Some say the world has gone mad, others that it is only now becoming sane. The disagreement shows that people disagree on what it is to be rational.
It also reflects a widespread and very basic change in how people think. Joe Bissonnette notes that the change is visible in IQ test results. For decades people all over the world have been doing better and better on test questions that emphasize the most abstract forms of reasoning. The accumulated changes from this so-called Flynn Effect are large enough to suggest that most nineteenth century people would be classified as mentally retarded by today’s much higher standards.
Other comparisons, for example between popular literature then and now, make that suggestion ridiculous. But if overall intelligence remains constant or nearly so, any improvement in purely abstract reasoning must be coming at the expense of other abilities. And that appears so. The improvement in scores corresponds to a tendency to think less by reference to concrete narratives and more by reference to abstract analysis. That doesn’t make people smarter, but it does mean they think about things differently. People today are less literary, less religious, and more visually and technically oriented. They view the world less as a complex of concrete functional arrangements like family, community, and a natural order that we are part of and must respect, and more as a collection of resources available for whatever purposes each of us may have.