When Rationality is PC – Simplistication and Infantilism

I made a link to the Dave Rubin / Steven Fry conversation a couple of days ago. I was making the connection between Julian Baggini’s piece of why simple – black and white – moral logic seems to be more popular than anything that appears more complicated or thoughtful, and linking this to some of the simplistic conclusions and “click-bait” headlines being reported around the recent ICM Poll on UK Muslim attitudes (before more thoughtful commentaries indeed appeared).

It’s a long-standing agenda of Psybertron’s that many modern world problems stem from the fact that simple stuff spreads faster than good stuff. Pure memetics – exaggerated in our world of mass communications and social media – popularity driving us towards lowest common-denominators. And it’s true in all fields, from would-be pure scientific forms of rationality through the socio-economic-political “sciences” – even democracy itself – to the more artistic ends of culture.

When I originally made the link I was using primarily a transcript extract posted here, but since then I’ve watched the whole thing – it’s only 11 minutes long. As an active humanist / atheist / secularist – indeed a board member of the UK Rationalist Association – I was intrigued when it was pointed out that early on in the conversation, he announces :

I’m not a rationalist, I’m an empiricist [when it comes to clear thinking].”



He goes on to elaborate what he really means by clear thinking based on experience. After reminding us of the history of the enlightenment and free-thinking movements, and the original enlightenment aims of the founding the US, he points out important ironies at the heart of the project.

Ironies where the narrow (PC) rational view turns empirical common sense on its head.

The highest levels of social justice are found in the democratic states with constitutional monarchies. The best proper functioning secular arrangements are not necessarily found in states with clear separation of church and state. The Orwellian un-personing of famous persons (eg the Rhodes statue, Thomas Jefferson) when new generations learn of their historical immorality by modern standards. Topics of debate and trigger words becoming taboo and speakers no-platformed when they failed to fit simple agendas.

He is railing against the deep infantilism of the new (PC) rationality. Life is complicated.

Towards the end he’s  expressing the a further irony of “victimhood” …

“We’ll start feeling sorry for you when you stop feeling sorry for yourself.”

… he also goes on to attack that other holy cow of the freedom of expression, the right to mock.

“Don’t mock unless you value.”

In fact I’d say, like Psybertron, Fry is defending proper human rationality from a too-narrow, too-abstractly-objective, poor-substitute, PC-version of scientistic rationality.

True scientific rationality is of course ultimately empirical – evidence-based and repeatably testable. The difficulty is what kinds of “experience” count as evidence when you are outside the controlled lab of repeatability. Human life is not a repeatable experiment.


More from Psybertron:

Causation – It’s Complicated

The Court Jester

Our Addiction to Weary Rationale


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