We live in an age of deep irrationality: irrational Tweets, irrational YouTube comments, rampant claims of “fake news,” increased incivility, increased rancor, increased bullying, increased physical threats, mass shootings, and so on. If we seriously want to save and improve this country; if we do not want to descend into a civil war or a Hobbesian war of all against all; if we do not want America or modern Western civilization to perish like Ancient Greece or Rome; then we must strive to act rationally, reasonably, and prudently. Regardless of your political party (Democrat, Republican, or Independent) or political ideology (socialist, liberal, centrist, conservative, or libertarian), you should strive to act rationally, reasonably, and prudently. In this article, I will define acting rationally versus irrationally, present strong reasons for acting rationally, and list many particular irrational actions that we should avoid doing in various areas of our lives.
What does it mean to act rationally or reasonably? Acting rationally or reasonably means deciding how to act (largely) based on strong reasons, justification, or evidence. If you decide how to act based on weak reasons/justification/evidence or based on no reasons/justification/evidence at all, then you are acting irrationally or unreasonably. Oftentimes when we act irrationally, we do so because we are acting emotionally. Acting emotionally means deciding how to act primarily or solely based on emotions. Acting emotionally does not necessarily mean acting irrationally but acting irrationally often involves acting emotionally. So acting emotionally and acting rationally are logically compatible. In particular, you can decide how to act based primarily on emotions and secondarily on strong reasons, justification, or evidence.
For example, if someone murders your child, you will very likely feel intense emotions (e.g. anger, rage, fury, heartbreak, depression) and based primarily on these emotions you might decide to fully cooperate with the police and strongly pressure them so that they arrest the murderer, so that he ultimately gets sentenced to life in prison. In this case, your emotions primarily drive your decision but you still have very strong reasons and justification for the decision: the perpetrator murdered your child and you want him to be held accountable for his actions, for the sake of justice or morality, or for the sake of other, potential victims in the future. And you can easily articulate these reasons and justification if someone asks you, “Why did you decide to fully cooperate with the police and strongly pressure them?” So this is a case of acting emotionally and acting rationally.
Now, some may argue that humans, by nature, live in accordance with their emotions, not rationality. That is, we are primarily driven by our emotions, not reason. In response, I concede that emotions are important to some degree, depending on the context. For example, emotions are important in friendships, dating, engagement, marriage, family life, celebrations, and tragedies. But, in general, you should not decide how to act based solely or primarily on emotions, which can vacillate and be very volatile and which others can manipulate. Instead, in general, you should decide how to act based primarily on strong reasons, justification, or evidence, while still possibly assigning some weight to your emotions based on the context and type of decision you’re making.
For example, when you’re deciding whom you should vote for president, senator, or congressional representative, you should base that decision primarily on strong reasons, justification, or evidence, not emotions. You should focus on the political candidate’s experience, judgment, temperament, character, intelligence, proposed policies, and political ideology. You should not focus on how he or she makes you feel emotionally; how much you can relate to him or her; his or her gender, race, sexual orientation, or religion; the negative attack ads coming from either side; or the horserace aspect of the campaign. I consider those factors completely irrelevant.
Similarly, when you’re deciding how to structure your 401K or IRA portfolio, you should base that decision entirely on strong reasons, justification, or evidence, not emotions. If you invest based primarily on your emotions (e.g. following the hype and ups and downs of the stock market), you will likely do poorly. For example, you will buy assets when they’re high and sell when they’re low, when you want to buy low and sell high when it comes to long-term investments.
However, when you’re deciding whether to get engaged, get married, get divorced, have children, or form friendships, emotions will play a huge role but you should still assess your reasons. You do not want to get married or have children, for example, when it’s a totally irrational decision.
WHY ACT RATIONALLY?
But why should we act rationally? Why should we, in general, decide how to act based primarily on strong reasons, justification, or evidence, not emotions? What is the justification for acting rationally? I can think of four major justifications for acting rationally.
