It’s pleasing to my progressive self when modern science confirms one of the foundations of Democratic/liberal political philosophy. Such as, that we humans don’t have free will. It’s an illusion.
Such is the message of Sam Harris’ captivating new book, the pleasingly short (66 readable pages) “Free Will.” Harris is a neuroscientist whose first book was “The End of Faith,” which brought him a lot of well-deserved attention.
I hope “Free Will” reaches even more people. On my other blog I’ve talked about the dizzying joy of being freed from a belief in free will, and how free will is a limiting, destructive belief.
The ‘left’ generally assumes that we have less free will, that individuals are victims of factors out of their control – bad genes, ‘greedy’ rich people, ‘structural racism’ – and it’s the role of the state through wealth redistribution and entitlement spending to create more equatable outcomes. Those on the right, especially the mainstream right, tend to believe in the pulling-ones-self-up mentality that with tenacity and grit, instead of a handout, anyone can improve and overcome adversity.
So how can one believe in biological determinism without being a liberal?
Brilliant quote by Daniel Dennett, and it’s why Aethist conservatism is becoming so popular, because it makes sense – that we all have free will, the ability to thrive and succeed – but within our biological limits. That’s how you reconcile free will with Darwinism. A person with an IQ of 90 has the ‘free will’ to become a Walmart door greeter or possibly a barista, but not a physicist or a coder, for example. He has the free will to possibly attain a modest, at best, standard of living – but no more. A person with a much higher IQ has more options (a higher promotion in the Darwinian scheme) and can pursue many avenues of employment, some of which pay very well and bring great prestige and recognition, such as being a coder, a quant, a stock trader, and so on. Yes, the person with an IQ of 90 has the free will to attempt to be a coder – just as a quadriplegic can attempt to be a rock climber – it’s just that he will likely fail because of biological limitations.
The Christian Right tends to believe that people should serve God, that individuals are to be subservient before a higher power; thus free will tends to be proscribed except in believing in god and being virtuous as means to salvation, as opposed to the Mainstream Right, who tend to be to be more open to the concept of free will less in the sense of religion, but more as a way of overcoming adversity, ignoring the role of biology, which is a criticism I have with the mainstream right.
The pragmatic/HBD right, on the other hand, tends to believe that IQ, which is largely biological, is a new caste system that ‘sorts’ people, having the effect of limiting free will as far as intellectual endeavors and economic upward mobility is concerned. James Altucher blogs about ‘choosing yourself’ instead of being ‘chosen’ (chosen by a boss, a client, etc), but in our winner-take-all, average-is-over hyper-competitive economy, we have much less free will to ‘choose’ our future as we may want to believe. Due to recent economic trends, which is reflected in the data of IQ vs. income, people who are not in the top quartile as measured by IQ have relatively few choices, and upward mobility is harder and harder to come by given how competitive and cutthroat everything has become, especially since 2008. It’s more like the American Idol economy of supply (contestants) vastly exceeding demand (winners). As I explain in my article, Bryan Caplan: Anti-Democracy Pioneer, in what is Social Darwinism 2.0, people are falling behind because of low IQs in an economy that increasingly rewards intellect.
Unlike the religious and mainstream right, for the HBD/rationalists redemption is through recognition, intellectual accomplishments, and wealth – things that are typically hard to attain, as opposed to ‘easy’ like going to church and being a moral person.
The Welfare Left behaves like religious fundamentalists in their zeal that the state, instead of the church, can ‘save’ people, where everyone is a ‘blank slate’ that can be programmed by the state (instead of the church) to achieve some sort of egalitarian endgame. The left also has to perform mental gymnastics in choosing explanations for societal problems (wealth inequality, crime, and poor academic performance among some groups of people) that doesn’t conflict with their blank slate viewpoint, so instead of attributing these problems to biological factors like low IQs, they blame environmental factors – greedy rich people, capitalism, not enough education spending, globalization or – in the case of Gladwell – luck, practice, family connections, or some other ‘unfair’ environmental advantage. So in the case of Sam Harris, Dawkins, and Daniel Dennett, to be a liberal and believe in biological explanations superseding environment kinda makes you a pariah among today’s mainstream left. That’s why pragmatic/neo liberals, such as Larry Summers and Steven Levitt, who believe in biology in shaping socioeconomic outcomes, especially if the biological reality offends a protected group (women, non-Asian minorities), have been targets of the welfare left, with consequences such as loss of employment, shaming, and blacklisting, as in the example of Larry Summers and recently Tim Hunt.
Pertaining to free will, the schism between welfare and classical liberals, as well other other ideologies, is delineated by this table:
|Christian Conservative||Welfare/Mainstream Liberal||Neo/Classical/Pragmatic Liberal||Mainstream Conservative||HBD/Rationalist Conservative|
|Free Will||Varies. Generally, people do have free will to choose whether or not to sin (The biblical ground for free will lies in the ”Fall” into sin by Adam and Eve that occurred in their “willfully chosen” disobedience to God). From Wikipedia: For Calvin, humanity possesses “free will,” but it is in bondage to sin, unless it is “transformed.”||Less free will, due to environmental factors such as racism, not enough education spending, income inequality, cronyism, …etc||Less free will, due to biological factors such as IQ and innate differences between individuals and groups (sexes, races)||Strong free will, pull-yourself-up mentality. A view also shared by most libertarians.||Less free will, due to biology|