“Rational man” is a culturally dependent construct

Embedded in that view is a concept of humans as essentially rational, in the classical economist’s sense of that word. Rational people weigh up the options and do what’s in their best interests. So, the arc of history bends, if not always towards justice, then towards peace and prosperity.” James Kirkup in “The Times”; today

Rational men” ? They think so

What is “rational” is subjective and culturally dependent. Back in the 1980s, living in Hong Kong and working for Shell, I was a very small cog in the growing movement to open up China economically. How many times did I hear the platitude that China embracing capitalism would lead to the country embracing democracy as well. We thought that to have free markets you had to have free people. Time has shown that you don’t.

Russia’s culture is one of strong all-powerful leaders. The Tsars, Stalin, Putin and most along the way. This hasn’t prevented them being a “Great Power’. Indeed had they been bothered with ensuring personal freedoms and genuine ballot boxes they could have fallen into the troublesome necessity for endless political debate that preoccupies the West.

Being successfully international – economically or culturally or commercially – requires us, as two writers once put it, to “Ride the Waves of culture”. One of writers of this excellent book like me worked for Shell. He taught that when we move outside the comfort zone of our own culture we need to ride the waves we encounter not try and mould or redirect them.

So there is no “rational” model. Walk down a Tokyo street in modern times and you will see hundreds of “salary men” in western suits. Don’t be fooled. The mores and values they have are not ours. When a Japanese businessman says “Yes” he says he understands not that he agrees. “Rational man” is a culturally dependent construct.

One thought on ““Rational man” is a culturally dependent construct

  1. I am not sure the ‘bending arch towards peace and prosperity’ is in Putin’s best interests. We should not assume the man is rational or even sain. Those years of absolute power and isolation seem to have turned him utterly irrational. What he seeks to gain from destroying a democratic Ukraine is just more power. Yet I suspect it will ultimately destroy the very thing he seeks most. To risk it all indicates at best poor judgement and at worst insanity.


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