First, to the extent that everyone lives strictly in accordance with their emotions and fully disregards rationality (i.e. reasons, justification, and evidence), we will have a more dysfunctional, stormy, impulsive, volatile, violent society and world. If (virtually) everyone is constantly going through the emotional ups and downs and shuns rationality, this will largely shape society and the world for the worse. In contrast, to the extent that everyone lives in accordance with rationality (i.e. strong reasons, justification, and evidence) and regulates their emotions, we will have a less dysfunctional, stormy, impulsive, volatile, violent society and world. If (virtually) everyone is acting rationally and regulating their emotions, this will largely shape society and the world for the better.
Second, if you live strictly in accordance with your emotions and fully disregard rationality, others can manipulate you based on your emotions. Advertising and propaganda function in exactly this manner: the media, corporations, politicians, the government, and the military definitely use advertising and propaganda to appeal to your emotions, manipulate them, and get you to act a certain way. In general, advertisers and propagandists (e.g. Joseph Goebbels) want you to act based strictly on your emotions (especially your “reptilian brain”), not reason or rationality. To be fair, not all advertising/propaganda is malevolent, much of it is just trying to get you to buy stuff, but you should still be aware of how advertising/propaganda works. In contrast, if you live in accordance with rationality (i.e. strong reasons, justification, and evidence) and regulate your emotions, you will be less vulnerable to advertisers, propagandists, con artists, and others trying to emotionally manipulate you. Thinking rationally and critically helps you see through the manipulation and nonsense.
Third, I believe that the universe holds you accountable for your actions, in one way or another. This is the law of karma. Insofar as you act virtuously, the universe will reward you in one way or another: good things will happen to you. Insofar as you act immorally or wickedly, the universe will punish you in one way or another: bad things will happen to you. Insofar as you act irrationally or stupidly, the universe will hold you accountable for such irrationality or stupidity. If you make a foolish mistake due to immaturity or poor judgment but this mistake doesn’t harm others, the universe will somehow make you feel the repercussions but it will not severely punish you. But if you make an extremely stupid, immoral decision (e.g. going on a shooting spree and murdering many innocent people), the universe will severely punish you.
Fourth, irrationality, stupidity, and immorality have a price. When you do irrational, stupid, or immoral things, you must suffer the consequences. When you do extremely irrational, stupid, or immoral things, you will likely suffer extreme consequences. For example, if they are arrested and convicted, serial killers often get life imprisonment or the death penalty, and serial rapists often get long prison sentences. In addition, the Nazis acted extremely immorally and look at how they turned out: Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels, and Heinrich Himmler, among others, committed suicide at the end of World War II; many leading Nazis were sentenced to death at the 1945-46 Nuremburg Trials; and since 1945, Nazis (e.g. Adolf Eichmann) have been hunted worldwide and brought to justice.
Having discussed what acting rationally means and why we should act rationally, I will now list various irrational, unreasonable, or imprudent things that you should not do. These irrational deeds fall under different categories: general behavior, politics, violence, personal finance, fitness, dating, and plastic surgery. This list is by no means exhaustive. I encourage you to make your own list of other irrational things that you should avoid doing.
GENERAL BEHAVIOR AND POLITICS
• Do not constantly lie, distort, mislead, or utter falsehoods, or support those who do. If you’re making true or mostly true claims only 17% of the time and making half-true, mostly false, or false claims or outright lies 83% of the time, then you are systematically using falsehoods and deception. [Source] You are showing utter disregard for the truth, facts, and evidence, which demonstrates deep irrationality. In contrast, if you want to act or communicate rationally, you must do your best to rely on facts and evidence. You must do your best to track the truth. If you’re wrong or partly wrong about something, admit it and revise your claims. Demonstrate intellectual honesty.
