Why So Irrational ?

Freud (Pic Courtesy: Tabletmag.com )
Freud (Pic Courtesy: Tabletmag.com )

  Irrationality is a negative trait. Most people will agree to this statement. Various thinkers have   urged human beings to become more rational in their approach.The myriad of problems the world faces or has faced in the past can often found to be results of irrational thinking. Not being able to be rational enough often causes conflicts among people, groups or even nations. The irrational belief of superiority over other groups has led to many instances of  ethnic cleansing and genocides in human history. All of us in some degree or other frequently or otherwise exhibit certain irrational behaviors. Most among them are our religious beliefs or if we need a less contentious example it could be superstitions.

Freud explained religion as a response to the frightening helplessness human kind experienced when confronted with forces of nature. The creation of religion along with its elaborate rituals provided the much needed solace to the human psyche. In time such belief systems got ingrained in the human unconsciousness.And now religion comes naturally to us. He argued that in proportion to the increasing human control over natural forces the grip of religion over human psyche will loosen up. The case of superstitions was better explained by behaviorists as outcomes of wrong reinforcements. Now, even if we find it hard to conclude the common thread which binds all the diverse religions is actually irrationality we can at least be honest and rational enough to recognize the illogical nature of many beliefs, rituals, stories etc which form such an important part of our religions. Why do we cling to such irrational beliefs? Evolutionary psychologists often provide unique answers to some basic questions which concern the human existence. For ex fear is also a negative trait yet at the same time it is also adaptive. Some amount of fear was necessary for the survival of our ancestors and remains to be so for our success in even in our modern life. Fear otherwise also called insecurity has often been quoted as an important ingredient of success. Even when it’s only required in microscopic amounts it’s complete absence is undesirable and will prove detrimental to our growth and prosperity. Extending this ideology we can form a hypothesis about the adaptive value of irrationality. Probably it survived through the process of human evolution because of its adaptive value. Psychologists have empirically established the benefits of religion. It inculcates positive emotions, values and immovable beliefs in people which in turn give rise to other positive traits such as resilience, confidence, hope etc. Even when it’s all fake it still works!

Irrationality often saves a person from the burden of responsibility.A rational person is more likely to find no one but herself to blame for the unpleasant incidents in her life. Such a load on one’s psyche is definitely not healthy and also works as a continuous irritant in all the future endeavors that a person may undertake. It may sound crude yet apportioning blame onto others or situations or even on such hypothetical constructs such as fate and destiny help a person to move on in life. Cultural psychologists readily explain the greater success of students from oriental cultures in western institutions in terms of their ability to find faults with the situations and not with themselves. The commonly used phrase “Ignorance is bliss” also in a way points to the positive effects of irrationality. It,s a different matter that thinkers like Albert Camus found ignorance to be the cause of all evil. Much evil is also generated by irrationality and great handicaps we suffer due to our fears are all too apparent. Yet they both persist and flourish may be because their positive quotient succeeds in overpowering their negative side.


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