Mainstream Media: The non-rational citizen

By Emile Smith
September 09, 2004
Every day the media saturates us within inferences that we are all 'rational' people, and that the way the world works, and corporations and governments as well, is by simple cause-and-effect determinism. To suggest otherwise, to question the rational pretence of our culture, is to scare the ever-living bejesus out of those faithful to the established ways of the west.

Every day the media bombard us with inference that we are rational individuals and that what makes our system work is rational strategies and plans.

Last night on the CBC news, Peter Mansbridge commented, as news announcers typically do, on the 'reason' (there's that 'rational' inference again) for the drop in the markets. This time it was purported to be the salient news item that the Bank of Canada had raised its interest rates by one quarter of one percent.

Economists who have looked into the complexity of market dynamic have found that the assumption of the 'rational investor' that is foundational in classical economics does not hold up. What they say happens is more complicated, as we know from our personal experience. Individuals are taking in information all of the time, but it would be ludicrous to think that they acted instantly on each new piece of information (that's how a rational system 'works', meanwhile).

Instead, the individual builds his potentials towards taking action on investment, and if he hears several mutually supporting items of information within a relatively short time-frame (e.g. six months), he reaches an emotional threshold and either 'buys' or 'sells' depending on the nature of the consistent information items.

This makes the system very non-linear and non-rational ... more closely related to the nonlinear dynamics of earthquakes and avalanches than newtonian dynamics. In the linear world of newtonian dynamics or 'rational' dynamics, the billiard ball moves at the same time it gets smacked by another ball, ... it does not sit there and 'just take it', absorbing several 'whacks' until it has 'had enough' (reaches an invisible threshold level as in avalanche and earthquake phenomena) at which point it releases the full buildup of energy it has absorbed/stored to that point.

But how difficult is it for an 'economic analyst' or a news journalist, to pick some appropriate news event to relate to a rise of fall in the stock markets, making it seem as if the investors are 'rational investors' and that there are simple 'causal/deterministic' relationships between events, as implied by Peter Mansbridge where the billiard ball of the Bank of Canada's interest hike bonks the 'average investor' and he rolls over and sell more than they buy. Have you ever heard the explanation if the market goes up when interest rates go up? There is a wonderful creativity that goes on when one puts together 'analytical backfill' to explain what has happened in 'rational' terms. It is like cooking, you take a bit of this negative ingredient, and you add a bit of this strong positive ingredient, season with perhaps a third ingredient and you have your 'rational explanation' that you impose like a façade, over a far more complex system.

It's not just economics that this technique can be applied to ... social dynamics in general are a prime candidate.

The wife who kills her husband or cuts off one of his body parts nominally because he slept with another woman or forgot their anniversary doesn't really conform to the rational individual and rational system behaviour where simple cause is involved. As the implication goes in the song “There's a Thin Line Between Love and Hate,” tensions build and fall continuously over place-time and the action we see 'right now' has deep historical roots and cannot be interpreted in a simplistic 'causal/deterministic' sense.

But we all play this game that Peter Mansbridge plays, of repeating these silly causal relationships making it seem as if we -- the dynamics of our social collective -- are “rational”. Sure we can say, as the law does, that we must manage the world assuming simple causal relationships, but the mental model we impose on ourselves are not imposed on nature. That's what makes the response to a certain kind of 'getting honest' 'feminism' very interesting, where the gal shoots the guy, not for HIS immediate abusing of her, but for HER lifetime of having been oppressed by males and having reached her 'emotional threshold'. Is it mere coincidence that the Dixie Chicks wrote the song 'Earl' (where the gal kills her guy for persisting abuse) and openly opposed Bush' War on Iraq? Not likely, in both cases, they are bringing out a deeper 'truth' about how the world work where those who oppress others over the long haul get away with it, and because there is no recourse in law or society, the point is eventually reached where nature takes its course, an tensional threshold is exceeded, triggering a violent release of energy in the direction of the perceived agent/s of oppression.

