Many believe the discussion of free will is pointless. This is usually because one believes it’s been settled (for the religious who believe God gave it to us) or because one believes it doesn’t matter (for the secular types who believe there is no practical benefit to having the discussion).
I will attempt to convince the second group that their position of apathy is incorrect.
The Concept of “Deserving”
It’s impossible to deserve anything unless there is free will. If there is no free will then nobody deserves praise for becoming rich after years of hard work. Similarly, nobody deserves to be looked down upon for failing to succeed in life.
It is nearly impossible to overstate how important this point is.
It’s true that even those who do believe in free will give room for difficult circumstances, but ultimately they believe that free will allows one to overcome (if they care enough to do so). This places blame and praise right back onto the individual in question.
Society respects the rich and looks down on the poor because we believe, quite simply, that people have the option to go against the grain of whatever life they’ve been handed. Those born into highly prosperous and educated families could end up squandering their good fortune away, and those born in urban welfare homes to single a single mom could end up going to Harvard.
If they choose to.
This belief has subtle but violent repercussions. It means that when that boy from the ghetto doesn’t make it out, he didn’t want it enough. It was his choice, and he didn’t put the work in.
This knight’s move constitutes nothing less than justification for looking down on those that don’t succeed. If you don’t think that’s significant, expand the concept out to groups of people, parts of town, and to entire nations.
The Link to Compassion
Imagine the local homeless person asking for a dollar on the street corner. I know countless deeply religious people who make it a rule to never give these people money. It is my belief that this is because they hold in their minds the conviction that this person chose to fail, and that they are basically refuse that will benefit from their monthly tithing through the church.
They don’t see someone who needs help; they see someone who has failed to help himself.
I, on the other hand, see a person who did not have advantages. Now, who do you think is more likely to be compassionate: the person who believes that he could have willed himself out of his situation, or the person who believes he was unfortunate and unable to escape?
That’s the key: compassion goes down the more you believe the person in the position deserves what they are experiencing. As such, those who believe in free will are naturally prone to be less compassionate.
This concept permeates the various political platforms. If you permit me the simplification, the right believes strongly in free will and therefore has far less sympathy for those who don’t achieve. The left believes far more in circumstances and variables, and therefore is more sympathetic to those who don’t succeed.
This translates directly to taxation as well. If you “deserve” your money, you shouldn’t have it taken from you. If you were lucky to get it then it should be spread to those who need it. Again, the sides on this debate fall right down the line of left and right.
No single question matters more in terms of human morality than that of whether not we have free will. To dodge this debate in the name of practicality is intellectual cowardice at this point in our civilization.
Put thought into and determine your position on this topic, and make the effort to ensure that your political views are consistent with it. ::
1 Image from Getty.