The Rationality Of Irrationality

People are f*ucking incomprehensible.

Michael Clayton

Philosophers and such are always rattling on about people being rational beings.  I’m not so sure.  Relatively speaking, I suppose, we’re not too bad.  I’d like to think people are a bit more reasonable than say, a pack of lemmings.  In terms of absolute rationality, though, I think we’re pretty low.

Pictured: One example of a creature that humans could probably best in a logic contest. 

There are a number of things one could point to to support this thesis.  The popularity of Tyler Perry, for instance, or the fact that the music of the Insane Clown Posse has sold about a million albums, are both evidence that humans generally don’t know what they’re doing.  Certainly there are more compelling examples of human stupidity; go browse the Darwin Awards if you need further proof.  There is one human activity, however, that stands above all others in terms of sheer perplexity:

Go to any college campus, and there will undoubtedly be hoards of people huddled outside buildings and on stoops, puffing away on their little white cylinders.  Walk outside a hotel and you’re bound to find a few employees casually destroying their lungs while discussing last night’s episode of Lost.  Though smoking has petered out some since it’s glory days of the 1960’s, there are still a sizable amount of the American regularly engaging in this dangerous activity. 

According to NPR, the amount of teenage smokers in the United States, which had been on the decline for years, has reached a standstill and in some cases has increased in the past year or so.  The American Heart Association reports that there are about 24.8 million male and 21.1 million female smokers in the United States.  That’s about 23 percent of the total male population and 18 percent of the female population in the United States, respectively.  I don’t get it. 

As a freshman in college, I had to write a persuasive essay for my English class.  I ended up writing an essay on why smoking should be illegal in the United States.  I made some decent points, but looking back today I no longer think smoking should be outlawed.  The idea of it seems, in retrospect, vaguely fascist.  Plus, it would put a ton of people out of work. 

I don’t think smoking should be made illegal, but it’s still an enormous puzzle to me as to why cigarettes continue to enjoy such popularity.  In the past 20 years, United States citizens anti-smoking messages have become as ubiquitous as those Stop, Drop, and Roll fire-safety ads in the early 90’s.  Whether it’s commercials, health classes, exhibits at various museums, or testimonials from smokers who have had their voice-box removed, the horrendous health effects of smoking have been well-documented. 

By now, we’re all pretty conversant on the health risks of cancer.  It causes all kinds of cancer, ruins your teeth, essentially destroys your lungs, and so on.  And yet, people continue to smoke.  Why?  Consider the benefits of smoking, if there are any.  Supposedly, they give you a, I don’t know, relaxed feeling or something?  Some people even claim there’s a therapeutic element to it.  Which is nice, I guess.  People also tend to toss around the “It helps me lose weight” theory.  The other benefits?  Umm, if you consider “looking cool” to be a benefit, then there’s that.

The anti-authoritarian element that comes with smoking has to be one of its main draws.  Kids, especially teenagers, love being rebellious and smoking is the ultimate in rebellion.  You’re consciously and often openly doing something that will, given time, kill you.  The person smoking is aware of this, as is anyone watching him/her.  I guess this might give that person an edgy, devil-may-care attitude.  For older people, it’s probably some combination of old habits dying hard and the general addictiveness of nicotine.

Last year, when I was still in college, I was discussing bad movies with a girl I hardly knew.  I mentioned The Happening as being the worst movie I’ve ever seen in a theatre.  To my utter shock and dismay, she told me that she loved the movie.  Barely comprehending this sequence of events, I proceeded to launch into a diatribe about the film’s lack of quality.  I talked about the community theatre-esque nature of the acting, the absurdity of the plot, how it seemed like the people involved were not even trying.  She listened to this vivisection of the film pretty calmly, and then said “I don’t know, I just liked it.”  Exasperated, I gave up trying to convince her and we amicably moved on. 

 The point of that little anecdote is that sometimes there isn’t any logic behind people’s choices.  No matter how hard I had tried, I would not have convinced this girl that The Happening sucked.  It’s the same thing with smokers.  A lot of times, people who smoke are going to continue to smoke no matter how many articles they read about the dangers of it or how many of those Truth commercials they see on television.  This used to make me angry, but I realize now that they need to just find their own way.  If they have a rational bone in their body they’ll come around, eventually.

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~ by fc13 on April 25, 2010.

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