- There is no supernatural origin of free will.
- All human action is the product of the interaction of a finite number of variables.
- These variables are determined by combining genetic potential (nature) with the environment that interacts with that potential (nurture).
- Humans do not control their own genetics.
- Humans do not control their environment.1
So, if a criminal stands before you with poor intelligence and a poor upbringing (limited educational opportunities, negative role models, etc.) which one of these variables is his fault?
And if neither of those variables are under his control, and no supernatural interference is present to provide free will, then how can anyone possibly be held responsible for their actions–good or bad?
The answer is that they cannot. In truth, neither heroes or villains deserve credit for their actions. It is a deterministic2 combination of variables that creates the world we live in, and the mature thing to do as a society is to realize this and take action accordingly.
What action you ask? Intelligently, and humanely, control the variables.
A Possible Implementation Model
Given this information and a society advanced enough to embrace it and act upon it, I believe a separation of missions is necessary within the effort. First off, I don’t expect anything this advanced in approach to exist for many decades and/or centuries, and at that point I hope government will be a lose collection of individuals that is organized in such a way that they have little to no incentive to be selfish in any way. Kind of like weekly overseers elected by the masses who have nothing in mind but altruism.
Yes, it’s fantasy, but bear with me; I don’t want to get caught up debate over government corruption.
The first arm of government would be dedicated to enhancing the quality of humanity. This would include the elimination of disease, the promotion of peace and prosperity, the improvement of education programs, and possibly the engineering of our genetics to eliminate negatives and/or accentuate positives 3.
The second arm of government would be in charge of keeping negative, violent, and dangerous elements of humanity out of the general society. So murderers and rapists and other criminals would be isolated and kept from impacting society further.
This will be controversial, as it may include strategies such as forced environment change (not necessarily prison, however) and even extreme measures such as sterilization to prevent the propagation of uncontrollable causes of negativity.
The key is that these two arms of government would supplement each other. The first group would operate as if humans were completely benign and in need of help, and the second group would operate as if the main society was to be protected from unfortunate genetic or environmental variables. And the first’s mission would be to rescue those being isolated by the second.
Finally, there would be a third, overseer group, made up of the noblest and smartest among the society, that oversees both arms. This would keep the first group from getting too powerful and prohibiting the second group from doing what’s best for the whole. And it would prevent the second group from getting too powerful and going on some sort of “genetic purity” bend that tries to take us to a Brave New World, or worse.
The most important thing in all of this is that both efforts are required to maintain a healthy society, and that it’s difficult to find people who understand and accept the need for both. Most people are on one side or the other and see the other side as either weak or evil.
Again, the three pieces:
- Accept that physics ultimately guides our lives.
- Take steps to keep negative elements out of society.
- Simultaneously work to elevate those we are isolating.
1 One does have the appearance of free will all throughout life, and hence appears to have control over their environment as well. But the ability to change anything in one’s life depends on the current variables present in the brain at any given decision point, and these are still bound by genetics + environment up to that point in time. Thus, all decisions are still deterministic. The ability to change one’s environment is an illusion.
2 I use deterministic in the weak form here, as I am not addressing the realm of randomness at the quantum level. In other words, the outcome might not be knowable, even with all the variables, due to randomness, but since no part of the decision is actually coming from the human separate from the combination of variables within them, the outcome is deterministic relative to the human actor.
3 No, not like Brave New World–more like we are trying to do now. Isolating and eliminating genetic defects that cause disease and such. The moral discussion that surrounds both elimination of flaws and enhancement is extensive, but suffice it to say that it should be handled very carefully, with a supreme respect for the dangers that can come from going too far.
[ 2009-05-21 : Edited my language on government to avoid major tangents seen in the comments ]