Rational Choice Theory–posits that individuals always act rationally and instrumentally, weighing potential costs and benefits as they aim to maximize their own utility (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy).

I don’t have to point out the flaws of this theory while experience with other people (especially drunk ones) and quick research can quickly dismiss it. What I would like to point out is this theory, more like hypothesis, is the dominant platform of both economic and political sciences.

To counter, Bryan Caplan coined the term “rational irrationality” to help explain the inconsistencies of Rational Choice Theory by branching rationality into two types:

  • Epistemic rationality – developing a belief system by honest efforts to avoid fallacious reasoning and being open to new evidence to form truths.
  • Instrumental rationality – using the most effective means to attain one’s actual goals grounded on one’s actual beliefs.
A situation where it is instrumentally rational to be epistemically rational is called rational irrationality.
           ^This situation is also known as bullshitting.

Situations that are more likely to elicit this behavior:

  1. The appeal of a belief over another.
  2. The cost of holding a fallacious or irrational belief is low. <—- This highlights the importance of integrity.

I graduated with a B.A. in Political Sciences and oftentimes I wonder if my studies was founded on other ideas from other disciplines besides economics where we get the likes of Rational Choice Theory and rational irrationality. Examples:

Evolutionary ethics: which tries to explain the biological foundations of ethics.

Sociobiology:  scientific study of the biological aspects of social behavior in animals and humans.

Social Dominance Theory: a theory of intergroup relations that focuses on the maintenance and stability of group-based social hierarchies.

These are just a few ideas that can shed light on human behavior and certainly more interesting than a theory that looks very wrong on its face. It is not to say any of the three I find interesting is an adequate replacement of what Rational Choice Theory tries to cover; I am simply saying that it should be replaced. Maybe Bryan Caplan’s rational irrationality can be a temporary measure but I have the feeling a theory premised on human psychology and biology can bring us closer to a more better economic and political discipline.

La Jolla High students Daniela De Kervor (left) and Laura Wells release white seabass into Mission Bay. / Photo by K.C. Alfred * U-T San Diego

Union Tribune June 18th 2012 article ” Students raise seabass, replenish species,” written by Maureen Magee, is a refreshing bit of news about our educational system, and to a another degree, our environment.

While in high school the most I had experienced nature as part of my studies was on a sketchy fishing boat off the coast of Long Beach, California looking for some of the largest animals to have existed, and seriously considering downing a whole bottle of Dramamine. I did not learn a damn thing excepting my introduction to motion sickness. The cost: medicine, gas for the boat and bus, and a whole school day. The benefit: learning to stare at the horizon can help prevent vomiting. But to actually take part in raising and researching a rapidly depleting animal is what I wish I had done instead in my marine biology class.

Helping the environment is no doubt going to take massively coordinated efforts by institutions but drops in the bucket can still add up to a splash. If this were fully inculcated into school curriculum, even in only several dozen schools, this can make a lasting and significant impact for diminishing fish stocks. Maybe this idea of producing while learning can help society be self-sustainable.

Imagine taking this ingenuity (and I’m sure they’re more common than my life-experience suggests) to other subjects for group or individual endeavor. Learn microeconomics, for instance, by growing a produce and trying to market the good. I’m sure there are many youth who have a more natural and herbal-minded lifestyle who can benefit from an easy A. Or how about writing a letter of protest to a company or politician; try to get it published and study the responses (or study why there were no responses) in English/Literature class. The cost: effort and various resources subject to the topic. The benefit: among others, a High School Diploma that means something.