The Publisher’s Desk – Rationalism


by Joe Tortorici

I recently experienced a Facebook trauma. I was blocked as the result of challenging the mental capacity of the entire state of Oklahoma. Not blocked by the state itself (meh…), just one of its residents. The incident left me with a pall of guilt, as only Catholics are prone to feel. It began as the reaction to a meme.

In 1976, social biologist Richard Dawkins coined the term “meme” for a unit of cultural imitation. Imitation is the salient term in this case. The offending Oklahoman posted a deeply uninformed, obtuse political announcement accompanied by an image of Benjamin Franklin. Ben never said those things! I had to come to the defense of my hero and push back on the claim I was ignorant for not surrendering to the insult…thus, the conflict.

I took the bait like a hungry trout.


Since I’m apparently unable to keep my opinions to myself, a different mental framework is needed, not only for my own sanity, but to more efficiently debate my positions. While Senator Amy Klobuchar speaks of “pragmatism,” I would like to take her platform a step further. I want the inspiration of a new sociopolitical movement…Rationalism.


noun: a belief or theory that opinions and actions should be based on reason and knowledge rather than on religious belief or emotional response. “scientific rationalism”

The theory that reason rather than experience is the foundation of certainty in knowledge. “philosophical rationalism”

Ah, reason! The synonyms are plentiful: logical, cogent, coherent, evidence-based, sound, sober, prudent, et al. Should this be branded? Branding seems to be the au courant political methodology. If I make it a “thing” it might have a better chance of catching on. Rationalism seems like a good direction for making better personal choices, if nothing else.

Economist Matt Ridley wrote an interesting book titled “The Rational Optimist.” His theme is countering “economic pessimism” and one particular thought stuck with me:

“Humanity is experiencing an extraordinary burst of evolutionary change, driven by good old-fashioned Darwinian natural selection. But it is a selection among ideas, not among genes. The habitat in which these ideas reside consists of human brains.”

There it is. Like biological evolution, there is only the continuum, no finish line. It is the mix of ideas and experiences we learn from…we evolve within the confluence of human interaction. There is my learning moment. I have grasped the obvious. Much like Martin Luther King’s view of justice, the arc of rationality is moving in a positive direction, however slowly the process takes. Ben would understand. The guy from Oklahoma, not so much.

Meanwhile, it will be a struggle to keep “Rationalism” out of the adjective category of trendy branding labels.

Rational Socialist (!)

Rational Conservative

Rational Progressive

…and the elusive Rational Republican.


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