I’ve noticed how adept people are at coming up with a way to explain away something, to give reason and meaning to something, to justify something, or to simply give an excuse. It doesn’t take much effort to become skillful at the art of rationalization, which is why it’s easy to be deceived by how the explanations we hold in our mind “make sense”. We then adopt the explanation as a belief because we allow them to slip by our critical eye… then we fail to see how maladaptive they are because it isn’t apparent how those beliefs affect the decisions we make.
I don’t really want to talk about the ‘why’ or ‘how’ in regards to the mechanism of rationalization, rather that I am simply in awe of its power. We can use it to attach meaning to the mundane and ordinary — to give them more weight, more significance, even when there was none to begin with. Imagine mixing that ability with our predisposition to subjectively judge somethings value from our perceptions and beliefs of its value (rather than by any inherent value or objective measure).
Of course, the very nature of rationalization is that they are “not appropriate” (as stated in the first definition above, mainly because the ends they try to justify is controversial (and oftentimes the subject of ethical or moral debate), or the means they use to reason are logical fallacies.
So when is the power of an inappropriate tool useful? Can an inappropriate tool ever NOT be maladaptive?
Further reading: Wikipedia entry on Rationalization (Psychology)