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The Reason Delusion

I am sure that somehow the concept Mike Rowe describes in the TED talk below applies to our righteous minds as well; and to politics. In this post I try to “reason” out what I mean by this.  I ask the reader to just go with me here. Read the words I’ve written AND watch the video.  Maybe the two together will bring you to the epiphany I experienced.

Rowe is the star of the Discovery Channel TV show Dirty Jobs.  As he describes in the video, his job is to be an apprentice for a day in the dirtiest, nastiest, grossest, or most dangerous every-day jobs he can find.  In doing so he honors and thanks the folks who do the jobs for real, and gives most of the rest of us a greater appreciation for how easy our lives actually are.

And that’s where the insight starts to come in. I think the subject of Mike Rowe’s talk is much bigger, and worse, than a mere rationalist delusion.  It’s more like a reality delusion: The thing we humans like to imagine life and ourselves to be is not what it or we actually are.  The comforts of modern society that we take for granted have, I think, created sort of a buffer, or a gap, between a true, honest, and deep appreciation of the realities of life and what we generally believe them to be.  I suspect that the disconnect between reality and our perception of it may be a great contributor to much of the dissatisfaction, and even anger, we see in the world today.  Examples of the type of anger I’m referring to is offered in this article, and by today’s campus protesters more generally. Since we’re disconnected from what life really is, we’re similarly disconnected from what it can actually be.  We become angry and frustrated, and we lash out, when reality does not meet our (misguided) expectations.    

People who are more connected with reality by virtue of their “dirty” jobs seem to be more realistic about what’s possible, and consequently more content with life as it actually is.  For example, the road kill picker uppers Rowe describes, who literally whistle while they work, are much closer to the reality of earthly existence than most of the rest of us.  They have a much deeper grasp of how well off they really are, and are happier for it.   As Rowe says in the video: “People with dirty jobs are happier than you think. As a group, they’re the happiest people I know.”  

Was the relationship between that sort of connectedness and happiness covered in The Happiness Hypothesis?   I’m not sure it was.   And if it wasn’t, the fact that it wasn’t helps to make my point: Intellectual ‘experts,’ rather than reality itself, are increasingly defining reality for us.  And no matter how expert the experts are, they can never get reality as completely right as actual reality. And so not surprisingly, we’re becoming more and more disenchanted and angry.     

It’s interesting that I happened to see the Mike Rowe TED talk on the same day I had a similar Aha! moment about the Trump phenomenon.  

Stay with me here.  Don’t get distracted by my use of the loaded word “Trump.”    

As I perused the various articles on Real Clear Politics last Sunday morning, 1/31/16, just before the Iowa Caucuses, the Aha! moment I had was that every single “analysis” of Trump – from the left, the right, and everywhere else – is elitist.  That is, every article is written by an intellectual, and every intellectual looks almost exclusively at intellect, as in “How can people THINK this way?”   And anyone who looks only at intellect misses probably the greater portion of the whole picture of the human animal; emphasis on animal

We operate mostly on instinct and intuition, possibly to the same degree as does every other animal.   And even if we do operate more on conscious reason, proportionally speaking, than every other animal, we do so much MUCH less than we like to think we do. 

Here’s a quote from The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion that I want you read carefully. I want you to absorb deeply its true meaning: 

The central metaphor of these four chapters is that the mind is divided, like a rider on an elephant, and the rider’s job is to serve the elephant. The rider is our conscious reasoning; the stream of words and images of which we are fully aware. The elephant is the other 99 percent of mental processes-the ones that occur outside of awareness but that actually govern most of our behavior. 

Do you see that?  Ninety-nine percent of why we think, say, and do, the things we do comes from our subconscious; from beyond our control, and even from beyond our awareness.  

And yet, it seems to me that many of us honestly believe that we’re driven mostly by reason.  It’s not just a moral matrix that we live in, it’s a reality matrix, created by the mere existence of conscious reason.  The reality matrix is the consensual illusion that reality is what we consciously reason it to be.     

Work matters, especially dirty work, because it connects us to the reality that things don’t just happen; somebody has to do them, and the doing can be hard, dirty, boring, and dangerous.  As Rowe points out, it’s not just Steve Jobs who we have to thank for the iPhone, it’s the thousands of people doing the grunt work of mining, refining, creating, sitting on assembly lines, driving delivery trucks, and staffing the stores.  

But the comforts of modern society – from iPhones to social media to the supermarket and internet news sourves – are inexorably widening the gap between us and reality.  We’re becoming more and more like the people in the movie Wall-E.


Which means that as time goes by reality is more and more defined for us by so called “experts,” and less and less by direct experience.  Elected officials, teachers, entertainers, opinion writers – take it upon themselves to use their intellects to “analyze” the “real” reasons for things, and grant to us the great gift of their superior wisdom as to why things are not as they should be.  

The problem is, a great number of folks aren’t buying it.   They see through it and they’re not convinced.  Those folks, as a group, tend to the ones doing the dirty work of making real life happen.  They may not be able to articulate exactly why the reality, and therefore the policy prescriptions, that are being foisted upon all of us by the ‘experts’ seems foreign to them – disconnected from what they actually see and experience first-hand each day – but they do know that it seems all wrong.  And because of the disconnect between their actual reality and the reality offered to them (crammed down their throats) by ‘experts’ they feel unheard, disenfranchised, tossed aside, unimportant.  They feel “we’re mad as hell, and we’re not going to take it any more!”       

Ronald Reagan had a reputation for talking over the heads of the punditry – the intellectuals – direct to the people.  It seems like what Trump is doing – whether he knows it or not – is talking over the head of “reason” direct to the frustrated and angry instinctive human animal underneath.  

Charles Hunt gets it, in his article The Rise of Trump and the Downfall of ‘Experts’ when he says:

And that is why so many normal Americans instantly fell in love with Donald Trump. The experts — in both parties — have been in charge for a very, very long time. And they have screwed things up so far beyond recognition that people now feel it is probably time to let a non-expert into the White House to screw things up for awhile.

William F. Buckley expressed a similar sentiment when he famously said:

I’d rather entrust the government of the United States to the first 400 people listed in the Boston telephone directory than to the faculty of Harvard University.

It’s not just rationalism  – the notion that reason is the path to moral or political truth – that’s a delusion, it’s also the perception, the religion-like belief, that reason and intellect, rather than base animalistic instinct, is the major motivator of human action.  The reason delusion separates us from the “dirty work” of real life, and leaves us disillusioned, morally dumbfounded, and angry, when actual reality does not comport with the “reality” we’re fed by intellectual “experts” who know more about what’s good for us than we do ourselves.



3 thoughts on “The Reason Delusion

  1. Why did Americans instantly fall in love with Trump? Just two words = “You’re Fired!”

    Liberals recoil in horror hearing that… “He’s so mean, cruel and heartless!”

    However Americans in general (and Conservatives in specific) sense something completely different, something very caring and ultimately positive when they hear “You’re Fired!

    Trump supports recognise that before Trump fired anyone on “The Apprentice” he first believed that all of the contestants were capable of winning. He gives everyone a chance to perform and then holds them accountable when they fail. Trump doesn’t make (or allow) excuses for failure. He also would never fire someone for failing to accomplish an insurmountable task.

    Contrast Trump with Sanders. Sanders entire platform is based on making excuses for people, excuses I believe that come from a perception of inability that Sanders has in large segments of society.


    Posted by johnmac08 | June 6, 2016, 9:24 am


  1. Pingback: The Consciousness Bias | The Independent Whig - May 10, 2016

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