A recent post over at Brief Essays with Pictures got me thinking. If Libertarians are taking the approach that they are "the only ones who are being rational," what does that mean? Don’t we conservatives do that when we talk about liberals and their emotional illogic? Don’t atheists do that when they reject faith?
Here’s my answer to the mistake of thinking that we are the only ones being rational, or that rationality alone is the answer to abuses of faith and emotion.
It’s not just libertarians who define themselves as rational thinkers – it’s atheists, and often, religious conservatives.
What they are really doing is railing against the forces of irrationality that they often rightly perceive out there – but usually, they throw out the baby with the bathwater.
Atheists see religious dogma as unthinking and irrational, even anti-rational. And in abusive cases where people have abandoned reason rather than making a useful marriage of Faith and Reason, of course they are being irrational. Atheists and secular materialists respond by despising, discarding, disregarding, or marginalizing faith rather then seeing how dogma (in tradition, human wisdom, and dare I say revealed faiths) can balance our limited and often self-deceptive use of reason.
Conservatives see emotional fanaticism as unthinking and irrational. And when environmentalists, for example, would rather allow thousands to die of malaria than to moderate how we use DDT, conservatives are right to scream "we need scientific environmentalism, not emotional panic reasoning."
In fact, not only have anti-global warming panic conservatives thrown out the environment with the panic mongers, some environmentalists are realizing this error, but instead of rejecting environmentalism as some have, they have written a book charting a smarter strategy – see Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility.
This type of "we are the rational ones" is a reaction to those who fail to balance reason with faith and emotion. We should, however, look for the balance rather than the "reason only" solution, since both emotion (i.e. n. • direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.
• a function of the spirit rather than the mind
More, gut feeling, love, compassion) and faith (wisdom, revealed truth) have something to contribute to the guidance and management of mankind and his resources.