Explaining HOA member irrationality – the BOD can do no wrong

My concern, since I was a teenager, was how do people make decisions and important choices, and why. It should be generally accepted today that we are facing a lot of harmful irrationality in many aspects of our society. It would seem, addressing the conduct, behavior and choices made by members of HOAs with respect to their HOA, and to the institution of HOAs in general, that the adage “My rationality is your irrationality and vice versa” is at play.  (What you consider rational I consider irrational, and what you consider irrational I consider rational).

My many years of activism in HOA reform legislation and research into this issue led me to the strong belief that the forces and dynamics of cult behavior[1] and authoritarianism[2] were the chief factors in the behavior of HOA members; the majority of whom seem to act in a highly irrational manner that was harmful to their own self-interests – the HOA can do no wrong.

Well, thank goodness Steven Pinker[3] makes some sense of rationality by delving into the functioning of the mind from a cognitive psychologists point of view.[4]  (It’s like trying to explain why the chicken crossed the road). Having a minor in psychology, I describe Pinker’s presentation as rather deep being directed more to  Rationality 201 or even higher, Rationality 301, using college level course structure. The “meat” of his book, for my purposes, comes in Chapter 10, What’s Wrong With People, when he comes down to the level of the average person.

From the very start Pinker makes it clear that the average person does not understand scientific investigation, the mathematics of probability, formal logic analysis, syllogisms, forecasting, etc..  He simply uses his gut feelings, his intuition,  which has always been mankind’s way of thinking.

Summarizing the author’s views, using annotations to simplify his learned arguments,

To be sure, many superstitions originate in overinterpreting coincidences, failing to calibrate evidence against priors, overgeneralizing from anecdotes, and leaping from correlation to causation. [In more common terms, failing to vet the claims or to conduct  due diligence].

Social media may indeed be accelerating their spread, but the [appeal] lies deep in human nature: people . . .  compose these stories, and it’s people they appeal to.

The mustering of [reasons] to drive an argument toward a favorable conclusion is called motivated reasoning. The motive may be to [support] a favorable conclusion, but [also to] flaunt the [other sides] wisdom, knowledge, or virtue.

People seek out arguments that ratify their beliefs and shield themselves from those that might disconfirm them. [Emphasis added].

“A large majority of Americans consider themselves less susceptible to . . .  biases than the average American, and virtually none consider themselves more biased.”

Study the above statements by the author carefully. It should become apparent that they describe the why and how the bulk of HOA members blindly obey their HOA board of directors.  They also explain the cult mentality of and the authoritarian appeal by the members (see Notes below).  It demonstrates that the mindset of the majority of members is believing that their HOA is heaven on earth and the next best thing to Mom’s apple pie; they do not want that belief disturbed and— unconsciously — naturally adopt motivated reasoning to preserve their image of a better community, a better world.

Please understand the difference between a real estate condominium and planned subdivision with its desirable amenities, landscaping, and oversight on contractual violations from the association that is the authoritarian, governing body also commonly referred as the HOA.  The former can be retained under the protection of Constitution now denied to the HOA members.

Applying Pinker’s findings, did the Arizona Supreme Court act irrationally in its denial to review the Tarter v. Bendt Petition[5] filed by the homeowner?


[1] See Cult behavior within HOA-LandEscaping the HOA cult environmentA Plan Toward Restructuring the HOA Model of Governance.

[2] See HOA political dynamics: totalitarian democracy and  Authoritarianism in the HOA-Land Nation.

[3] Steven Pinker, Rationality: What It Is, Why It Seems Scarce, Why It Matters, Viking (2021).

[4] Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of the mind as an information processor. Information processing in humans resembles that in computers, and is based on based on transforming information, storing information and retrieving information from memory. Cognitive Psychology.

[5] See AZ supreme court denies hearing HOA case raising limited-purpose public figure doctrine.