Rational: To be or not to be?

Written By: Leon Felkins on 1/12/97

Revised 8/5/2011

Copyright 1997

The question to be examined here is whether we should "wear rose-colored glasses" or not. That is, given the choice of whether to structure our lives so that we realistically apprize our options at all times or to try to filter out the harsh realism of life and to focus on the good points. This is not a trivial question. We are daily subjected to the continuing arguments between the liberals and the conservatives, the Larry Kings and the Rush Limbaughs, about what is best for humanity.

The arguments between the two groups are never resolved. It is as if they were on different planes of reality. Their views seem to be "orthogonal" to use a mathematical term. It is impossible for any argument to be resolved because of this disconnect. The conservative says, "But we are broke. We have no money for these massive welfare programs". The liberal responds with, "Why are you so hard? Why are you so cruel to these poor people?". Nothing can be resolved when their discussions remain on different planes.

But who is right and who is wrong? Or, if we are hesitant to assign "rightness" or "wrongness" to these approaches to life, then let us at least consider which way maximizes the enjoyment of life? In this essay, I will try to examine these two approaches without bias. I will try to be objective about these two highly emotional issues that divide society so much. I believe this to be a fairly novel approach. Just kidding.

The Two views Objectively defined

The Realistic View

In this section, I will try to describe the realistic, rational approach toward life (for our purposes here, I am equating the two terms). It is recognized that no person is always rational -- that there are degrees of rationality. "Full rationality" will be defined as a reference point, while acknowledging that most humans will be somewhat less severe than this.

A rational person would make a strong effort to determine all the significant facts necessary to make a particular decision before that decision is made.
A rational person would look at the facts behind every issue before making a decision no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable it might make him or her feel.
A rational person would clearly establish the criteria from which she will make decisions. The rational person would not knowingly have hidden agendas.
A rational person would accept the environment that she finds herself in and not try to mentally make it into something else, more desirable or less desirable.
A rational person accepts the reality of her ownself:she accepts her shortcomings as well as her talents.

The Blissful View

Many, if not most, people in the world are not comfortable with looking at life in such a hard realistic fashion. We, after all, are humans -- not animals. We have imagination. We can make the world appear better than it really is by our on way of looking at things.

A blissful person will try to mentally filter out the unpleasantness of life where possible.
A blissful person will take every opportunity to interpret events in a positive light if at all possible.
A blissful person believes that humans are inherently good, that life is good.
A blissful person attempts to avoid unpleasant things, discussions, etc. even if they are factual.

Characteristics and Differences of the two approaches to life

First off, we need to decide what do we really want out of life. Would you trade having greater happiness for having greater knowledge? Some people would and some would not. It seems that happiness, or just feeling good, is not necessarily the criteria for evaluating life's qualities for many people. Why do we like to watch scary or sad movies? Maybe we like to experience emotions that feel "bad" as well as those that feel "good". In any case, other than to point out this puzzlement regarding what is desired in life, I will leave the detailed discussion for another time.

Defence of the Realistic View

The principle defence of the Realistic approach is that it allows you to plan and to live a more purposeful life. It allows you to intelligently evaluate optional approaches.

On the negative side, it tends to destroy cooperation. Social studies confirm that a purely rational person will defect, or not cooperate, in many social situations. A rational person would not vote, for instance [Ref. A].

Certainly more realism is needed in dealing with politics. History has proven time and time again that the blissful disregard of the growth of political forces can be very hazardous to your health.

A disadvantage is that the truth may be most painful in some situations. More about this in the next section.

Defence of the Blissful View

Much of the reality of life is painful to accept. It may be that knowing the true characteristics of humans is just too depressing. Consider the situation with differences in races -- if there are real differences between the races are we not better off not knowing about them?

The mind is powerful. Why not take advantage of it. What our mind actually delivers is quite filtered. These mental "rose-colored" filters can make life go a lot easier.

For example, falling in love can certainly be a lot of fun! Do we really want to know that the concept of "falling in love" may be nonsense? The truth is, most of the great works of art -- especially the great love stories in books, movies and music -- that have given us so much pleasure, depend on assumptions about the natural sexual behavior of humans that do not hold up under close scrutiny. Maybe it is best to avoid any truthful analysis of that subject!

"Pay me now or pay me later." Many people live the blissful life in their youth to only have to pay some really costly dues later on. That is, the pleasure of blissful ignorance often is paid for, at a dear price, later on in life. That would say then that we really should look at the lifelong ramifications of wearing those rose-colored glasses.

It is obvious that erroneous beliefs sometimes provide pleasure and happiness. For example, suppose that I believe that my father and mother are the epitomes of virtue. This gives me great pleasure and makes my life fuller. Suppose then that, later in life and after they are gone, they are both exposed as being cheats, secretly addicted to drugs, and their wealth was obtained by fraud. Would that improve my life in any way? Would I not be better off not ever knowing about that?

Social Acceptance

If our friends and associates tend to have this particular view, we will be a lot more comfortable if we go along with. The truth is that this is the overriding factor for most people. The desire to be accepted by our group determines which church we chose, our dress and our philosophy.


So which life style should we chose? It would be best to leave this decision up to each individual. Certainly, much more study would be needed before I would make a recommendation. However, I will try to summarize here some of the more important ramifications of choosing one lifestyle over the other. If I have done my job here I will have created more questions than answers for it is apparent that most people have never considered the possibility of choosing between these two options. Instead they just blindly follow one approach or the other!

But first, let me point out, there is a problem with my attempts at helping you make a decision between "rationality" and "blissfulness". You will need to be rational to be able to make such a decision! What a dilemma that is!

Do we really know enough about life to make our decisions on purely rational, deterministic factors? I think not. Any aspect of philosophy, when examined closely, has a few holes. Facts about our surroundings are only roughly perceived.

How we are perceived by others has a big impact on the quality of our lives. To be realistic is to be perceived as a hard person. You will be constantly reminded to "Wake up and smell the roses". This can be annoying and diminishes the benefits of living the rational life.

On the other hand, to be blissfully ignorant about many of the hard realities of life and to make choices based on "filtered" or erroneous information, can be dangerous.


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