Rational people take comfort in their rationality. They explore the world around them with intellectual curiosity; they pose unconventional questions about unquestioned convention; they seek the assurance of a rigid taxonomy assisted by predictable chains of causation.
Yet faith in rationality, in realism, in common sense — is profoundly misguided, methinks. The last few weeks have made me witness to several highly rational people floundering in a sea of emotional distress. Yes, I have been able to offer comfort by appealing to alternative taxonomies or hidden premises or shifting paradigms. Yet it is curious, isn’t it? That vaunted rationality should be left so utterly defenseless against the wild-eyed irrationality of passing emotion?
The ancients had their fun with this dilemma, of course; the entire modus vivendi of both the Stoics and the Epicureans was based on bringing an armistice to the head-heart conflict.
And today, the cool rationalism of the Obama administration yields to the irrational passions of the administration’s activist fringe to push policies whose priority makes precious little sense when considered under the cold, hard light of realpolitik.
Perhaps it’s a statistical blip. Perhaps I’m merely more attuned to it lately. But several close friends have confided in me of their emotional turmoil, and their struggle to find meaning in it and to find a “logical way out.”
And there’s the rub. There may not be a logical way out. Maybe, instead of thinking their way out of the box, they need to feel their way out. Maybe the rigid rationalism that facilitates over-thinking and self-doubt should be shelved in favor of a wild ride of the heart.
In conflicts between the heart and the mind, the heart’s inclinations usually push in favor of short-term gratification, sometimes at the expense of long-term prudence. This impluse can be resisted, but never suppressed. Resistance is futile; the heart’s yearings will be assimilated. So perhaps instead of using reason as a weapon to slay the heart’s longings, reason can instead be used as a tool to channel those longings into something more strategically sound.
All I know is that, as Pascal said, the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. The mind doth not triumph.