Reconciling Free Will with Biological Determinism

Regarding yesterday’s post, a question that comes up is how does one reconcile biological determinism with free will and one’s ability to take personal responsibility? If some people are preordained to struggle due to poor genes in what has become an increasingly competitive economy, doesn’t it behoove society to help these people?

The short answer is, yes. But the longer answer is, help, but also minimize externalities so that the deleterious economic and social impact of such individuals is minimized, but also to prevent the propagation of such inauspicious genes that lead to such economic disadvantage. Introducing the variable of externalities can help resolve this debate because it makes free will less relevant, because it matters not whether one can control his or her own actions, but rather the consequences of such actions.

The 20th century progressives (whom should not be confused with 21st century left-wing progressives) reconciled free will and their belief in biological determinism in such a manner, by advocating eugenics (the prevent the propagation of undesirable genes), punitive justice (to quarantine individuals who impose externalities on society, in a humane manner), IQ tests (to help single out individuals with cognitive disabilities (the original purpose of IQ tests was to diagnose cognitive disabilities, but it was readily adapted to identify exceptional ability, too)), but also a belief in the so-called Protestant work ethic, in which individuals can attain salvation and self-sufficiency through hard work.

A lot of right-wing political ideology is based on the idea that individuals can control their actions and change their circumstances through willpower; for example; that that poor can overcome poverty through hard work, or that longer and more punitive prison sentences can curtail crime by acting as a deterrent. This assumes that the would-be criminal has the agency to make choices, than be subjected to impulses outside of his or her control. If the latter, then the individual cannot be held as being fully accountable for his or her actions. This is an argument used by the left, often in the context of insanity defenses.

My view is that biological factors and autonomous economic factors severely limit individual free will (as in the ability of an individual to change his or her outcome), but however, I still believe that the individual is still accountable [1]. An individual can choose between multiple options, but the options and outcomes are in large part predetermined by factors outside of one’s control such as economics and IQ. On the other hand, some Christian Conservatives deny free will as it pertains to salvation. But rather than religion, in my opinion, salvation is through IQ.

Even though I am of the ‘right’, I disagree that religion is as relevant or important to society as some on the right believe it is. I think ‘science and reason’, but also things that can be quantified (such as wealth and status) are taking over theistic religion, becoming a new ‘religion’ around materialism. The support of Trump by the right despite him not being a model Christian, is possibly evidence of this trend.

The following Arthur Schopenhauer quote is relvant:

Everyone believes himself, a priori, perfectly free – even in his individual actions, and thinks that at every moment he can commence another manner of life. … But a posteriori, through experience, he finds to his astonishment that he is not free, but subjected to necessity, that in spite of all his resolutions and reflections he does not change his conduct, and that from the beginning of his life to the end of it, he must carry out the very character which he himself condemns…[126]

One way to reconcile free will vs. biological determinism is through what I call the ‘meritocracy stratified by IQ’, which means one’s potential to advance is limited by IQ, but within such cognitive castes advancement is still possible, but one cannot leave their caste. Silicon Valley for example has a high-IQ meritocracy in the tech sector, but there are also average-IQ meritocracies within retail and trade sectors.

This is a theme shared by Dr. Jordan Peterson as well, in which he reconciles the deterministic science of IQ with the free will of self-improvement. In one of his videos he advises that someone with an average IQ should not become a lawyer, but rather choose a profession that is fitting for his or her cognitive limitations, such as becoming a tradesman. In a video with Stefan Molyneux, Dr. Peterson goes from pragmatic to pessimistic, arguing that individuals with an IQ below a certain threshold (such as 85) may be permanently unemployable.

The next step is possibly eugenics, such as providing financial incentives for low-IQ individuals to not procreate so as to prevent the prorogation of genes that lead to low IQs, but still humanely taking care of such individuals through social programs, although it’s unlikely Dr. Peterson will entertain this possibility.

Individuals with mental illnesses or criminality should be institutionalized or imprisoned, as to minimize externalities, even if genes preclude such individuals from controlling their behavior. That is the system we have in America, as is the case for all countries. Even if an individual does not have the capacity to moderate his or her own behavior, such behavior still imposes externalities. There is evidence that pedophilia is genetic, for example, and that maybe pedophiles are unable to control their urges, but that does not stop society from putting pedophiles away due to the high social damage they exact. Hence even if a criminal does not have free will, they are quarantined, just as someone who willingly commits a crime, although the punishment may be less severe.

[1] Regarding the post yesterday about Steven Pinker, personal responsibly, and IQ, to clarity, by ‘the self’ bearing responsibility, what I means is, because IQ is a trait intrinsic to each individual, the failure of some people to succeed in an ‘enlightened’ society in which there is generous social spending, peace, and modernity, is the fault of the individual for failing, by having a low or average IQ, not the fault of society for not doing enough. This is one reason why Pinker’s thesis rubs some people the wrong way, because if society cannot be blamed, then the individual is. It’s not that certain groups are falling behind due to institutional/structural racism, society being broken, or ‘bad schools’ (external factors that are an indictment on society), but rather due to low IQs and or poor work ethic (internal factors).