The Just-Be-Reasonable Predicament

by Satoshi_Nakamoto4 min read16th Jul 201524 comments


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If people don't see you as being “reasonable”, then you are likely to have troublesome interactions with them. Therefore, it is often valuable to be seen as “reasonable”. Reasonableness is a general perception that is determined by the social context and norms. It includes, but is not limited to, being seen as fair, sensible and socially cooperative. In summary, we can describe it as being noticeably rational in socially acceptable ways. What is “reasonable” and what is rational often converges, but it is important to note that they can also diverge and be different. For example, it was deemed “unreasonable” to free African-Americans from slavery because slavery was deemed necessary for the economy of the South.


The just-be-reasonable predicament occurs when you are chastised for doing something that you believe to be more rational and/or optimal than the norm or what is expected or desired. The chastiser has either: not considered, cannot fathom or does not care that what you are doing or want to do might be more rational and/or optimal than what is the default course of action. The predicament is similar to the one described in lonely dissent in that you must choose between making what you to believe to be the most rational and/or optimal course of action and the one that will be meet with the least amount of social disapproval. 


An example of this predicament is when you are playing a game with a scrub (a player who is handicapped by self-imposed rules that the game knows nothing about). The scrub might criticise for continuing to use the best strategy that you are aware of, but that they thinks is cheap. If you try to argue that a strategy is a strategy, then the argument is likely to end with the scrub getting angry and saying the equivalent of “just be reasonable”, which basically means: “why can’t you just follow what I see as the rules and the way things should be done?” When you encounter this predicament, you need to weigh up the costs of leaving the way or choosing a non-optimal action vs. facing potential social disapproval. The way opposes being “reasonable” when it is not aligned with being rational. In the scrub situation, the main benefit of being “reasonable” is that you are less likely to annoy the scrub and the main cost is that you are giving up a way to improve for both you and the scrub. The scrub will never learn how to counter the “cheap” strategy and you won’t be looking for other strategies as you know you can always just fall back to the “cheap” strategy if you want to win.


In general, you have three choices for how to deal with this predicament: you can be “reasonable”, explain yourself or try to ignore it. Ignoring it means that you continue or go ahead with the ration/optimal course of action that you had planned and that you also to change the conversation or situation so that you don't continue getting chastised. Which choice you should make depends on thecorrigibility and state of mind of the person that you need to explain yourself to as well as how much being “reasonable” differs from being rational. If we reconsider the scrub situation, then we can think of times when you should, or at least most people would, avoid the so called “cheap” strategy. Maybe, it is a bug in the game or it’s overpowered or your goal is fun rather than becoming better at the game. (Note, though, that becoming better at a game often makes it more fun).


The just-be-reasonable predicament is especially troubling because, like with the counter man syndrome, repeated erroneous thinking can become embedded into how you reason. In this case, repeated acquiescence can lead to embedding irrational and/or non-optimal ways of thinking into your thought processes.


If you continually encounter the just-be-reasonable predicament, then it indicates that your values are out of alignment with the person that you are dealing with. That is, they don’t value rationality, but just want you to do things in the way that they expect and want. Trying to get them to adopt a more rational way of doing things will often be a hard task because it involves having to convince them that their current paradigm from which they are deriving their beliefs as to what is “reasonable” is non-optimal.

Situations involving this predicament come in four main varieties:

  • You actually should just be “reasonable” – this occurs when you are being un”reasonable” not because the most rational or optimal thing is opposed to what is currently considered “reasonable”, but because you are being irrational. If this is the case, then make sure that you don’t try to rationalize and instead just be “reasonable” or try to ignore the situation so that you can think about it later when you are in a better state of mind.
  • Someone wants you to be “reasonable”, but hasn’t really thought about or cares about whether this is rational – this might occur when someone is angry at you because you are not following what they think is the right way to do things. It is important in this situation to not use the predicament as a way of avoiding thoughts about how you might be wrong or how the situation might be like from the other person’s perspective. This is important because, ultimately, you want to change the other person’s opinion about what is “reasonable” so that it matches up more with what is rational. To do this well you often need to be empathetic, understanding and strategic. You need to be strategic because sometimes you may need to ignore the situation or be what they think is “reasonable” so that you can reapproach the topic later without it being contaminated with negative valence. A good idea if you want to avoid making the other person feel like you are imposing is to get them to agree to try out your more rational method on a trial basis. This is also useful for two other reasons: what you think is more rational may turn out not to be and the “reasonable” way of doing things, on reflection, may turn out to be more rational than you think. Something additional to consider is that everyone has different dispositions, propensities and tendencies and what might be the most optimal strategy for you might not be for someone else. If this is the case, then don’t try to change their strategy, but just try to explain why you want to use yours.
  • Someone is telling you to be “reasonable” as a power play or as a method of control – this situation happens when someone is using their power to make you follow their way of doing things. This situation requires a different tact than the last one because your strategies to explain yourself probably won’t work. This is because being told to “just be “reasonable”” is a method that they are using to put you in your place. The other person is not interested in whether the “reasonable” thing is actually rational. They just want you to do something that benefits them. This kind of situation is tough to deal with. You may need to ignore and avoid them or if you do try to explain yourself make sure that you get the support of others first.
  • You don’t want to explain yourself – sometimes we notice that what people think is “reasonable” is not actually rational, but we do the “reasonable” thing anyway because the effort or potential cost involved with explaining yourself is considered to be too high. In this case, you either have to be “reasonable” or try to avoid the issue. Please note that this solution is not optimal because avoiding something when you don’t have evidence that it will go away is a choice to reface the same or worse situation in the future and accepting an unsavoury situation in resignation is letting fear control and limit you.

If you encounter the just-be-reasonable predicament, I recommend running through the below process:  


Some other types of this predicament would be “just do as you’re told”, “why can’t you just conform to my belief of what is the best course of action for you here” and any other type of social disapproval, implicit or explicit, that you get from doing what is rational or optimal rather than what is expected or the default.

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