A pinch of rationality never hurt nobody

Accepting that you can’t control everything is hard. You can’t control your feelings. You can shield yourself as much as you want, but they will eventually catch up with you and hit you like an avalanche.

Yet every day we perform simple cost-benefit analyses and evaluate risks. We plan and worry about the impossible and improbable – plan crashes, terrorist attacks, nuclear annihilations. A standard homo economicus – as the saying goes – would worry about the ride to the airport a lot more than about her time in the air.

Kahneman and Tversky’s probability weighing function (part of their Cumulative Prospect Theory) was really onto something. Our judgment of probabilities is different than their actual magnitude. Instead of turning into non-smoking non-drinking vegetarians to avoid heart disease (leading cause of death in the world according to the WHO), we overestimate the probability of shark attacks.

This doesn’t really matter when thinking about the choices of individuals. Hey, let me be as irrational as I want to be! Yet the decisions made by those in power have significantly more far-reaching consequences. I do not feel qualified enough to make a judgment on whether those in power are simply subject to the same biases as us, or whether they pray on the worries of the median voter. I guess it depends on the person, the time, and the decision. What I will say, though, is that a pinch of rationality (and properly aligned preferences but that’s a different story) wouldn’t hurt in policy making.

I’ve heard mixed opinions regarding Jon Stewart’s segment on the Charleston shooting from roughly a week ago; I found it fitting and thought-evoking. His comment on waging a difficult and expensive international war when there is a pressing war against racism to fight at home rings some of the same bells as the heart disease vs shark attack issue, yet on a much larger scale. This is of course not to say that islamist extremism is not an issue. This is to say that if the priority of a nation’s government is constant – the protection of her people – then the government’s actions should follow a carefully crafted path, reflecting the true nature of the threats and dangers.

A pinch of rationality never hurt nobody

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