decisions fast enough. Otherwise, we would be stuck at a shoe shop for hours, trying to pick “THE BEST” choice.

Now, leaving the mundane stuff behind, let us move onto the “higher” stuff. Like religion, belief in a God, trust in others, friendship etc.. What are the mechanisms that power rationality in these fields? Some say that we don’t depend on rationality for certain things. But, that is just a bag of hot air. If I ask someone why he believes in God or why someone prays to get better, they will come up with perfectly reasonable explanantions for it. No one does anything without a reason! Sometimes  they just don’t know it, or are unable to put it into words.

So, what again is rationality? The most likely answer is that it is the ability to defend our belief systems.

This explanation has been put forward by several people including Freud himself. Now, the above explanation can seem very strange at first. Atleast to me, it did. What  then is the meaning of the creed called Rationalism? How does the above explanation elucidate the idea of a rational person?

Once we answer these questions the questions posed in the beginning become clear. A rational person is one who can explain his viewpoint most convincingly to another person, or to use the more correct way, appeal to the other guy’s rationality. Now, it is clear that the underlying ideas themselves have little to do with rationality.

In other words a person can be very rational and very wrong! Atleast according to another rational person. Obviously if the ideas are completely indefensible then rationality is going to dump them and come up with a “better” set of ideas. Several scientists especially in the field of neuropsychology have studied whether this explanation holds any water. In a book called Phantoms in the brain by a Dr.Ramachandran, the author describes experiments on people who have suffered damage to those areas of the brain that are responsible for coming up with explanations that reinforce our world view. If the areas suffer from decreased function, then. the subjects become very depressed and emotional. It the opposite happens, then they are strangely oblivious to their own predicament.

The author goes on to suggest that maybe Freud was not entirely wrong. The human mind is like a state machine whose output depends on past inputs, present state, present inputs and the logic function implemented. The present state is held in the unconscious mind. Our minds try to filter the information that comes in through our senses using the world view that it has developed over the years(state).

Scientists have actually confirmed that cognitive differences exist between sensory-wise  identical, but content-wise different information. The ones that affirm our beliefs are amplified and used to strengthen our opinions. The ones that do not make sense entirely are rationalised using our awesome powers of reasoning to conform with what we know. The ones that don’t agree at all are simple discarded or “repressed into our unconscious” according to Freud.  This rationality is thus, among what are called psychological defences that our mind employs to prevent instability and indecisiveness. This last point is worth a little explanation.

“Lying to yourself about specific actions is easier than re-defining the bounds of your imagined identity…  When I see once-ethical men devolve into moral grey, they still identify as upstanding.”
— Ben Casnocha

If a person cannot rationalise his actions well enough, or in other words, if his psychological defences aren’t strong enough, then he just keeps changing his opinions. This will prevent any effective decision making and can make him vulnerable to situations that might temporarily not make much sense. The other psychological defences include Lying, Humour, Projection. Reaction formation, Denial etc..

In other words everyone is a little crazy. That is what prevents each one of us from becoming crazy, big-time! How many times have we said to ourselves that we are smart as the devil himself and that we can “do-it”! These self delusional statements and lying are important to boost up our confidence and is responsible for our ability to outdo ourselves. A perfectly reasonably guy would probably never get anywhere. Whereas a half crazy dude who treats everyone like shit and thinks that he is the only smart guy in the world might end up running it. Whether the crazy dude is happier for that is again worth some debate. When any of the defences get amplified it usually leads to inability to handle certain situations.

If rationality is the power to explain ourselves first to ourselves and then to others, what then is so “right” about it? The thing is that the connection between being right and being rational is not as strong as it is made out to be. But a connection exists nevertheless. The best rationalizations are produces by people with higher IQ who generally tend to seek more information and question themselves more critically, thus shaping their belief systems in more society compatible ways. But, this is only a very theoretical thing.

Very rarely does the above connection actually work out. The reason for that being the fact that the information that we have access to most easily is from our parents, friends and society. In this age of universal psychopathy, disaster and return to the intellectually undemanding world of religion by people unable to make sense of it all, this information tends to be coloured with all sorts of stuff that cannot be verified.

Examples

For example, homoeopathy is a recognised medical system in India with Homoeopathic practitioners recognised as doctors. The entire system is based upon the so called principal that diseases can be treated by simulating the symptoms more strongly and thus prodding the body to take action and restore the lost “balance”. This makes “sense”. But, the German who invented the system found out that material doses of drugs which cause the above said symptoms are toxic and cause damage. Therefore the dosages are diluted to concentrations like 10^-20 or lesser. At these conncentrations, chances are that there is not a single molecule of the orginal stuff in a whole bottle of the medicine. Then, this water is taken to cure the disease.

