Being Reasonable About Reason and Foolishness

A commentary on James March’s Technology of Foolishness

In what may be termed the Technology of Reason, purpose, consistency, rationality and definite goals are constructs imposed by the intelligent man on the intelligent man, tools presumed fundamental to the decision making process, and which, inadvertently, may not often lead to the best possible decisions being made.

To correct this anomaly, James March advocates a Technology of Foolishness, where intuition, impulse and playfulness are also considered primary drivers in the rational human decision making process.

While there is a case to be made about Foolishness as espoused by March, one must not be in a blind hurry to ridicule, disregard or diminish the role played by reason in the human decision making process and indeed in human survival, for, the relatively higher levels of cognition that enables us make more rational, consistent and purposeful decisions, is one of the telling differences between humans and lower animals.

A few days ago, I watched helplessly as a handsome black squirrel got crushed to death under the wheels of a giant truck as it attempted to cross over to the other side of the street, where there was, perhaps, an abundance of nuts, or beautiful squirrel ladies, or whatever else makes male squirrels happy. Although the squirrel acted in perfectly rational squirrel fashion based on the limits of its cognition, in the human space, crossing the street without watching out for vehicles and signs, is irrational, impulsive and foolish behavior that could potentially bring one’s life to a squirrelly end.

Let us consider an example involving only humans.

As an international student of Digital Experience Innovation (DEI) at the University of Waterloo, Stratford Campus, and backed with insight from fellow candidates, the decision — the choice — to attend this particular university, as well as to enroll in this specific program, was mostly not made on impulse, intuition, or “acting before you think”. There was purpose to choosing Canada as a study destination: travel/migration, better economic prospects, a chance to play with snow, amongst others. There were goals to be achieved at the end of the program: become an innovation consultant, a UX designer, a project manager, etc. Quality education is an expensive investment that naturally implores one to think carefully before they act. This is the technology of reason.

Now, is it possible that a better choice of study destination or institution or program could have been made by DEI candidates by, say, shutting one’s eyes and randomly picking out locations on a map? Yes. Is it probable? No. However, even within the confines of reason, things are not static — goals change, people change, decisions change, ideas change, everything is subject to change, sometimes on a whim, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse, sometimes simply to satisfy our curiosity, sometimes without a coherent explanation as to why. That openness, that…what is a good word…playfulness, to treat these changes in goals, ideas, people, etc., not as irrational whims but as legitimate factors that influence choice and decisions is the technology of foolishness.

This is how I like to think of reason and foolishness. I make no guarantees that the representations made of these constructs in this commentary comprehensively embodies all, or perhaps, any of James March’s thoughts. As a matter of fact, I’m quite certain they do not. But as a rational (brainwashed?) human, I cannot see how pure foolishness, for its own sake, makes any sense. We might as well then trade our brains and ability to think for the squirrels. I believe in reason first and then foolishness, playfulness, within the framework of reason.

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