So, we live just outside of Waterville, a town in possession of a mid-size Marden’s — a store famous both for purveying racks and racks of extraordinarily cheap, smoke-scented (and sometimes water-stained) salvage goods and for being our governor’s former employer. I am an enthusiastic customer. Recently, Marden’s was selling acres of paperbacks for $1.00 a book, bringing me back to my days of living near the Strand bookstore in New York and going book-shopping on the weekends with several strong shoulder bags in tow.
In addition to a dollar copy of the Pelopennesian War and a collection of Kafka, I grabbed some more contemporary denizens of the dollar bin including AJ Jacobs’ My Life as An Experiment. Among Jacobs’ experiments is a brief effort to live his life entirely rationally, in response to the last decade’s wave of pop cognitive science that points out all of the ways that we behave irrationally. It was cute.
However, Jacobs’ experiment reminded me that in our political discourse we continue to attempt to think primarily in terms of “the rational” despite the fact that it’s pretty clear that strict rationality is not what drives a lot of political action. Unless I get distracted, which is not unlikely, I’m going to try to review the current state of scholarship about the role of emotion in political decision-making periodically over the next few weeks on this site.
We’ll start with George Lakoff, who’s made it his mission to encourage us to give up on the dream of rational politics.