In psychology and logic, rationalization (also known as making excuses) is a defense mechanism in which perceived controversial behaviors or feelings are logically justified and explained in a rational or logical manner in order to avoid any true explanation, and are made consciously tolerable – or even admirable and superior – by plausible means. Rationalization encourages irrational or unacceptable behavior, motives, or feelings and often involves ad hoc hypothesizing. This process ranges from fully conscious (e.g. to present an external defense against ridicule from others) to mostly subconscious (e.g. to create a block against internal feelings of guilt).
People rationalize for various reasons. Rationalization may differentiate the original deterministic explanation of the behavior or feeling in question. Sometimes rationalization occurs when we think we know ourselves better than we do. It is also an informal fallacy of reasoning.
The U.S. Senator who recently proclaimed that he was going to shut down our country’s safety net in order to rescue those trapped in it was certainly using rationalization to justify a very wrong-headed motive. The thing about rationalization is that it is seldom really about the topic at hand but instead just a means to accomplish something else, often much more sinister.
Paul Ryan who is a congressman from Wisconsin and the 2012 vice-presidential candidate is knowingly or unknowingly the epitome of rationalization. He tries to make us believe that he really cares about the margins of society when his actions say just the opposite. He tries to rationalize that taking food out of poor family’s mouth and denying them any expectation of affordable healthcare is admirable and superior to any other means of balancing our budgets. He, like almost everyone else in congress, totally ignores our run-away military budgets but instead wants to balance his budget primarily on the backs of the poor.
In order for us to continue to stick to an out-dated military mentality we use rationalization to convince ourselves that we don’t need to change. As the quote above ends rationalization is an informal fallacy of reasoning. It has been used throughout history to block human progress. During the 1950s we rationalized denying African-Americans their rightful place in society by saying the Bible legitimized slavery. In the 19th century we rationalized killing off the native-American population by saying they weren’t really humans but savages. In the early 20th century we used eugenics to rationalize putting people who had mental or social deviance into prisons and asylums instead of providing them the treatment they really needed.
Of course many people today have re-purposed rationalization into “Spin” and that is certainly something that is rampant in our world right now.