Thursday, December 6, 2018

Free will and liberal democracy

Here is an article describing the many ways in which our concept of free will is a fallacious myth.  Namely, that our feelings and desires don't spring exclusively from some sacred inner source but rather from a mix of our genes, culture, biochemistry and psychology, and only very partially from our own conscious, rational thought processes.  From there, the author goes on to argue that liberal democracy itself is a somewhat unsound construct, founded as it is on this idea of a somewhat rational, reasonable free will in individuals and the collective.

But far from despairing, the author insists that we must continue to defend liberal democracy, and strengthen it based on what we now know of the malleability of humans' [unfree] will, because it is the most decent system we've conceived of yet for honoring the dignity and value of human life and freedom.

My takeaways from the article are twofold.  First, that you should always question yourself, your own feelings, just as rigorously if not moreso than you question the motivations of others.  Often you will find that you are believing something without evidence, or insisting on your initial position out of mere inertia, or that your base urges and passions are being roused (even perhaps manipulated by others).  Skip over the political news feeds that aim to stoke your indignation (but do make the phone calls and petitions for causes that are right).  Don't look at the ads on the side of your browser.  In fact, use a browser like DuckDuckGo that doesn't have those  ads and doesn't track your behavior.  Use a Virtual Private Network to hide your habits and beliefs from those who would track you.  Live in the physical and the analog world more and the digital world less.  All these things will detour you away from forces that would reinforce your own biases or attack your weak spots, and thus improve your ability to question and think about your own behavior.

My second and final takeaway is that we must continue to argue for what's right, even when so many things seem to be working against it.  For me this means insisting in the importance of human life and freedom, that no one person is more important than another nor has the right to more than another, that no one should aim to hurt or oppress another.  These sound like pretty unambitious assertions, but we live in an age of such aggressive meanness, a lack of respect for fundamental human rights, and lots of sophistry that can convincingly argue in favor of even gross violations of decency and rights.  Indeed, there are lots of times when I hear the twisted arguments of would-be autocrats, racists, oppressors, and fascists, and I don't have a pat or passion-inducing answer to their endless "what about?"s and false equivalencies.  But I return again and again to these truths, that people all deserve decent treatment, freedom of the spirit, and equal rights.  These humble principles may not win a cable news debate, but they are the only things you can cling to without doubt or remorse.

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