Friday, December 01, 2006

Adorno on Pseudo-Rationality

In the introduction to The Stars Down to Earth, Adorno attempts to illustrate how through seemingly rational decisions one could arrive at an irrational outcome. The over-emphasis of say 'self-interest' as the categorical impetus of rationality could result in obscenely irrational situations. Adorno speaks of Realpolitik as a possible societal equivalent of this phenomena, where states acting in an 'overly self-interested' manner might result with tragic consequences:

"While the calculations of self-interest are pushed to extremes, the view of the totality of factors, and in particular, of the effects of such a policy upon the whole seems to be strangely curtailed. Overly shrewd concentration on self interest results in a crippling of the capacity to look beyond the limits of self-interest and this finally works against itself. Irrationality is not necessarily a force operating outside the range of rationality: it may result from the process of rational self preservation 'run amuck.'" (p. 47)

So within the closed system of self-interested rationality all actions are justified by the rules of the isolated system itself, even if it violates standards of rationality in the 'greater' supra-system. It can play out this way for a number of situations, say for example within inner-city gangs violent crime and even murder is justified within the rules of gang-conduct, even if it is clearly against the laws of the society the gangs reside in. In the bubble, the rules are different--and now you can probably think of multiple bubbles where this is the case. Perhaps even the supra-bubble of 'society' is only rational within its own limits. Outside of society, the system is probably different, even if it is uncertain. And besides, how can we determine what is rational if we cannot recognize immediately what is irrational? The problem of the known and the unknown, constantly haunting our certainties. What if something you thought you knew is not true? People used to think the world was flat, even intelligent what gross misunderstanding of the world are we living under today?


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