[OPE-L] Sexuality, Rationality & Irrationality under Capitalism

From: Jurriaan Bendien (adsl675281@TISCALI.NL)
Date: Tue Apr 04 2006 - 09:37:23 EDT

Well as I've emphasized in the past, social science is concerned in part
with the aggregate effects of the interactions of individuals in society,
and therefore with the connections between the parts and the whole. I'm
aware of the marginal utility view, and, as I mentioned here
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Use_value#Use_value_and_utility so was Marx. He
wrote: "In bourgeois societies the economic fictio juris prevails, that
every one, as a buyer, possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of commodities".
In reality, people often rush through the supermarket in 10 minutes, and,
because they haven't got time for rational choices, are susceptible to the
way commodities are presented, in making their choices.

You ask:

How can we _possibly_
make rational choices about sexuality when we are not fully aware of
the extent to which those social forces created our preferences?

Very easily. A rational choice as such only involves evaluating consciously,
through some kind of inferential process, various possible options, in the
light of relevant facts and arguments, to arrive at a consistent or workable
behavioural strategy. But this choice may not involve all facts and
arguments bearing on the case, nor does it necessarily imply anything in
particular about the values or interests involved, other than the intrinsic
practical value of the inferential process itself. Bourgeois society values
behavioural consistency, predictability and reliability, because this is
necessary for the contractual obligations involved in the trading process on
which it is based. Hence Hayek (and Adam Smith etc.) argues that market
expansion automatically generates a moral behaviour which is best for all
people, but in reality, as I've argued, markets imply no specific morality
of their own, beyond what is necessary to settle commercial transactions and
contracts (promise-keeping etc.). That is why the creation of new markets
where non exist is often such a difficult topic for modern economics.

A rational choice is not automatically a good choice, or the best choice. In
the neoclassical model, a rational choice is a choice which best promotes
self-interest, but this is obviously a very narrow view of rational choice,
based on a very narrow concept of human nature, indeed the very notion of
"self-interest" can be problematic. And often it is a tautology, i.e. if
person X chooses Y, that must be, because it is in his self-interest.
Underlying this is an ideology about what rational behaviour is, and that
ideology reduces to certain values and behavioural norms deemed desirable. A
person might be perfectly aware of social conditioning processes, without
this in any way being helpful in making a decision or a choice.

In short, rationality is often conflated with:

- having sound judgement (but a judgement may be rational yet unsound)
- common sense (the majority might be quite wrong)
- not being extreme or excessive or foolish or arbitrary (but such
behaviour, if it occurs, may have a strong rational basis)
- justifiable in terms of reasons (but the reasons might be awful)
- sane (but insane things may be done by clinically sane people)
- good (but reasoned acts may be very evil in some sense)
- morally acceptable (but reason may well go "against the grain")

You wrote:

So long as patriarchy exists neither men nor women can be truly and fully

Well, saying this implies that the good society is a rational society, and
that rational behaviour is per definition good behaviour, roughly as Hegel
envisaged. But that is highly questionable, and begs the question of what
behaviour can be considered rational. Many aspects of human life simply
aren't rational, and there is no requirement or need for them to be
rational. I don't think we should make a fetish of rationality either.
Japanese people are generally very rational people, their average IQ scores
are among the highest in the world, higher than the US (see the refs at
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_IQ), yet Japanese society
is also a rather patriarchal society. There are very rational Japanese
people, who are also very patriarchal. What you are saying is that Japan
would be fully rational, only if it wasn't patriarchal. Maybe so, but this
already implies certain values as rational values, a certain view of a
culture of rationality. Essentially, in rational ethics, the critique of
patriarchy concerns the application of morally (ir-)relevant human
differences, but this argument assumes precisely a rational and universalist
ethics, rather than e.g. a divine ethics or a tribal ethics. What these
different ethical theories may have in common may be only the postulate that
behaviour should be non-arbitrary. But non-arbitrary behaviour is not
necessarily rational either.

Generally, in these discussions about rationality, people smuggle in lots of
moral contraband, i.e. they are asserting values in the name of rationality.
This is very noticeable in Marxist circles, and Marxism really failed to a
large extent in making theoretical sense of the moral dimension of human
life, notwithstanding all odes to value theory. But even so the very meaning
of rationality itself is subject to historical change. As Marx/Engels noted,
what is regarded as "human" and "rational" (or "inhuman" and "irrational")
changes in different historical epochs in accordance with the values and
interests of social classes and nations. In ancient China, e.g. infanticide
was perfectly acceptable, nowadays that is no longer the case. Typical of
imperialism is that the imperialist country tries to impose its own model of
rationality on the dominated country (cf. Iraq and Afghanistan). This is
called "modernisation" and in part postmodernity is a revolt against that
idea.  In the socialist tradition, there is often a strong underlying
assumption that only socialism would be a rational society, but often this
is more a technocratic fantasy.

If we are to be truly liberated, I suspect we also have to be liberated from
all sorts of false and unhelpful notions of what rationality is, and of its
appropriate place in society. If think Freud's idea of rationalisation is
often useful here, i..e. the human propensity to invent, post-fectum, a
structure of "reasons" for human behaviour which obscure the real motives.


And daddy doesn't understand it
He always said she was as good as gold
And he can see no reason
Cos there are no reasons
What reason do you need to be shown
Tell me why
I don't like Mondays
I want to shoot
The whole day down

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