Do the Dixie Chicks maintain that Al Quada's attack on the WTO towers was justified? Of course not, they are simply sending a message to everyone that it's time to debunk this over-simplified model of the purported rational citizen and the purported causal/deterministic workings of society. As a female reviewer of 'Thelma and Louise' writes;

"THELMA AND LOUISE is one of those films that sparks great emotion from both sides of the gender fence. Women love it because it finally shows a side kept fairly hidden on the screen and men hate it because it scares the ever-living bejesus out of them. How could two such mild-mannered women end up as gun-toting criminals? We know how. Their actions don't surprise me one bit. There are days, when the hormones are raging, that I truly believe I could kill a person with my bare hands just for saying "hello" to me. At least their actions have good motivations. They've been kicked around and unappreciated for so long, that it's only a matter of time before some insensitive redneck pushed the wrong button. Believe me it's not as far-fetched as you might imagine.”

It's not only not far-fetched but it points to the way the world 'really works'; i.e. in a nonlinear, non-rational, non-causal/deterministic way.
If you work for a large corporation in 'operations', you know that where the rubber meets the road, it is competent people that count, not the clever strategists sitting in headquarters that take credit for the deterministic play-out of their strategies when the company is productive and blame whoever is the most convenient scapegoat when the company's productivity falters. It is all 'showbiz'. That is, the employees are not simply 'following orders' associated with the 'roll-out' of the latest strategy, they are responding to the spatial context in which they are immersed, both inside and outside the organization. The entrepreneur doesn't need to write up a business strategy and business plan to sell ice-cold cokes to people crossing the desert, ... he does this to satisfy those (like bankers) who get a comfort factor from seeing things presented in terms of rational models.

In studying exceptional teams, great things happen when the team sheds the bullshit trappings of hierarchical organization and corporate strategies and does their thing in a peer-peer fashion, maintaining outer-inner resonances in an inclusionally nested fashion. the spatial context (the customer, host community dynamic) becomes the organizing orientation once again and the team let's go of the top-down headquarter's strategy and planning machinery which prevented them from getting into a resonant attunement with the local community whose need for products and services they were purportedly attempting to serve via the rational systems approach of the corporate hierarchy.

Business and government are not simple causal/deterministic systems populated by rational participants, it is all a 'cover' for a much more complex dynamic where the 'outside' (the feminine spatial context) is in a natural precedence over the 'inside' (the masculine assertive agenda).
Just as the investor responds to broad and deep spatial context rather than to this morning's news item, the employee of the corporation likewise tunes in to the dynamics of the company and host community he is immersed and included in, over and above literally complying to this week's headquarter's strategy and his boss's morning directives. Only in disputes with management do employees begin to take 'literally' what they are told to do by management since this leads to disaster and reminds management that it is not 'them' that simply, through a causal chain of commands 'determine' the fortunes of the organization, but the behaviours that emerge from the simultaneous mutual influence of one employee with another and with the host community collective in whose dynamic they are also included.

Why do we keep supporting this 'illusion' of the rational citizen and the simple causal-determinism of governmental and business systems of organization?
It is in management's interests to do so (CEO compensation in large corporations has been steadily rising and in the US now stands somewhere around 200 times the average employee compensation). Teams of employees who know they could do better if they could break free of the encumberment of bullshit trappings of rational strategies and plans are not going to be allowed to do this by management. Of course they respect the contribution from the financial resource and skills base of the overall organization, but being where the rubber meets the road, they do not need a headquarters strategist to tell them that there is business opportunity in selling cold drinks to people crossing the desert. The academics, the MBAs and people who make strategy and planning their vocation, on the other hand, are inclined to believe their rational models and that the organizational dynamic proceeds from simple causal/deterministic transactions.

Blowing the cover on the reality of how things really work 'scares the ever-living bejesus' out of those in power because it exposes the fact that it is not the astute deterministic strategies and plans of the rational manager that sustains the efficient functioning of things, but the nonlinear behaviours of collectives of non-rational participants. The rational system illusion serves to hide the fact that the system is exploiting and abusing those who participate in it at a level that keeps them just below their 'avalanche triggering' threshold.

As with Thelma and Louise, the triggering threshold comes by circumstance (it is not a rational thing) and so the powerfully natural energy release that lashes back at an abusive system emerges on an individual basis and puts the individual in an impossible situation (caught between the intensified oppression of incarceration and social exclusion or ultimate liberation through suicide).

Feminism and Terrorism are both informing us that the world is not rational and deterministic as we, culturally, continue to make it out to be, and that it is time to get honest and take down the false façades which hide widespread abuse.