Furthermore, when you frequently lie, you must keep track of all your different stories that deviate from the truth. Some of these stories may contradict others, and you can easily mix them up. For example, if you are a pathological liar and a scandal breaks, you may tell your public relations/propaganda team to lie and say X but then you may publicly say a different lie, Y, which contradicts X. So what is the official story? X or Y? Or neither? When pressed, are you just going to say, “I stand by nothing”? Or are you just going to keep shouting or tweeting, “FAKE NEWS!”? Again, this demonstrates deep irrationality.
• Do not act like a bully. In particular, do not act like a bully and then complain that others are being “very unfair” to you.
• On social media (namely, Twitter), do not insult people who criticize you or strongly disagree with you for plausible reasons that may reflect a different political ideology.
• Do not post your inane, irrational thoughts on social media. If you have nothing substantive to say, then do not post anything. Also, it is difficult to make a substantive statement on Twitter, given the 140-character limit.
• Do not (publicly) mock physically handicapped people. How would you feel if you or your family member were physically handicapped, and then a high-profile figure publicly mocked you, him, or her?
• Do not (publicly) criticize Gold Star families. How would you feel if you had a son or daughter who served in the military and died in combat, and then a high-profile figure publicly criticized your family?
• Do not (publicly) criticize POWs for being captured. How would you feel if you were captured in combat and tortured for years as a POW, and then a high-profile figure publicly criticized you for being captured?
• Do not (publicly) insult people, especially females, for being overweight. How would you feel if you were an overweight female who constantly worries about her weight and external appearance, and then a high-profile figure publicly insulted you for being overweight?
• While being recorded on camera, do not brag about groping women’s genitals, especially when you are married. Such “locker room talk” is very cheap and hollow. How would you feel if you were a female and a male just approached you and immediately groped your genitals, when you were not interested in him at all?
• Do not reject human-caused climate change. Do not dismiss it as a mere theory that has not yet been established by the scientific community. Of all peer-reviewed, scientific journal articles on climate change, 97% conclude that climate change is real and is largely caused by humans through fossil fuel emissions. [Source] Regardless of your political party or political ideology, you should rationally accept the findings of 97% of climate scientists. It is irrational to reject them.
• Do not drive recklessly, which includes drinking and driving. To the extent that you drive recklessly, you increase your chances of getting into an accident and thereby injuring or killing yourself or others.
• Do not do hard, illicit drugs (cocaine, crack, heroin, meth, ecstasy, etc.) or abuse alcohol. Do not get addicted to either.
• Do not publicly praise dictators (e.g. Kim Jung-un) for their Machiavellian strategies, when they have killed thousands of people. How would you feel if your family was killed by a totalitarian regime and then a high-profile figure publicly praised that dictator for his Machiavellian strategies?
• Do not foment violence at your political rallies or meetings. If your political rallies consistently become violent and you encourage violence toward protestors or dissenters (“like back in the good old days”), then you are a fascist, period. You belong to the same camp as Hitler, Mussolini, and Franco. Recall that the Axis powers lost “very, very badly” in World War II.
• Never say or think that you can shoot someone in broad daylight and get away with it. This reflects a fascist, criminal, mafia mindset. How would you feel if someone shot you or a family member in broad daylight and got away with it?
• Never say or think that your political opponent should be executed by firing squad for treason. Again, this reflects fascism. How would you feel if your political opponent had you or your family executed by firing squad for alleged treason?
• Never threaten to jail your political opponent if he or she beats you in an election. Again, this reflects a totalitarian mindset. How would you feel if you won an event fairly and then your opponent(s) had you unjustly imprisoned?
• Do not follow the dictum: “If someone hits you, you should hit him back 10 or 20 times harder.”
This dictum is utterly irrational and moronic. So if someone punches you in the face once, you should hit him in the face with a sledgehammer? If someone spits in your face, you should run him over with a car? If someone deliberately steps on your shoe, you should kick him in the balls? If someone sleeps with your wife, you should stab or shoot him? This sounds like a great way to get arrested and sentenced 20 years to life in prison.
