Is man a rational animal?

Do we understand each other’s motives? For instance, look at this picture that appeared in my Facebook a few days ago.
This picture is suggesting that the Iraq war was pushed by people who wanted to make money off it. Think how monstrous this alleged motive is. This man, Cheney, is implied to be willing to get Americans killed so he can get richer.

On the same topic, recently I received an email from a creative scientist, who I normally stand in awe of, but who in his message argued that Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld were interested in the U.S. getting access to Iraqi oil fields and that was why the U.S. got bogged down in the Iraq war.

I replied to him as follows

George Bush argued for war saying this:
“Knowing these realities, America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot wait for the final proof — the smoking gun — that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud.”
So he didn’t say something like “I want the American public to sacrifice many of their sons in battle, and almost a trillion dollars, to get hold of some oil fields.”

The scientist then countered with an article from CNN which I have put in the notes section.  Nonetheless, I would think that before rushing to judgement, we would examine the reasons given by the accused. In this case, former president George W Bush talks about his rationale for going to war in his book “Decision Points” and his former Vice President (Cheney) gives his own rationale in his recent book “Exceptional”.  We expect a judge in a court of law to hear the defendant’s version, but we don’t listen to it in other situations.

And yet today I heard on the radio a talk-show listener saying that the Iraq war was partly because of Israel.”. The host agreed – he said “Much as I stand by Israel, we have to be more honest about that relationship.”

Why is it that we have such totally different understanding of motives in this one example? And how can we test which one is correct?


Lets take another subject: antisemitism. Geert Wilders, himself a very controversial figure, was interviewed on the Glazov Gang, and he says he has traveled in various Arab countries, as well as living for a while at an Israeli Kibbutz. He says that Israel is surrounded by total hate. He says of his stay with the Egyptians that they were friendly and hospitable people, but when they talked about Israel, there was hatred, “it was very, very nasty.”

I’m persuaded, however a Facebook acquaintance of mine posts that you can’t believe such a person, because he’s so extreme. (Wilders is controversial because he sees Islam as incompatible with freedom, and not just as a religion, but an ideology.)

This is what one Syrian woman says:

When someone wants to describe someone else as ugly, we say he looks like a Jew….We believe that Jews control the world and that in consequence, the whole world, dancing to their tune, wants to get rid of us.

Poles burn Hasid in effigy
Poles burn Hasid in effigy

In Poland, there are demonstrations against Muslim immigrants, and in one an effigy of an orthodox Jew was burnt, possibly because they believe Jews are the hidden force behind the flood of refugees.

To me, these people are not in touch with reality. Whatever they believe about the Jews, they are mistaken.

At least two people who I am friends with identify with president Barack Obama, and believe he is a good person. When he was criticized recently, one of them attributed it to racism.  Others do not agree, to put it mildly. Candidate Ben Carson calls him a psychopath – and Carson is a successful neurosurgeon, not a wild man.

Ben Caron
Ben Carson

A column by John Velisek (USN ret) titled”Obama’s Destruction of America: ends with this: “It is time for our representatives to rein in this narcissistic Marxist Muslim.”

So the motives attributed to Obama are extremely different among different people.

Getting motives right is an important part of understanding our world.

There is a “black lives matter” movement in the U.S. that seems to believe that white police officers are killing blacks due to racism throughout the country. Since this is so urgent, the sight of white students peacefully studying in a college library is irritating to them and so:

Black-clad protesters gathered in front of Dartmouth Hall, forming a crowd roughly one hundred fifty strong. …, the band descended from their high-water mark to march into Baker-Berry Library.

“F*** you, you filthy white f***s!” “F*** you and your comfort!” “F*** you, you racist s***!”

… The flood of demonstrators self-consciously overstepped every boundary, opening the doors of study spaces with students reviewing for exams. Those who tried to close their doors were harassed further. One student abandoned the study room and ran out of the library. The protesters followed her out of the library, shouting obscenities the whole way.
… Another woman was pinned to a wall by protesters who unleashed their insults, shouting “filthy white b****!” in her face.

