I recall reading somewhere that Keynes criticized Russell for saying that the problem with the world is that people are irrational and that the solution is that they should become rational. It seems a fair comment on Russell–but why is it a criticism? Because Russell’s observation is a datum not an explanation: we want to know why people are irrational andhow to improve their rationality. It’s obvious what the problem is and also what the solution would be–but we need to know what causes irrationality and what we can do to fix it. Freud had a kind of theory of this but nowadays it looks pretty wacky. There seems to be a big theoretical gap here, urgently needing to be filled. (Of course, we won’t recognize it if we start doubting that rationality is a robust matter.) I don’t have a theory myself–human irrationality can seem the oddest and least adaptive trait of the species–but I do think we need to work on it. Why do people go around believing silly things and acting idiotically?

Old Dears

The New York Times (as well as AOL) today ran a picture of a lesbian couple getting married in California: Del Martin, 87, Phyllis Lyon, 84. They are holding hands and looking into each other’s eyes, lined and grey and not long for this world; they have been together for 50 years. Doesn’t it make you feel embarrassed that discrimination and prejudice have prevented them by law from getting married all these years? Doesn’t it seem just utterly ridiculous? All this stuff about marriage being between a man and a woman: it’s just complete whooey. I really wonder what all those anti-gay-marriage twits out there think and feel when they see a picture like that. Do they feel their own marriages under threat because these two old ladies are finally able to tie the knot? I think we owe them an apology myself.

Democracy: not so bad, after all

Despite my many misgivings about our prized political system, it did manage to elect Barack Obama to be the Democratic nominee. I’m pleasantly surpised at my fellow man. It’s not just his color, but also his calm, measured style, and obvious moral quality. But his color is, of course, highly significant. I can hardly think of a better thing for this country, and the world, than that he should be elected president. Political and moral progress is possible. Many blacks reported tears in their eyes when the announcement of his nomination was made; mine were damp too. This is a Big One. There’s nothing quite so gratifying as seeing a horrible prejudice smashed to pieces.