If you’re going to respond to an attack in self-defense, you should respond proportionally: a minor attack requires a minor counter-attack, a moderate attack requires a moderate counter-attack, a major attack requires a major counter-attack, and a severe attack requires a severe counter-attack.
Ideally, however, you should learn to let go of minor or moderate things, and perhaps even major things. You should not live a life in which you constantly feel the need to counter-attack or seek revenge. This lends itself to the egocentric, Darwinian mindset, which I’ve written about elsewhere.
• Do not follow the dictum: “For every one of ours who is harmed or killed, we will harm or kill 10 or 20 of theirs.”
Again, this dictum is utterly irrational and moronic. So if someone harms or kills one of your family members, friends, or associates, you should harm or kill 10 or 20 of his family members, friends, or associates? Again, this sounds like a great way to get arrested and imprisoned and become widely despised. This is a recipe for disaster, which reflects the tribal, “us versus them” mentality which characterizes the egocentric, Darwinian mindset.
The Nazis followed this “10-to-1” or “20-to-1” policy and look at how they turned out. Their top leaders committed suicide or were hanged, and they absolutely failed to achieve their ultimate objectives: defeat communism, conquer the entire continent of Europe (including Britain), and create a thousand-year Reich (German empire).
Again, if you’re going to respond to an attack in self-defense, you should respond proportionally.
• Avoid getting into physical fights. The best thing you can do is to de-escalate. You should get into a physical fight only when it’s absolutely necessary in self-defense, when there is no other option. Defend yourself using proportional force but do not offensively harm others.
Disclaimer: I am not a fiduciary or financial advisor. I am just giving intelligent, prudent financial advice that you can find in any good personal finance book. For more information, I recommend reading “Vanguard’s Principles for Investing Success” and Ramit Sethi’s I Will You Teach to be Rich.
• Regardless of your income, do not spend all your money. Save at least 10% of your income in a high-yield online savings account or money market account. You can use your savings as a rainy day fund and/or for future expenses such as vacations, a wedding, a down-payment on a house or condo, a car purchase, etc. In addition, invest at least 10-15% of your income for retirement.
• Do not accumulate heavy, long-term credit card debt. If you have such debt, you are likely living beyond your means. Instead, live within your means. Ideally, you should pay off your credit card balance monthly. If you do carry some credit card debt, it should be a moderate amount that you pay off in the short-term or medium-term.
• Do not buy a house or condo that you cannot really afford. You should have no problem paying your mortgage every month.
• Do not wait until the age of 40 or 50 to start investing for retirement. You should start investing as early as possible, ideally at the age of 18, or more realistically when you get your first job. A compounding rate of return or compound interest is extremely powerful in the long-term.
For example, if you invest $10 thousand upfront once and you get an average annual rate of return of 10%, then you will have $67 thousand after 20 years; $174 thousand after 30 years; $453 thousand after 40 years; $1.2 million after 50 years; and $3 million after 60 years. Again, this involves only one initial $10 thousand investment.
Given these assumptions, over 50 years (e.g. age 20 to age 70), you can grow $10 thousand to $1.2 million. But, over 30 years (e.g. age 40 to age 70), you can grow $10 thousand to only $174 thousand. So the sooner you start investing, the better. If you start investing at age 40, you will miss out on an additional 20 years of compounding that you would get if you were to start investing at age 20.
• Do not invest all your money in one stock (e.g. Apple, Amazon, or Google), especially if you have a large amount of money. If you invest all your money in one stock, you are essentially putting all your eggs in one basket. Diversify. It would be much better to invest in an S&P 500 index fund or a total stock market index fund.
