I think your last comment clarified for me where we’re disagreeing. You said earlier it’s because you don’t respect certain theoretical borders. I think the problem is related to that, because what’s happening here is that you’re subscribing to a very broad concept of rationality, whereas mine is narrow. You’re using “rationality” the way some enthusiasts use “information.”

Of course, if game theory, free-market economics or any other model works in helping us predict and explain certain correlations, that’s fine. I’m pragmatic about science and about cognition in general. But to say natural selection is implicitly rational in conforming to game-theoretic predictions is either to use “game” and “rational” as loose metaphors out of zeal for a scientistic fad of hyperrationality or (less likely) it’s to indulge in a cryptotheistic design argument.

Let’s cut to the chase. If the natural order is rational, Heraclitus’s Logos or Hegel’s zeitgeist might as well be organizing and optimizing reality. Again, if that metaphor works in certain contexts, helping us uncover hidden regularities, its use could be justified on pragmatic grounds and that would be fine.

But in that case the game theorist would face this test: if she’s only employing a fiction and a metaphor for pragmatic purposes, not to prescribe an ideal world based on a religious vision or anything like that, I’d expect this theorist to exhibit no emotional tie to this particular fiction. There are lots of fictions in the sea of human imagination. Why not try another if there’s no cult or fad afoot?

If she’s not a zealot (a neoliberal, a Randian libertarian, or a social Darwinian apologist for dominance hierarchies that degrade the majority for the benefit of a sociopathic minority), she needn’t treat her models as though they were metaphysically necessary. Any emotional connection to the model could betray a cult-like mentality after all. (Of course, if the model were literally treated as art, she could be emotionally attached to it in a guilt-free manner.)

So according to my narrow conception, “rationality” is a normative term and therefore doesn’t apply literally to the natural order, since that order is amoral and absurd, assuming its godlessness. To apply the term to nature in general is to assume something like Aristotle’s teleological cosmology or even monotheism. Not all order is strictly rational. My conception isn’t idiosyncratic but is just the standard one. According to dictionary.com, “rational” means “agreeable to reason; reasonable; sensible” or “having or exercising reason, sound judgment, or good sense” or “being in or characterized by full possession of one's reason; sane; lucid” or “endowed with the faculty of reason.”

The word “reason” in turn can mean “cause or motive” or it could mean “sound mind, sanity” or “an argument justifying something.” Thus we can say the gathering of rainclouds is a “reason” for the rain, and this would be a figurative, metaphorical, and even a vestigially-deistic use of the word. Even “cause” (meaning necessary connection) is anthropocentric, as David Hume showed in his analysis of induction.

Or with Groucho Marx, you could say we’re implicitly “following reason,” by not trying to read inside dogs. But in _exactly_ the same way, we could say we’re thereby doing God’s will. In neither case are we being scientific or particularly rational in the narrow sense; rather, in both cases we’d be using metaphors to tell stories that are useful for certain purposes. Just as there are zealous supporters of fiction that border on being cultists (e.g. Star Trek fan clubs), we could say those who take game-theoretic fictions or idealizations seriously, such as those who use them to lobby congress to cut taxes for the rich might be cultists or con men, depending on their sincerity.

You agree there are egregious uses of economics and game theory. But you seem taken with game theory and with a broad view of economics that encompasses politics. Thus, you say you “include politics as a rational economic response to the excesses of capitalism. Is it not rational for those with limited bargain power to agree among themselves that they will appoint a committee to determine a collective bargaining strategy to which all will adhere because that is the rational thing to do to maximize the effect of the strategy?”

Sure, it could be rational to team up to overcome our weakness as isolated individuals, although we might also team up because we have a lust to dominate as a mob. It would also be righteous and blessed for us to team up and work together out of love of God and fear of divine punishment in the afterlife. Would either assessment be especially reality-based?

I don’t think the US was founded on rational cooperation, not in the narrow sense at least. The venture began with imperialism, extermination of the natives, enslavement of a foreign workforce, and the zealous desire to practice heretical Christianity beyond the reach of Old World popes and kings. The Founders prudently turned to Enlightenment philosophy to create a sustainable political framework, trusting that a democratic republic would protect the people’s inherent rights. The early American deists and humanists only had faith in such rights, though, as Nietzsche’s assault on the hypocrisy of rationalist philosophers would later show.

The Founders had it both ways, appealing to nature and reason when it suited them and to a shadow of God to lay claim to outdated religious arguments to ground their confidence in human nature. If there’s no God, everything might be permitted, as Dostoevsky more or less said. And haven’t Americans deemed themselves permitted to do whatever they wanted in the world, out of “manifest destiny”? By contrast, the Soviet Union was based more explicitly on reason (and on Marxist scientism), but its founders weren’t smart enough to plan for every contingency or they tried to do so too early, before the needed technology might have become available.

You say, “Game theory does not prescribe a political solution; game theory identifies the benefits of a political solution, which provides the theoretical impetus for trying to find one.”

But that hairsplitting is consistent with the historic role of game theory as an appendage of the US military in the Cold War. The goal was to support American warmongers by demonizing the soviets and exacerbating the conflict, not by providing overt propaganda but by cloaking paranoia with pseudoscientific rhetoric, like Dr. Strangelove.

You note that so-called Aryan science could just as well be called “cultish.” I’m not so sure, since the question is whether every kind of pseudoscience is a cult. Obviously, politics forced Nazi scientists to embrace a pseudoscientific concept of race, although this is more obvious from our vantage point than it would have been to those who lived in the early-twentieth century. I’d say Nazi science was more like part of the religion of Nazism than like a cult.

In the same way we could distinguish between esoteric game theory and neoclassical economics, on the one hand, and the more popular interpretations or applications of them, namely neoliberalism and consumerism, on the other. The latter amount to the ideological components of a civic religion, whereas the former are cult-like in so far as they’re creepily scientistic and practiced mainly by a devious and zealous vanguard.

We can unmask these cultists when we ask them pointblank if they take themselves to be practicing a science, and if so, to prove it forthwith. If they hem and haw but concede in the end they’re telling anthropocentric tall tales with metaphors, then we get to ask why they choose to wrap their counterfactual stories in pseudoscientific quantifications rather than be more up-front about the fictional nature of their discourse.

Certainly, free-market and neoclassical economists take themselves to be social scientists. I take them to be cultists or fraudsters. Their philosophy began as an understandable defense of liberalism against monarchy, but it became an excuse for more “progressive” forms of hegemony (plutocracy, monopoly). In either case, the economists were pretending to be scientific whereas they were only ever scientistic.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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