Why be rational?

I just came across a market study made before deciding to build yet another mall. As some of you may know, I have a thing against malls. This study was like reading a love letter your partner sent to someone else. You’re disgusted but you still keep reading on, unable to stop and let it go.

This study was comprehensive, talking not only about the shopping habits of the people in the surrounding community. It also took into consideration the trends of the time, future scenarios and broad social factors. In the discussion, the paper stated that making rational choices and praising the intellect in decision-making is a relatively new phenomenon. According to the article, this behavior can be associated with The Enlightenment in the 18th century.

Hmm did people really not make rational decisions before the French Revolution? I wonder how humanity has managed to survive if all decisions supposedly were made based on whims, emotions or coercion until then? Of course, it all depends on how you define “rational”. Without going too deep into philosophical debates, we can for the sake of experimenting accept this statement: rational reasoning has been prioritized in decision-making from the French revolution up until recently.

According to this consumption study, the people now want to connect emotions to their decision making. Buying clothes is an act that has long since lost its rational grounds. I do not need any more sweaters. Even if the temperature suddenly would go down to -45, I still would have enough sweaters and coats to keep me warm. Why do I then eye yet another sweater? There are at least two reasons: 1) because buying gives me momentary happiness or pleasure and  2) wearing particular clothes makes me socially accepted in certain groups. Argument nr 1 is a strictly hedonistic, emotion and satisfaction-based argument, whereas nr 2 includes rational aspects as well.

Buying clothes has, besides giving us emotions and pleasure, also taken over some of the religious rites the Enlightenment, and the general rational trend that followed, took from us. If we are feeling down or guilty, we may buy a shirt to “purge the sins” and make us happy again. In a mall we feel like a part of a congregation, we are not alone and we are surrounded by the bright lights. The retail workers will serve our needs.

Of course, I am exaggerating. Still, I believe there is some truth to this market study. Another example of how we are abandoning rationalism is the newspaper industry. Instead of even attempting at writing stories that are relevant or objective, the newspapers focus on stories that give us emotions. Have we, for example, seen a rational report about the swine flu and the possible scenarios that are yet to come? We have either heard panic-ridden articles of a horrible fast-growing pandemic that will bring down doom to us – or other exaggerated or irrelevant articles.

The question is, will the financial crisis change any of this – or will we just go on buying sweaters and reading about Paris Hilton’s love affairs for the next little while? Also – why should I dislike this trend? If you can’t beat them, join them, huh? Am I brainwashed by the Enlightenment?? Hmm if you don’t mind I will continue disliking the malls.

ps. I tried to find the link to this retail study, but unfortunately I was unable to find it. It was in Finnish anyway…

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