With the discovery that matter is made up  of molecules and that once they are further split up, they loose their properties, the basis of the system is more or less destroyed. But, still something could work without an explanation. But again empirical studies have conclusively proved that Homoeo has no effect beyond the well known placebo phenomenon.

Rationally, then we should reject the system. But, it doesn’t happen. Why? When a thousand people take the medicine, some of them get relief due to some reason or other not related to the medicine. They then tell all their friends and relatives about it and they in turn spread the word.

“Would it be good advice, once copying becomes practical, to make lots of copies when good things happen, and none (or perhaps even killing off your own personal instance) on bad things?  Will this change the subjective probability of good events?”
— Hal Finney

Forget the people. Ever wonder how the  Homoeo doctor manages to push ahead with this meaningless and considering that it is useless, very demanding job? How is it they deal with patients they cannot cure? What happens when a person who is vaccinated against jaundice with a Homoeo vaccine gets Jaundice?

Again, consider a Pentecostal faith healer. How is it that he finds the strength to jump around and scream all the time and convince himself that his psychotic babbling makes sense according to the language used in heaven to praise God who likes his sycophants screamy and crazy?

How is that despite the fact that there is a 20 million dollar unclaimed reward for any demonstration of paranormale phenomenon, people still believe in psychic powers and other bs like yogic flying and telekinesis?

Crazy people are more rational??

All this is not a failure of rationality. Infact, the people most strongly believing in them and the ones who are willing to actually lay down their lives for their beliefs are the ones who are most capable of rationalizing their ideas. If you ask a crazy sounding Pastor why he is right while he is drawing the organisational structure of Hell and explaining Satan’s family tree, he will give you a bunch of reasons that might make sense to someone prepared to do anything to get cured. The more rational the Pastor the better the explanations are going to be.

The failure therefore lies not with rationality. In fact rationality unconditioned by commensurate information from authoritative sources is at the mercy of intuition. Now, this is a pretty dangerous mix. You believe in something because it “feels right” and the try to come up with reasons for your belief. This is what religion is all about in a nutshell! The ideas are passed along from generation to generation and with passing time people grow less inclined to question them and they become truths.

The failure is thus always with not being exposed to facts. Unless a child is exposed to all kinds of information as he grows up, he is going to develop a world view that is probably unbalanced and based on some 2000 yr old text that doesnt make much sense when actually read in an objective manner. Since the beliefs develop before the child is capable of questioning them or ascertaining their validity them become like thought viruses that infect his mind. Once reasoning powers develop the person tries to validate his beliefs. Again, all contradictory matter is banned by someone or the other.

Thus, rationality ends up defending a belief system that places value on unquestioning belief in a badly written book. Depending upon the strength of conditioning and rational powers of the person, various levels of assault can be successfully withstood by the thought virus.

Now, this can help us understand why people act the way they do. It is never because they are stupid or irrational. It is because they just are conditioned that way. Very rarely do people view the opinion of their parents and relatives with scepticism. This gives rise to believing in word of mouth accounts. The tendency to value intuition, an old book and rumour over experiment, modern science and fact is cultivated as a virtue. Some people manage to delude and compartmentalize their personalities thus eventually becoming a doctor or an engnineer who performs animal sacrifices. This doublespeak is explained more colourfully in George Orwell’s classic 1984. Everyone has a time bomb ticking inside them which is unreasoning belief. Some people are by nature more action oriented and decide to act on whatever they know to be true. Their power of rationalisation providing the necessary conviction.

Thus, we have jihadists, Pastors, yogis and etc etc..

The really bad thing is that instead of trying to clean up the mess by letting atleast the kids get a balanced diet as far is information is concerned the world is trying to rush into the smelly lap of religion hoping that it combined with a “rational”  mind will allow the kids to become kind and gentle. What they fail to see is that the unreasoned belief in an adult combined with books written by old pervs is a dangerous mix. The reason they fail to see it is because they just dont want to look at it that way and see whether it makes sense.

How does one use rationality to seek truth?

Therefore, what one needs to do when confronted with someone who seems to hold an irrational idea is to try and see whether you and the other person have the same set of facts. Instead of blindly trying trying to defend yourself just let your defences break down for a moment and see whether the other guys point of view is capable of being rationalised as well as yours. This is the easiest and as yet the  only way in which the human mind can process comparisions.

This method should be among the most important thing is taught to kids when they reach the right age. Then, we can use this awesome gift called rationality for our own and others benefit.

I dont know whether rationality is an overrated phenomenon, but it sure is worth a very long article.

Sabu Paul