Reasonable Irrationality

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The things I believed most then, the things I believe most now, are the things called fairy tales. They seem to me to be the entirely reasonable things. They are not fantasies: compared with them other things are fantastic. Compared with them religion and rationalism are both abnormal, though religion is abnormally right and rationalism abnormally wrong.
We are all under the same mental calamity; we have all forgotten our names. We have all forgotten what we really are. All that we call common sense and rationality and practicality and positivism only means that for certain dead levels of our life we forget that we have forgotten. All that we call spirit and art and ecstasy only means that for one awful instant we remember that we forget.
–From Orthodoxy, by G.K. Chesterton
It has occurred to me that we’ve collectively lost our reason and decided to replace it with rationality.
I’ll start with a story. It’s true, as far as stories go, which is to say all the truth we can know.
A client with which I work, diagnosed by doctors who diagnose such things as Schizophrenic, hasn’t taken a shower in her home for a very, very long time, because the toilet drains into her faucets.
She presented me with this tale, and I, finding the whole thing a bit perplexing, asked for more explantion. She told me, “The water comes out like sewage, and I can hear the toilet drain into the shower, and no one has fixed it yet. No one believes me.”
I didn’t believe her either. I knew her to be one of the more rational, highly-functioning clients; also, she had impeccable hygeine. So it was with great interest I went to her apartment to prove her wrong. She showed me, however, all the evidence of her understanding, and I witnessed all the effects which led her to her conclusion. All faucets in her apartment poured out dark, almost black water, and her shower the blackest of all. In addition, when she flushed the toilet, I could hear with her the rush of water in the wall just behind her shower simultaneous to the noise of the flush.
She was right. She had used the power of reason to come to a rational conclusion based upon all available evidence, constant observation. She’d taken showers in other apartments and saw how therein the water ran clear and fresh. Something was different in her apartment, and nothing could persuade her rigorous logic.
But she was wrong, you see. I am a believer in modern plumbing and the good-will and competency of most people who install plumbing. Also, I was horrified by the idea, and wanted to make every effort to prove to her that she was wrong, to prove to myself she was wrong. So I ran the water longer, and it came out clear, and then I drank some in front of her and did not become ill. This is an irrational thing to do, to risk one’s health to prove a suspicion (that is, that she just didn’t run her water often enough and foul-smelling sediment had built up within her pipes). And she was convinced.
What strikes me most about her logic is its pristine quality. There was nothing wrong with the conclusions of her observations nor her method; rather, she was missing something else, an irrational hope that mayhaps she was wrong and a reasonable suspicion that I could prove her otherwise. In addition, I’d some previous knowledge regarding the matter—I’d seen what occurs in stagnant, unused pipes, my own observation applied with wild (dare I say reckless) reason towards a problem for which rationality had failed.
I realise I’m using Reason and Rationality in a different mode than most are familiar with, and that so most they are synonyms. This, I think, is a dangerous spell woven by the Rationalists, to claim for materialism one of the most useful tools of the mind. That is, not only are Rationalists asserting that the system of knowledge derived from observation based upon fundamental(ist) principles (exclusively) correct, but also that it is the natural conclusion of anyone who fully uses their reason.
The obvious conclusion, then, if one embraces the Rational way of thinking, is that everyone who believes in Fairies, or Gods, or Spirit, is not just being Irrational, they are being unreasonable.
Besides pointing out that there exists therein a vastly arrogant and elitist conception of the world, the rational person is thus also being unreasonable, discounting the experiences of a myriad of existences in a myriad of places and times. Rationality proposes progress, that we as humans are slowly (too slow for their liking) becoming more rational, less likely to believe in tree-spirits and more likely to believe in the authority of a great system which disenchants the world. The more honest among them admit that this is very much merely their hope, their assertion, a dream of a collective (secular, maybe humanistic, most likely capitalist) society where we no longer take anything on faith but instead rely only on observation, testing, and the knowledge of the wise.
I have embraced a highly irrational faith, and am happy to have done so and find it to be the most reasonable thing possible for myself (thus far). I believe in gods, suspect an Other world, and deeply assert that the earth ought not to be shat upon (or, that is, not shat upon with things other than shit). I suspect magic, yet doubt everything.
And to be fair, I like Rationalism. I find it quite useful for some things, particularly understanding the world of technology and consumerism and capitalism. It isn’t merely just to “know one’s enemy,” but also to enjoy an incredibly pristine logic which allows for no chance of chaos, no external forces. It’s really nice sometimes to think that a human can be completely right and be able to explain everything.
But it’s also useless for everything else, particularly when one actually wants to know something. Its Truth is concrete and dead, dry and staid and very limited in what it can actually tell you. It can tell you how, but never why or why not (though it’s begun to try, and it’s attempts are embarrassing and mostly have to do with sex*). It can tell you what something is made of, but never what it means. With rationalism comes the discreet set of use-values and predictions which work when things always repeat, but sometimes they don’t, and it is this lack of repetition which is actually the stuff of life, where reason matters more and a system of rationality is quite useless.
For the rest of life, there is poetry. There is the truth and reason behind the brilliant lies of art, startling and dazzling in the reflections they show of an Other truth. In song find we what was lost when the world became written words, in story find we what we forgot when the ciphers woke.
*Evolutionary psychology is frightfully sex-obsessed, and I often wonder how much its prophets have actually chanced to experience, and I hope they one day have the pleasure of a bit more of it

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