The dark side of rationality

Isaac Mostovicz writes that rationality and logic only offer one aspect of a solution; human values also need to be understood....

Last month I attended the 10th European Corporate Governance Conference that focused on making corporate governance more effective. In addressing the many burning problems that the corporate world suffers from, many speakers offered a utopian, logical and rational solution. Unfortunately, nobody from the world outside the few people who attended the conference will ever pay attention to this. This happens again and again. Scholars point to flaws and have a wishful thinking that if we were to learn the lessons they teach and impose the rules they advocate, the world would be a better place.

Well, people won’t change and even when they listen they will not internalize the lesson and consequently, the world won’t change. For 2500 years we have been told that if we act rationally and logically we will understand the world. Yet even after Freud told us that we have to deal with our sub-consciousness and that nobody is immune from social bias, scholars still believe that it is possible to change this world if only we were acting rationally and logically.

At that conference, and on other occasions, I argued that my colleagues fail to recognize that we do not deal with computers or psychopaths or some economists and lawyers who seem not to have emotions and values. We all love and hate, motivated by our hidden agendas that sometimes we are not even consciously aware of. That is the essence of human material and if somebody doesn’t feel comfortable with everything he only has to look for some extra-terrestrial creatures to do the job.

On the other hand, I also claimed that we need to understand humans. If they are motivated by their deeply held values then our role should be helping people act upon those values and according to their worldviews. We do not follow our inner voice and when we listen to it we bias its recommendation. In fact, our ability to argue logically and rationally allows us sometimes even to act in ways that oppose our values and our worldviews while justifying our actions as being in line those values.

Rationality and logic are helpful when solving a problem that has only one correct answer; when we have to distinguish between good and evil. However, most of the issues we face are a matter of choice which can be as simple as choosing a dish from a menu to choosing a spouse. Choosing between two good options is what makes us human and the mechanism of it is totally different from that of logic and rationalism. It is underdeveloped and obscure and causes us to make wrong choices. Adding logic to it just turns our wrong decision into an unsolvable mess. It is time for change, not in the world but in ourselves. Let’s start to listen to our inner voice, act according to our deeply held values and behave in line with our worldviews. If we start moving in this direction we will not suffer from so many problems in corporations, politics or elsewhere.

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