It’s natural to behave irrationally

“With the enemy’s approach to Moscow, the Moscovites’ view of their situation did not grow more serious but on the contrary became even more frivolous, as always happens with people who see a great danger approaching.

At the approach of danger there are always two voices that speak with equal power in the human soul: one very reasonably tells a man to consider the nature of the danger and the means of escaping it; the other, still more reasonably, says that it is too depressing and painful to think of the danger, since it is not in man’s power to foresee everything and avert the general course of events, and it is therefore better to disregard what is painful till it comes, and to think about what is pleasant.”

Leo Tolstoy – War and Peace

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Climate change is just the latest problem that people acknowledge but ignore

To a psychologist, climate change looks as if it was designed to be ignored.

It is a global problem, with no obvious villains and no one-step solutions, whose worst effects seem as if they’ll befall somebody else at some other time. In short, if someone set out to draw up a problem that people would not care about, one expert on human behavior said, it would look exactly like climate change.

That’s the upshot of a spate of new research that tries to explain stalled U.S. efforts to combat greenhouse-gas emissions by putting the country on the couch.

Polls — including one last month — indicate that a sizable, though shrinking, number of Americans believe climate change is happening. Most of those people think it is a “serious” problem. So, rationally, shouldn’t they be doing more to fight it?

The problem, many psychologists say, is the “rationally.”

Those who are concerned that a real problem is being left unaddressed have called for a change in the way that green groups talk about climate, which has traditionally been heavy on warnings about drought and stranded polar bears. Instead, researchers suggested a new set of back-door appeals, designed essentially to fool people into serving their own — and the planet’s — best interests.

“We are collectively irrational, in the sense that we should really care about the long-term well-being of the planet but when we get up in the morning it’s very hard to motivate ourselves,” said Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, who gave a keynote speech last month at a Washington conference devoted to understanding why people don’t do more to save energy.

Psychologists studying the issue say that the now-familiar warnings about climate change kick at emotional dead spots in all human brains — but especially in American brains. Researchers have only theories to explain why people in the United States have done less than those in such places as Europe and Japan. Some think Americans are culturally leery of programs the government might develop to target climate change, trusting instead that the free market will solve major problems.

One U.S. researcher thought television is to blame: All those TV ads have made Americans more focused on their own wants, she theorized, and less likely to care about the long-term good.

No matter where the public’s complacency springs from, psychologists have seen this kind of thing before, Ariely said: “That’s why we don’t exercise, and we overeat, and we bite our fingernails. . . . It’s not something where we’re going to overcome human nature.”


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– This really goes back to a major point that I am always pushing.  A key point, I believe.  Human being are acting in ways that are not in our own bests interests and we are doing so because our thinking and our perceptions have been molded by our evolutionary heritage (Evolutionary Psychology).   Like all evolved forms here on Earth, we are driven at the deepest levels of our beings by our Biological Imperatives.   And, until we, as a species, become conscious of this and will ourselves to transcend it, we will continue to be driven by our programming – straight into disaster.

3 Responses to “It’s natural to behave irrationally”

  1. M says:

    Hi Dennis,

    I read what you post, and always start by saying to myself, I won’t comment, but I can’t help it; must be one of those biological imperatives you keep harping on. So, here goes. As you know, we recently exchanged e-mails about how things are going. You advised you had been off to a festival. I bet you rode you motorcycle to that. I also bet that you are heating and cooling your apartment with electricity produced by the corporation; I also bet that you are eating food from the supermarket, etc., etc. And, one further bet: I bet that the same holds for all of the psychologists that you are quoting; I can just imagine them wringing there hands over what is wrong with the other guy while driving down the street in their Prius, drinking a Latté from Starbucks. This is really a double standard, now isn’t it?

    Have you ever consider this? The weather we are enjoying is not how the earth always was, nor is it how it will be in the future, climate change not withstanding. If you could somehow look back in time, you would find that the earth itself has had very hot ages, some very cold ice ages, and everything in between. So maybe, it is time for a change. The way I see it, the earth will heat up or possible even go into another ice age. Maybe the first then the second, but who really knows how it will go, but it will go.

    Here is the point, there is an infestation, and like all other infestations, there has to be something to bring it under control. So, the fact that mankind is blind to this issue, in a way, is a very good thing. You see, once he has made the environment inhospitable for himself and all the others like him, the earth will then be able to heal and go on its merry way. Of course this will be without benefit of the superior species. Now there is something to look forward to. In the meantime keep on truckin.



  2. M says:

    Hello Dennis,

    On my to work this morning, I heard something were interesting. It turns out that approximately 105 Washington Congressional politicians, let by Nancy Palosi, went to Copenhagen on the Tax payer’s dime. They took 3 (not 2) US Air Force aircraft, and also there were others that traveled by commercial airlines.

    If you figure out the cost of all of this, you also have to include hotels, meals, booze, etc. you would be staggered. Now, one needs to ask, what did we get for it? My short review indicates this conference was an absolute and utter disaster. Secret Memo’s, US and China making promises that were already on the table, etc. Can we all stand up and say “Boon Doggle” (a term for a scheme that wastes time and money)?

    It seems to me, that If our leaders don’t take this seriously, how can you expect John Q. Public to believe in it?



  3. Dennis says:


    Your comments are getting better and better. Seriously.

    I used to worry about you. But now I’m thinking that if I get over wanting to write this Blog, I’ll know who to hand it off to.

    Yep, it is hard to know how to make the average man believe in the problems we face when the best of our leaders are so very inept at appreciating things themselves.

    Me? I’m going to go and have another beer right now. Joe Bagaent has inspired me.