What on earth is going on here? Are these protesters in touch with reality?  There are some police abuses – one huge one came to light on video just recently (see notes), but what does shoving some Dartmouth co-ed to a wall and yelling at her, do about police abuses?
Or take another group in the news – Islamic State. There again, there is a disagreement about motives. A recent interview of French Muslims shows many blame ISIS on the Jews. Why?

Their reasoning is simple: Muslims don’t kill other people, and especially not fellow Muslims. ISIS kills innocent people – and especially Muslims (in their eyes) – and so the group can’t possibly be Islamic. It’s as simple as 1+1=2.

On the other hand, these people are convinced that Jews do kill innocent people – and Muslims most of all.

And among Westerners too – there is a big disagreement on motives of ISIS – isn’t Islam a religion of peace? Is the rise of ISIS due to lack of “education”? Is it due to poverty and deprivation? Is it a reaction to Western imperialism? Is it a reaction to climate change? Is it a reaction to the lack of a Palestinian state? Is it comprised of a group of criminals finding justification for their impulses in a false interpretation of Islam? Is it as ISIS members say – the true interpretation of Islam? Do young women leave Europe to marry ISIS fighters because they want to be part of the excitement of reincarnating the “Caliphate”? Are they all mad?

We might argue that some of us are more rational than others. Obviously, I tend to think I am rational, and like everyone else, tend to believe my opinions are mostly correct. But if I am correct in many of my opinions, why are so many other members of my species so completely and utterly wrong?

JulienBahloulThe Middle Eastern looking guy on the left, Julien Bahloul, was bullied in school as a kid by a classmate who grew up to become one of the terrorists who caused the bloodbath in Paris. Julien is Jewish, and suffered from a great deal of anti-semitism in that school. So to add insult to injury, Muslims now blame people like Julien for what his bully did.

It is preferable to be a person who strives for truth and who is willing to take some basic steps to test his beliefs.  It is important to avoid wishful thinking and to not always avoid painful conclusions. Since so many people abandon even basic rules of thought in some realms of reality, I would conclude we are not rational animals unless we really want to be.

Sources: (Geert Wilders, the relevant part starting at 9 minutes and 25 seconds).

On Cheney’s motives, after I wrote this blog post I was sent an article from that scientist – its at CNN:
which says this: Of course it’s about oil; we can’t really deny that,” said Gen. John Abizaid, former head of U.S. Central Command and Military Operations in Iraq, in 2007. Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan agreed, writing in his memoir, “I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil.” Then-Sen. and now Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the same in 2007: “People say we’re not fighting for oil. Of course we are.”
Still, these people are not Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush, who were the actual decision makers   A counter argument is made at: which points out that many Democrats who were anti-oil pushed for the war – which would be crazy if the motive was to capture oil fields. Senators Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, and Harry Reid were among those who not only enthusiastically called for Saddam’s removal, but also warned of intelligence estimates of Saddam’s WMD arsenals.
Not only that, but the U.S. did  not get the oil – instead “the IEA projects that most of the nation [IRAQ]’s oil will be exported to China and other Asian markets.”  Presumably the U.S. would have stolen the oil fields from Iraq and surrounded them with troops if the idea was just to get oil.  Another article, by Victor Davis Hansen says we have amnesia as to the entire topic:  His article is at:

Note 2:
I mentioned that huge case of police abuse.  This is from the Washington Examiner:
“A lot of lies are told about police brutality. The fabricated narrative about the death of Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Mo., last year, is a case in point. But the case of Laquan McDonald in Chicago shows that not all complaints are false. Some of them are shockingly true. It’s officialdom that has been telling the lies, and that is a whole lot worse.”

Conversely, there are examples of  cops being framed by their “victims” and then a dashcam video shows the cops were telling the truth, not the victims.  The article on that, with videos, is here:


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