• If the stock market crashes due to a recession, do not panic and sell all your assets. You will be realizing huge losses (i.e. assets that have decreased in value and, by selling these assets, you have realized or actualized the loss in value) as opposed to having unrealized losses (i.e. assets that have decreased in value but you have not sold and thereby realized or actualized the loss in value). In addition, by selling all your assets, you will be contributing to the market crash, which occurs when many, many market participants sell simultaneously or in a short time period. Finally, the stock market will gradually recover over time (yes, even after the Great Recession or the Great Depression) and your assets will regain their value and likely surpass their value before the recession. It may take several years or a decade but it will recover.
• Do not fall victim to “get rich quick” schemes. Do not be gullible. If it sounds too good to be true, then it likely is. If someone is promising you massive amounts of success that involves little to no work, in a short time period, then it is likely a fraud. You can achieve a high degree of success in many areas of your life but it will require hard work, focus, discipline, motivation, decisiveness, consistent action, positive self-talk, time, and patience. Just as Rome was not built overnight, so you cannot achieve massive success in all areas of your life overnight, or in one month or one year. It will take years or perhaps decades. Indeed, it is a lifelong project.
• If you play the Lottery and win millions of dollars or if you’re a professional athlete making millions of dollars, do not blow all your money. Save and invest a large percentage of it. Create a detailed, realistic, long-term financial plan so that you’re financially independent for the rest of your life. If necessary, hire a top-notch, highly rated, highly ethical fiduciary or financial advisor. Live comfortably but not extravagantly. It’s very easy to blow millions of dollars on mansions, exotic sports cars, yachts, etc. You do not want to be yet another Lottery winner or former professional athlete who once won or made millions but is now broke or bankrupt.
• If you want a lean, ripped, muscular body, do not do cardio alone (e.g. 20 minutes on the elliptical machine, thrice a week). You need to do resistance training and cardio, as well as follow proper nutrition.
• If you’re a total novice in terms of resistance training and you have no idea what to do, do not just show up at the gym and do exercises willy-nilly or the exercises you see other people doing. Instead, hire a top-notch, highly rated personal trainer or strength coach (e.g. myself) who can show you the right exercises, check your form, program your workouts, motivate you, and hold you accountable. I would be happy to help you.
Alternatively, if you have the time and energy, you can do your own research and read and learn about the most effective compound exercises. Use high-quality resources (including articles, books, and videos) to learn about these compound exercises. Take detailed notes. At the gym, consult your notes and practice these exercises. Start with low reps for bodyweight exercises and light weight for barbell or dumbbell exercises. If you’re going to learn and practice these exercises on your own, you might as well do it correctly.
• If you’re a novice or intermediate in terms of resistance training, do not train the same muscle groups on two consecutive days. Take at least one day off in between. For example, if you do a leg workout (e.g. back squats and lunges) on Monday, do not do another leg workout on Tuesday. Do it on Wednesday at the earliest.
• If you’re a male, do not neglect your leg workouts. You do not want to have a relatively large upper-body and chicken legs. Your lower-body has much greater strength capacity than your upper-body does. For example, if you’re proficient at the barbell bench press, press, back squat, and deadlift and if you’ve been effectively training these movements for a while, then your estimated one-rep max (1RM) deadlift and back squat (which are lower-body movements) will be much greater than your estimated 1RM bench press and press (which are upper-body movements). Since your lower-body has much greater strength capacity than your upper-body does, you should be training your legs hard.
• Do not lift heavy weights without previously doing warm-up sets. For example, if you’re going to do 3 x 5 x 225lb back squats, you could do the following warm-up sets: 5 x 45lb; 5 x 135lb; 5 x 160lb; 5 x 185lb; 5 x 205lb.
• If you see someone lifting heavy weights, do not try to lift the same weight or heavier when you know that the weight is beyond your capability. For example, if you see someone doing 315lb back squats and you can barely do 225lb back squats, then obviously do not attempt 315lb back squats. In general, do not compare yourself to others from a petty, egocentric perspective. Focus on your own progress and development.
