In a comment on my last post, twwells referred to the “pandemic irrationality” in America. Modern America isn’t really distinctive in that respect, though. In every human culture and time, unreason has been far more common than reason. It’s impressive how far people have gotten in spite of that.
People can be rational about matters in their private lives, where their failure to recognize reality would have quick and disastrous results. There are a lot of exceptions even there, but if people manage to be rational, it starts at home. Where irrationality really runs wild is in follow-the-leader behavior where each person can pretend not to be responsible for the cumulative effects of the group. People like to blend into the group; through most of humanity’s history, there’s been survival value in doing that. They identify with the people who belong to their kind and treat others as enemies.
This isn’t going to change on anything less than an evolutionary scale. At best, we can hope to someday educate people so their tendency to conformity and tribalism takes a less harmful course. It’s easy to understand why the left thinks people should be coerced for their own good, but force is never a way to advance reason. Force degrades both the people exercising it and the people they command.
Maintaining a free society in the long term is still an unsolved problem, and the US now belongs in the category of failed experiments. But the solution can’t rely on mass rationality. At best it can rely on widespread respect for those who do practice rationality. A culture can be conducive or hostile to reason.