Neither Thelma and Louise nor the terrorist can expect the courts to have mercy on them for courts deal only in rational models which look at 'cause', and whether or not the intensity of the billiard ball hit they received justified their dynamical response (the explosive release of energy from years of smoldering abuse 'triggered' by the hit are not admissible as a defense). Neither Thelma and Louise are 'proud' of what they have done, but both have chosen to go with nature rather than to continue to submit to the unnaturalness that exploits and oppresses them under the guise of 'rationality', more highly respected in the west than the ways of nature.

For the individual that esteems the nonlinearity of nature and his own 'nature', there is value in giving vent to emotions when such release is triggered by natural circumstance. When this is allowed to play out freely, many 'little' avalanches emerge rather than building towards a 'biggie'. This means acting 'authentically' as an individual who is uniquely situated within the continuously emerging dynamic of the enveloping collective. If, however, the accruing of tensions persists, the situation becomes like a heavy winter of snowfall or a persisting hang up on slippage along the San Andreas fault, where the releases when they come are likely to be big ones. By going along with the façade and acting authentically and individually only when the circumstances finally becomes emotionally intolerable, one is easily picked off by the rational establishment and eliminated. By not going along with the façade, one is excluded from participation in the common living space dynamic. It is a 'catch 22' situation and the pressures of conformance to rational directives continue to grow while surveillance and punishment for dissenters continues to rise. The bubble of the phony façade of rational man and deterministic organization needs desperately to be burst.

Solidarity amongst those who are immersed in a persisting sub-triggering-threshold field of abuse/oppression, as in labour union based activism, which would appear to be a more effective way to achieve reforms, is a rational approach using oppression to fight oppression which lacks the appeal of natural authenticity wherein individuals can manifest their non-rationalness safely on a continuing basis.

Films like Thelma and Louise and songs like the Dixie Chick's 'Earl' are contributing towards blowing away the pretense that man is a 'rational' being and that our civilized social dynamics are the result of deterministic management.

Meanwhile, the establishment is quick to retort that 'terrorism' is illegal and immoral and cannot be condoned', whether it is the Thelma and Louise flavour of terrorism or Al Qaeda's.

Of course, the point of Thelma and Louise is not to condone terrorism but to point out that man is not really rational (that is just a façade).
It follows that corporate and government systems, being populated by non-rationals, do not really work deterministically through a rolling-out of centralized strategies and plans as we pretend they do (that is just a façade). The participants are guided by the spatial context they are immersed and included in (top-down marching orders that are the stuff that the deterministic roll-out of strategy is made of, are in the category of something that one must pretend to be paying full attention to or be punished).

As we continue to impose these façades of 'rational man' and 'deterministic management' on ourselves, façades that trap and oppress us, the natural authenticity in people is increasingly rising up towards exceeding emotional thresholds and unleashing violent energies in response.
Meanwhile, those that preach that rationality and determinism are really and truly how things work (and who may believe this themselves) have the 'ever-living bejesus scared out of them' whenever someone tries to lift the curtain of the facade and expose the true non-rationality and non-determinism of our common living space.

Our predecessors, the relatively uneducated immigrants that farmed the land and formed the collaborative pioneering communities (and the aboriginals that preceded them) weren't afraid of accepting the non-rationality of man and the non-determinism of organizational management, but rationality and deterministic strategies and plans hadn't yet been given the hype it is being given in the media today, and collectives more often 'just did their thing' without having to overlay a lot of analytical backfill as to who was responsible for what. People were allowed to 'be their non-rational authentic selves' and 'characters' abounded and were not pushed out in 'down-sizings' in an authenticity-cleansing program that selectively preserved the 'more conformant', ... a more conformant individual who is often simply more willing to endure the slow burn of oppression that secures that conformance (i.e. his threshold is higher and he explodes less frequently but with more explosive force).

The film Thelma and Louise and the Dixie Chicks song 'Earl' are wakeup calls to our persisting pretence that we are 'rational' creatures first and 'feeling' creatures second. We have got it backwards and we are going to have to admit it or pay a heavy price in terms of social earthquakes and avalanches.

While we are not yet at the point where Peter Mansbridge could footnote a news item such as 'the markets have dropped because the Bank of Canada raised interest rates' with a comment that that was pure 'analytical backfill' that glossed over the natural complexity of such systems and the non-rationality (beyond-rationality) of the participants, perhaps it is coming.