• If you start playing a sport that you haven’t played in a very long time (e.g. running, rowing, rucking, swimming, cycling, skiing, softball, basketball, lacrosse, weightlifting, CrossFit), do not go 100% the first time, lest you injure yourself. Instead, ease into it. The first time you play the sport, check your ego and go about 60-70%. Once you start playing it consistently, then you can go harder. Often people injure themselves the first time they play a sport that they haven’t played in a very long time. They are deconditioned, and so they shouldn’t go 100% that first time.
• Do not exercise (resistance or cardio) while you are drunk. In particular, do not lift heavy weights while you are drunk. This may sound obvious but it does happen.
• Do not base your self-esteem or confidence on how many people you have slept with. For example: “I have slept with 12 different girls this year. I am the man!” GET OVER YOURSELF. No one cares if you have slept with 10, 50, 100, or 1000 people. Instead of focusing on numbers, you should focus on dating people with whom you are highly compatible. Focus on quality, not quantity.
• Never send naked pictures or videos of yourself to another person, including your boyfriend or girlfriend. He or she can show or send it to others as well. If you send it to your boyfriend or girlfriend and later break up with him or her, he or she might use the pictures or videos against you, which is known as “revenge porn.”
• Never make a detailed, comprehensive PowerPoint presentation of all the people you’ve slept with and then email it to your friends. They can easily forward it to others and then it can go viral on the internet.
• If your significant other cheats on you or is deliberately trying to make you jealous, do not attack the person whom your significant other is pursuing. Do not fall for that trap. Directly address the issue with your significant other. If necessary, break up, separate, or divorce.
• Avoid plastic surgery: breast implants, nose jobs, face lifts, etc. Do not get it unless it’s absolutely necessary (e.g. you were born with a deformity, you’ve been in an accident, you’ve had your breasts removed due to breast cancer, etc.). If something is not seriously wrong, then do not try to “fix it” through plastic surgery. If you want to change your body, you should do it naturally, through exercise and nutrition. For example, if you’re a female who wants firmer breasts, do push-ups. If you want a firm, muscular butt and legs, do squats, deadlifts, lunges, step-ups, etc. You can achieve so much through exercise and nutrition alone.
• Do not get pectoral implants, butt implants, bicep implants, calf implants, etc. You can naturally increase the size of your pecs, glutes, biceps, calves, etc. through resistance training and nutrition. Also, if you get, say, pectoral implants, then they will always stay that size unless you get them surgically removed. What if you want to increase or decrease the size of your muscles at will? Implants will complicate that.
• In particular, if you’re a normal, healthy, naturally attractive female, do not get large amounts of plastic surgery in order to look like a perfect Barbie doll or Playboy Playmate. You will blow a lot of money on such surgery ($100,000 or more) and you may end up looking worse overall (much less natural, much more artificial). Just watch several episodes of the television show Botched, and recall Heidi Montag’s story. Furthermore, changing your external appearance will not necessarily resolve your deep, inner, psychological issues. You can look like a perfect Barbie doll or Playboy Playmate and still have deep insecurities and serious psychological issues. True self-esteem and confidence come from within. They do not come from your external appearance.
In general, we should strive to act rationally and reasonably. That is, we should decide how to act based primarily on strong reasons, justification, or evidence, although we may assign some weight to our emotions based on the context and type of decision we’re making. We should strive to act rationally for at least four reasons. First, insofar as we act rationally, the world will be less dysfunctional, stormy, impulsive, volatile, and violent. Second, insofar as we live in accordance with rationality and regulate our emotions, we will be less vulnerable to advertisers, propagandists, con artists, and others trying to emotionally manipulate us. Third, the universe holds us accountable for our actions, especially our foolish, irrational decisions. Fourth, when we act irrationally or stupidly, we must suffer the negative consequences. I have listed many particular irrational things that we should avoid doing, which relate to general behavior, politics, violence, personal finance, fitness, dating, and plastic surgery. Overall, I believe we can make the world a significantly better place by acting more rationally and less irrationally.
Last revised 7/25/2017