Irrationality vs Rationality

by: Jeremy Rist

I can’t help but look at this election and the subsequent results as some sort of grand struggle between irrationality and rationality.

Let’s go over the definitions of both so that we can be on the same page for the discussion that follows:

rationalitythe quality of being based on or in accordance with reason or logic

irrationality – the quality of being illogical or unreasonable

Eventually the rational choice for President was obvious. Regardless of our problems with Hillary – she was still the rational choice. She was a terrible, horrendous, painfully awful Presidential candidate, but still a rational choice. Thankfully, millions more Americans selected that option, but due to an irrational system (the electoral college) and a rigged primary (unreasonable), we have an irrational result from the election.

Irrationality is galvanized right now, and in more places than just the election (see Kanye West). The election is a macro example to me, since it’s on such a large scale, but on a micro level, I have been struggling with irrationality in many ways in my personal life.

For better or for worse, I’m a rational person. Growing up in Durham, and now living back in Durham, I have a lot of people here who I know from my past. Everyone has grown into a slightly different person from whom we were when we were younger. For some, that’s a good thing. For others, not so much. In college, I had to experience a lot of these negative changes with some close friends of mine and it’s never been an easy thing. Irrationality can sneak up and take over the minds of rational people and it’s common for that to emerge around college age.

I’m writing about this because I’m working through my fears and trying to maintain a positive outlook on the future, but there’s a lot that still worries me. How does rationality combat irrationality? Or at the very least, how does rationality coexist with irrationality? We can look to artists, writers, poets, musicians, dancers, and other muses for advice, but not answers.

I can only say what I have done to solve my own problems, and I’ll offer them up as a potential course of action. I decided to use the community around me to help the situation. I talked to my parents, my friends, and then a lawyer friend as well, and it helped me feel better.

A combination of community and the rule of law can be the winning formula for rationality.

Irrationality is one helluva’n enemy. When you have two people telling you different things, and one is rational and the other irrational, it can be very hard to tell which is which. Pathological liars can seem completely normal and even be your friends for a long time before you start to realize that something is off.


We lost a lot of great people in 2016. I forgot how incredible Muhammad Ali was until all the tributes about him came out. What a tremendous human and a what a heroic life. My family lost a great one too – my Grandpa, Karsten Rist.

His was a symbolic loss to me, a loss for rationality. Karsten was insanely logical and a realist through and through.

One my favorite things we would do together was paint. He was a great artist, especially with water colors. As a realist he only painted landscapes and people. One day, I decided to push his limits and force him to collaborate on an abstract painting with me. He obliged because he was an incredible person and didn’t have much of a choice. (He had had a few strokes and a heart attack at this point, so I would spend afternoons with him to give my grandmother a break and try to entertain him a little). We spent months working on the painting. It was super colorful and detailed, but made no sense and was not about anything in particular. When we finally agreed it was done, I asked him what he thought of our colorful creation….he shrugged and didn’t say anything. Then I asked, “Do you like it?”


He was a man of few words.

The Rists' abstract painting

The Rists’ abstract painting

As a rational human he was not attracted to the irrationality, abstraction, and illogicalness of the painting.

This fits the way that my Grandfather lived his life. He fled Nazi Germany as a young man and made his way to America because the answers that the Nazi’s gave him, “did not satisfy me.” This was his way of saying, “They were irrational.”

In America, he started out as a molybdenum miner in Colorado. After a few years, the mining company that he worked for paid for him to study computers at the University of Michigan. This helped him grow as a professional and he was ultimately able to leave the mining industry and own his own company. He bought a small company called Kendall Plastics that he built up and eventually sold. A rational country helped a very rational man to succeed.

When I was looking back through my Grandmother’s scrapbooks I found an article where he was quoted, I thought it was great. It was so Karsten, it almost made me cry. He was so rational, it’s almost painful. In the article he describes why he was happy to have helped save a certain part of the Everglades from a development company that was trying to build in the area. My Grandfather was far from a hippie, but he was absolutely a nature lover and had a particular obsession with birds. He wasn’t opposed to development of the Everglades, he knew it would ultimately happen, but as a rational person he believed in the rules! He fought hard to keep this specific development out, Old Cutler Estates, because they were not playing by the rules that were established for developers in the area. He knew that they had good rules for good reasons and wanted to help uphold them.

Jeremist Rist newspaper

These are the kind of heroes we need today.

We need to stand up strongly for rationality in the debate for supremacy with irrationality.

It would be great if the world was completely filled with rational people, but in reality it is not. And that’s okay. Everything doesn’t have to have deeper meaning or insights into the problems of the world. Abstract art and joy-filled sitcoms have their place too. We don’t need to listen to only conscious hip-hop and avoid K97.5 completely. We all need to laugh. We need to relax and have fun. Irrational decisions can help us do that sometimes, and that’s great! But irrationality can’t be used all of the time and it definitely should not be used as a policy making tool.

We also can’t let irrationality and its advocates tire us out. We need to be sure that we have the strength to keep pushing back and fighting the good fight. We need to stand strong together and uphold our rules and regulations that deserve to be upheld. We also need to change our rules and traditions that deserve to be changed. (Electoral College, wuddup? I’m looking at you.)

Community + rules => the best way for rationality to succeed

For this formula to work though, it’s very important that the rules protect rationality or at least are built on rationality.

There are a few things that we need to change to get ourselves on the rational path. We need to change our drug laws. We need to reverse utterly illogical decisions that say money is speech and corporations are people. If the laws on our books do not reflect rational thought, it will make this battle against irrationality a whole helluva lot harder.

I can’t help but look at this election cycle and the subsequent results as some sort of grand struggle between irrationality and rationality. And I can’t help but look at my own life as the same type of struggle. I hope I have the strength to carry the memory of my Grandfather with me as I go forward and try to shine the light of logic wherever I can. I know Karsten is probably looking down at me right now and thinking that shining a light as a person, from your head, without an actual light on that head, is not logical and makes no damn sense. I apologize, Grandpa. I’m just trying to make a point.


Jeremy Rist

Jeremy Rist

Jeremy Rist is a Durham native and a Brandeis University graduate. In between producing and MC’ing, he has guest written for the Clarion Content and is a frequent contributor on our podcast.

Clarion Content

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