I was watching the Senate debate on health care yet again, and as Orrin Hatch droned on in his characteristically sanctimonious fashion, my mind began to wander. I found myself, naturally, thinking about rational choice theory, and the relationship between formal rationality and the transitivity of ordinal preference.
If I prefer chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream, as I do, and if I also prefer vanilla ice cream to strawberry ice cream [as I also do], then, if I am rational and have transitive preferences, I ought to prefer chocolate ice cream to strawberry ice cream. This is not really a very strong rationality constraint, after all. It even allows me to prefer pistachio to any of them, which from a somewhat broader perspective is clearly insane. But surely any minimally rational person who prefers A to B and B to C will prefer A to C.
So I decided to test myself to see whether I meet the minimal requirements of formal rationality [pretty much a necessity for someone who features himself a philosopher]. I hate Orrin Hatch, I reflected. I also hate Jeff Sessions. After turning the matter over in my mind, I realized that I hate Orrin Hatch more than I hate Jeff Sessions. I mean, Sessions is a despicable pipsqueak, and arguably the stupidest person in public life. But Hatch is oily and smug. No contest. I also hate Joe Lieberman [who doesn't?]. He is what in Jewish circles is known as a passive aggressive man, someone who smiles and is sweet, and stabs you in the back. But I hate Jeff Sessions more than I hate Joe Lieberman, because at least Lieberman once actually manifested some concern for civil rights, whereas Sessions is an out and out racist.
Once I had gotten this far, I was ready to test my rationality. I hate Hatch more than Sessions and Sessions more than Lieberman. I ought, in all consistency, therefore, to hate Hatch more than Lieberman. But when I held the two before my mind -- a distasteful but necessary exercise -- I realized that the blind fury Lieberman inspires in me exceeds even the loathing I feel for Hatch. Which is a contradiction.
There it is, then. Politics has driven me crazy.