Tuesday, July 21, 2009

the prevelance of rational behavior

often, behaviors that are deemed to be harmful to a participant, or that are predictably damaging in result are referred to as "irrational". it's so often repeated that if people were rational, then this or that would be possible. but the fact is that people, by and large, do act rationally. it's virtually impossible to find a human action that is irrational.

an irrational behavior would be one that didn't follow from the desires or values of the individual actor. it would be irrational for someone to say, "i prefer to coke to pepsi, therefore i will drink pepsi". that doesn't make sense. on the other hand, it is completely rational for one to say, "i prefer the use of heroin now, rather than avoid the risk of addiction", or to say, "i prefer to smoke cigarettes now because they are pleasurable at the expense of my health later". is it harmful? yes. is it irrational? no.

the most common mistake that most people make is that they assume that there is some objective standard for value. one must realize that all people have differing values and that some may value pleasure now as opposed to health later, of they may value consumption now as opposed to consumption later. some may enjoy pain, others may prefer the satisfaction of living according to certain philosophies, rather than leaving all opportunities open for an easier life. one can only tell what someone's values are by the choices they make.

this is the biggest reason why no single solutions can be effective for an entire population of people. when solutions to perceived problems are one-size-fits-all, then it is assured that said solution will be improper for all but the narrowest section of population that may happen to fit well with such a solution. even the problems themselves may or may not be true problems, but only perceived that way by some. often situations are seen as problematic simply because the actions of those creating such situations don't fit the values of those observing from the outside. but unless the actions are infringing on the person or property of others, then there really is no problem until "solutions" are forced upon the population by those not understanding the subjectivity of value.

another common interpretation of those not understanding the subjective nature of value are those who criticize others for the amounts of money they are willing to pay for certain goods or services. some may pay very large amounts for seemingly trivial goods or services. an observing person may say, "that's crazy! there's no way an old flip-flop is worth $10,000!" well, to the observer, who obviously doesn't value an old flip-flop at $10,000 or more, it would be crazy. it would, in fact, be irrational. but it is self-evident that the old flip-flop is worth $10,000 to the person who paid it. if it wasn't, the price would not have been paid. the question is, who's right? is the person who would pay $3 for a gallon of milk right,or the person who would only pay $2.99?

the fact is, neither are right or wrong. because every person values goods and services at different amounts based on various reasons, such as sentimental value, value as compared to resources, availability of substitutes, perceived intangible satisfaction, etc., there can never be determined an objective value for anything that should apply to all people. this is one of the main reasons why the state can never be a solution for any problem, because they cannot apply solutions to each person individually and even if they could, it would be pointless, since individuals already do that through their rational behaviors. as stated above, one-size-fits-all government solutions neither fit all, nor are solutions to anything.

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