Whose rationality

Scott discusses rationalism. If anyone is an expert on rationalism, it would be him, but I disagree with some parts.

It’s easy to find people who are especially bad on all these axes. For example, Alex Jones – the conspiracy theory guy who says school shootings are fake – is “irrational”. I strongly believe this. I believe he’s less rational than pretty much whatever comparison group you choose – scientists, the average joe, me personally. I believe this is an important fact to know about him. That it reflects badly on him. That if you try to approach the study of Alex Jones without considering the fact that he’s irrational, you’ll be missing an important piece of information.

I think his framing of rationalism as being a quest or pursuit of knowledge or truth, is wrong or incomplete. Information is not a one-way street, but rather an exchange between whoever is disseminating the information and whoever receives it or its intended audience. If Alex Jones can make a lot of money spreading nonsense to his followers, which is perfectly legal even if possibly unethical, while not drinking his own Kool-Aid, then he is possibly acting rationally. Rather, it is his followers who are possibly irrational by heeding his advice while deriving no benefit from doing so (and possibly making themselves worse-off, such as someone who sells their stocks for fear of possible hyperinflation and missing out on the huge bull market and being financially worse-off as a result, or staying out the market and buying gold, which has lagged the S&P 500, because someone like like Peter Schiff or Alex Jones said so), but Mr. Jones himself is not necessarily acting irrationally.

I don’t think we can assess Jones’ (or anyone else’s) rationality or lack thereof by behavior or expressed beliefs alone, but rather by motives, which is not necessarily the same thing, nor something that can be easily known. Second, the attainment of knowledge has a cost, that being time (even if information is available for free online), which is why ‘rational ignorance’ exists, because the time commitment of being as informed as possible about a subject, unless there is some sort of incentive, is not worthwhile. So what we may dismiss as irrational ignorance, is actually rational once we understand the underlying motives.

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