(Ir)rationality is in the Eye of the Beholder
Random thought when drinking
What does it mean for a behavior or choice to be irrational?
A simple example: a person is given the choice between receiving one or two dollars and chooses to receive one dollar. Was her choice irrational? Common sense dictates that it was. Now a more difficult one: An overweight person has decided that he wants to lose weight and you see him eating a chocolate croissant. Is this behavior on that person’s part irrational?
This second example is much more nuanced than the first one. For starters, it’s not clinical. In the first example you know all there is to know about that person’s situation, that she has two possibilities with one being objectively better than the other and yet not choosing it. In the second example, you only know that that person wants to lose weight but the context behind his eating the croissant is lost on you. I imagine most people would say that that person’s behavior is irrational since it goes against his stated goal. You just don’t eat chocolate croissants if you want to lose weight. So let’s put a tentative answer: Eating a chocolate croissant if you want to lose weight is irrational.
Now lets introduce introduce some context. Let’s call that person Doug. Doug has been on a new diet for three weeks. The nitty gritty details about his diet are irrelevant, what matters is that the diet represents a big change in his eating behaviors and every day Doug must be mindful that he cannot slip back into his previous habits. His goal truly is to lose weight. Yet, on Sundays, he eats chocolate croissants for breakfast. You see, Doug allows himself to cheat on Sundays. It’s all part of his plan to lose weight. The idea behind his decision is that by allowing himself to eat chocolate croissants on Sundays he won’t be craving them throughout the week, or at least he’ll know that come Sunday his cravings will be fulfilled. And you know what? It’s working. He really is sticking to his diet, not only on Sundays but throughout the week. It might be that the croissants are just an excuse to pig out on unhealthy food, but they don’t seem to be hindering his weight loss journey.
Now, let’s ask the question again: Is Doug’s eating of that croissant irrational on his part?
A Theory of Hypocrisy
Joe, Bea, and Greg need to decorate the tent for the big party later that night. Joe is doing his share of the work, but when he looks over his shoulder he sees Bea and Greg drinking a beer and having a good time. Joe is pissed.
“Hey you two, do you expect me to all of this by myself?”
“Relax”, Bea says, “we’ve got time.”
“People are due to arrive in 2 hours and we still have all of this to hang from the ceiling. If you guys don’t start helping me do this I’ll quit and the party will suck.”
“Fine Joe, jeez, you can be such a hardass sometimes.”
Bea and Greg start doing their fair share of the work. Soon however, Greg notices something.
“Hey Bea, have you seen Joe?”
“I think he’s out back.”
Greg finds Joe sitting in a chair playing with his phone.
“Can’t believe this. You lecture us about doing our work and yet here you are like it’s nothing. Hypocrite.”
The party was a success
The Periods of History Niall Ferguson Thinks You Should Learn About
Niall Ferguson, in his recent lecture The Decline and Fall of History, when talking about the intellectual paucity of current history major’s course offerings, lists the periods of history he submits should not be omitted in one’s education. I figured it would be helpful to have a list of books covering those topics for me to go through so I am sharing the list I’ve come up with..
Note that I have not read any of these, I am choosing based solely on whether they look authoritative, have been recommended by someone who’s judgment I trust, or appear in the r/AskHistorians book list.