Foucault could tell distinguish between rationality and a rationalization.

My husband was recently appalled when he read an article where a woman citing crime statistics in an argument for improving policing to prevent crime was ignored based on the idea that a numbers based argument would be a racist argument.

My husband worries that if society ignores numbers and rational arguments based on observations, then the only thing left would be an irrational and absurd approach based on a policy mandate rather than what reality on the ground would suggest as a sensible approach. This implies a fixed approach that is harder to modify if/when it fails.

There seems to be some absurdity happening today. Certainly Covid mandates were like that: absurd, enforced well after they were proved unhelpful; hard to stop.

The difference between the word rationalization and the word rational is instructive. According to my Webster’s New World Dictionary, Second College Edition, under a definition for


“5. Psychol. to devise superficially rational, or plausible explanations or excuses for (one’s acts, beliefs, desires,etc.) usually without being aware that these are not the real motives.”

and also a definition for


“rational implies the ability to reason logically as by drawing conclusions from inferences, and often connotes the absence of emotionalism [man is a rational creature]; reasonable is a less technical term and suggests the use of practical reason in making decisions, choices, etc., [a reasonable solution to a problem]; sensible, also a nontechnical term, implies the use of common sense or sound judgement [you made a sensible decision]”.

In the case of social breakdown that causes an increase in criminality, real problems are hard to address. Resources to address social problems can be hard to come by when there’s stress on the economy. Social divisions can be caused by a claim that racism is causing unfairness in the criminal justice system and this can distract everyone from blaming the criminal justice system itself. It also diverts attention from corruption, from inefficiency, from failures in performance, from manpower shortages and from social breakdown due to economic failures. A rationalization that stops police from reducing criminality may feel like a reprieve to some groups.

When people want what is in short supply, sometimes they want to rationalize why or how they must have something that can’t be obtained by everyone by a rational means. If a person can’t obtain what they want, maybe they can either steal it or force a shortage onto someone else who isn’t them by using a rationalization. But a rationalization won’t achieve what isn’t possible to do. Instead it will offer a lie or an excuse to comfort a frustrated wish. That isn’t the same as solving the problem of having a shortage. If someone else goes without something that they want during a shortage, there’s still a shortage.

Michel Foucault was a French political philosopher ( 1920-1984) ( He liked to study and theorize. Instead of studying continuities in history he liked the discontinuities. He asked what caused society to break down during political upheavals, what characterizations led to people being incarcerated, or what kinds of thinking led to the inhumane treatment of people. I think that his writings have been exagerrated today in a way that is causing some people to embrace irrationality as a way to get around a more rational approach. Some people want to use Foucault to reframe descriptions of what is happening in our society in a way that benefits an irrational viewpoint. This irrational approach can feel like an escape to some from trouble that can’t be avoided.

Some of us don’t want to face the notion that the economy is shrinking and a lot of economic suffering is happening for rational reasons. Instead some people want to complain about unfairness due to racism. There’s a wish to escape from a factual physical or economic shortage into an opinion that everything can be explained because of racism or rational approaches can be ignored because using those methods is a racist approach. A state of mind can seem easier to change than a real shortage of economic prosperity that is difficult to remedy.

Buy a copy of Political Catsup with Economy Fries available at

Economic harms are happening everywhere as a consequence of bad monetary policies involving financializaiton and monetary system abuse including overspending and too much debt at a time when energy costs are inescapably increasing because our petroleum resources are harder to extract and refine and that increases costs which are communicated to every part of our economy. What can we do about that? ESG certainly won’t solve such a problem as this.

Michel Foucault liked to look in the nooks and crannies of society where suffering was happening to marginalized groups. He examined rationalizations that people had for cruelty or for excluding some people from the rest of society. He liked to look at power dynamics and especially at those least powerful groups and ask questions about that state of affairs. He was looking at the human condition and the human mind and trying to understand society’s justifications for actions that hurt or marginalized others.

Even though Foucault liked to stretch his arguments, he never suggested that arithmetic is irrelevant. He didn’t say that we should ignore rational reasons for doing what we do. He just wanted us to be more suspicious about people’s motivations. He wanted us to realize that people have reasons for what they do and some of those reasons might not really be good enough. But he never said that geometry, algebra, statistics, and various rational ways of looking for information to better guide our approaches in a rational way is without merit. Foucault didn’t want people to abandon a sensible approach to solving society’s problems. He wanted us to ask ourselves and others hard questions about what our real motivations are.

That some would use Foucault’s analysis of motivations to ignore economic shortages or social breakdown doesn’t fix the problems of economic shortage nor of increasing criminality during economic decline. It distracts us from solving problems that need solutions.


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