Free will versus fate, conservative versus liberal

Topics: Democracy
26 Jul 2007

From: Ervan Darnell

I read somewhere that a poll asked people if they believed in free will
or fate. Conservatives are more likely to believe in free will and
liberals and more likely to believe in fate, maybe not exactly fate but
rather the sum total of causal factors. I think this dichotomy goes a
long way towards explaining political opinions.

Minimum wage is an example. Liberals say 'look at the poor slob with no
chance, he needs help'. Conservatives say 'look at the bum who refuses
to work, he needs a good kick.'

Indeed, the whole zero sum mentality of liberals is an extension of
this. The rich, the corporations, blah blah blah are evil for not
sharing enough wealth with the little guy, and if they are forced to
we'd be better off. That makes sense if you ignore income as motivation
for productivity and just view the whole thing as a machine that
produces the same output no matter what, and you need only rearrange the
outputs. Conservatives, conversely, tend to discount bad genes and bad
environments that do limit people's upward reach. "Work harder" is not
the answer to everything.

Criminal punishment is another. Liberals are all about rehabilitation,
better schools, etc. to fix the causes, while ignoring whether or not
the deterrent aspect of punishment has any effect on rationally
calculating minds. Conservatives are all about deterrence or, even more
basely, vengeance for acts consciously taken, completely ignoring
whether or not they were totally free choices, the inelasticity of
certain crimes, etc.

The nanny state vaguely follows as an extension. If you don't really
have free will, you aren't really interested in your own decisions, and
there shouldn't be such an objection to the government forcing you to do
what it wants. Meanwhile, vice is uncontrollable and not suitable for
prohibition. Conservative prohibitions on morality vaguely fit too: you
are free to sin, but there must be deterrence for sinning to convince
you to make the right choice. Economic decisions are yours to make.
Sexual orientation is an extreme example where conservatives push the
philosophy into near-certain error (and just about any economic
intervention is where liberals push the philosophy into near-certain error).

Today an interesting example came along:
> A new bill sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., would change the name
> of the National Institute on Drug Abuse to the National Institute on
> Diseases of Addiction and change the name of the National Institute on
> Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism to the National Institute on Alcohol
> Disorders and Health. Called the Recognizing Addiction As a Disease
> Act of 2007, it explains, "The pejorative term 'abuse' used in
> connection with diseases of addiction has the adverse effect of
> increasing social stigma and personal shame, both of which are so
> often barriers to an individual's decision to seek treatment."
> Addiction should be known as a brain disease, the bill proclaims,
> "because drugs change the brain's structure and manner in which it
> functions. These brain changes can be long lasting, and can lead to
> the harmful behaviors seen in people who abuse drugs."
The article provides the obvious rebuttal:
> Characterizing addiction as a brain disease misappropriates language
> more properly used to describe conditions such as multiple sclerosis
> or schizophrenia—afflictions that are neither brought on by sufferers
> themselves nor modifiable by their desire to be well. Also, the brain
> disease rhetoric is fatalistic, implying that users can never fully
> free themselves of their drug or alcohol problems.* *Finally, and most
> important, it threatens to obscure the vast role personal agency plays
> in perpetuating the cycle of use and relapse to drugs and alcohol.

That speaks for itself in terms of how the philosophical divide colors
the conclusion.

There are finally the contradictions in these positions. Liberals in the
extreme believe that individuals are not responsible, and indeed should
not be allowed to make their own decisions because they might hurt
themselves, except when they are in the voting booth. Then somehow they
become conscious, thinking, rational actors and not puppets of
circumstance. And similarly, people once elected to office become the
rational actors they were not as unelected individuals. Conservatives
believe that God created everything to be just so, knows the future (if
the future is known, everything is fated), runs the world in myriads of
little ways, and yet we have free will despite all of this manipulation.

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