Can Governments be Rational when Humans are not?

A TV program by NOVA called, “Mind Over Money”, is advertised as asking the question, “Can markets be rational when humans are not?”  That’s an excellent question.  But I think an even more important question is, “Can governments be rational when humans are not?”  It’s possible the fate of humanity hangs on the answer to the latter question.

The odd thing is that for thousands of years some people have argued humans should be governed by small elite groups because the majority of humans are irrational.  However, there is little or no historical evidence to suggest that when humans have been governed by small elite groups those groups were any less irrational than the masses of humanity they governed.  Every elite in history has believed that it was intellectually superior to those it governed.  And every elite in history has then gone on to demonstrate that it is just as irrational as the masses — that all its talk of being more rational than the masses was self-delusion, egotism, and hot air.  There is no escaping human nature.  Not even being an elite exempts you from it.

Our species is almost never perfectly rational.  Nevertheless, we have proven ourselves capable of building comparatively rational systems — most notably the sciences.   And we have built those systems despite the fact that those of us who have built them are not entirely rational. So, is it also possible that we will some day learn how to build a rational government?


8 thoughts on “Can Governments be Rational when Humans are not?

  1. A government can be irrational or irrational while at the same time controlled by an “elite” group that alleges a superior rationality to the subjects that they rule.

    I feel certain that my rationality is generally extremely very good. When it is irrational to everyone else, I feel it remains rational and that the “masses” are irrational.

    I believe it utterly irrational to have developed an oil dependent Earth economy. Apparently the “masses” disagree. The “masses” are slowly being educated at how irrational they have been and the GOVERNMENT is starting to recognize a need to become more “rational about oil.

    A Democratically controlled group of elites like is allegedly in control of America NOW? NO! The people once made a semi-rational argument for establishing the Children Online Pornography Act (COPA). They voted to make pornography illegal to solicit to minors. When the group writing the Statutes constructed the law; They passed it using irrational language they knew was not Constitutional and yet would get the masses to feel relieved at having at least tried. Pornography online makes more money than any other business online. It is the reason the Internet today exists the way that it does.
    The pornography industry is larger than the revenues of the top technology companies combined: Microsoft, Google, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo!, Apple, Netflix and EarthLink.
    There was absolutely no way that a Statute would ever be written that would impact the economy so much. This apparently rational government law was irrational on its face and was written carefully to be voided my an injunction. That was the only rational possibility. Nobody would so negatively affect the fundamental constitutional right to create and view pornography!
    Governments can be rational one morning and act irrational by the afternoon of the very same day. So can/do I. A rational government can act irrational nearly half the time and still be usually called rational. So can I
    Rational is a term that is nearly as irrational as pornography because neither term describes an absolute defined state or description and contains terms that have no exact meaning.

  2. @ Briana and Curtis: I was using “rational” here in a little different sense from the dictionary definition. As used here, a “rational” person is a person who’s behavior is agreeable to both reason and evidence, not just reason.

  3. Point taken, Mr Sunstone.

    All rational people are therefore non-theists and no government has ever been exclusively nontheist or even predominantly nontheist. All governments have been predisposed to believe in a God/Allah character(s) without physical evidence for the last millennium. A nontheist government would be rational by the definition you are using. It will probably never exist. The question reduces to this: Is rationality a fundamental human trait or has evolution not yet produced a rational human? Will a rational human produce offspring who are also rational or will a reliance on evidence be a trait that results in a predisposed failure to propagate? As humanity becomes more intellectual will they become more rational? Does the God/Allah character exist to explain evidence that is beyond human understanding and will humanity ever evolve into a purely rational species when nontheist so commonly fail to propagate or even Govern.

  4. Governments are defined by: (1) their ability to obtain money (taxes) by implanting political identities on a group of persons, and (2) their ability to use of coercive power when necessary through a combination of perceived legitimacy and physical reality. Have we simply evolved a strong tendency to bind our consciousness to these group identities?

    They obviously serve a huge adaptive benefit for those cultural groups/societies that have strong systems for imprinting identity. Those civilizations with efficient systems for getting individuals to emphasize group identity over their self-identity are the ones that reach higher levels of specialization, and organization of larger groups of people to carry out huge projects (like irrigation and flood control for agriculture, or killing the less organized neighbors and taking control of their means of production). Moral impulses could simply be a function of this highly useful herd instinct. Those at the very top of these social structures are often the least affected by these impulses, however, and use the moral impulses in others as a means to manipulate them into self-sacrifice for the leaders’ selfish advantage. That’s as true of “market” leaders as it is of “government” leaders.

  5. The reasoning elite?

    This paltry fear of humanity, come now, let us reason together.

    Mortal humanity.

    Mortal humanity vs. the godlike immortal corporation.

    We cannot allow our surging humanity to be subverted by the sour-faced Manicheans, the bitter Beckett crying out, “Astride of a grave and a difficult birth. Down in the hole, lingeringly, the gravedigger puts on the forceps.”

    While we are alive, let us live.

    And the corporate elite can bloody go to hell.

  6. I am not confident of achieving such a government. Yes, we can recognize and apply the principles of science, but government organized and run like this? Unlikely.

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