Many Americans revere science and rationality even when they may personally reject its sway over their own decision-making. American culture, its system of values, and all its attendant rewards for reflecting those values—money, honor, social ties—skew heavily in favor rationality. Americans may like to think that when presented with “objective” facts and “hard data” they will make objectively correct choices. And, they may assume that rational decision-making is static and consistent across all of the choices they make, from which detergents they buy to whom they marry.
What they often don’t like are emotions. Emotions are variable. They are inconsistent. They are, in the language of markets, inefficient to scale and monetize. But, science (apologizing for the appeal to rationality to make a case about emotions) is fairly clear that people make decisions based on emotions all the time. And, often, how they feel about a choice can override any objective data at hand about the choice they’re making. Having mad feels is the human condition.
But that does not stop Americans from venerating scientific rationality as the great god among all ways of knowing. That is why they venerate someone like Ben Carson, who has literally touched the genesis of all human rationality, the human brain, with his bare hands. So strong is the rhetoric of rationality in American culture that even when those who are predisposed to thinking African American children of single mothers are abhorrent make exceptions for someone like Carson. He is an outlier who doesn’t disprove the rule of black inferiority; he is even more exceptional for existing despite the rule.
Smart people like to think that they are rational. They make rational decisions about what to think and believe and do so based on objective facts. Carson is trained in one of the most celebrated rational professions, but he believes some things that don’t seem very rational. He believes, for example, that the earth was created in six actual days.
Carson also says that the Affordable Care Act is the worst thing to happen to the U.S. since the slave trade. A rational person might agree that, between the Fourteenth Amendment and the ACA, there were some things—perhaps the Great Depression or Pearl Harbor or September 11th—that rank just ahead of a health-care insurance exchange on the list of objectively bad things to happen in the U.S.
Like many giants in a field that is highly valued in American culture, Carson has benefited from a type of halo effect. That is, if people like someone in one domain of life, they are inclined to like them across all domains of life. Mark Zuckerberg built a social-media platform that made a lot of money and shaped many of our social interactions in new, exciting ways. Ergo, Zuckerberg can “fix” failing urban schools. Bill Gates built an operating system that reorientated work and life—and forever blurred the lines between the two with the help of the home computer. So, of course, Gates can “save” Africa from whatever ailment is being ascribed to the dark continent today: water access, gender disparities, or educational divides.