Saturday, February 09, 2008

Where I See the Heart of the Matter

This posting reflects my opinions and feelings, so no links will be given at this point.

When the United States was first founded it had two major parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans. The key difference, as I understand it, was that the Federalists believed that the Federal Government was the primary level of government while the Democratic-Republicans believed that the state was the primary level of government. Federalists tended to be businessmen, merchants and bankers, while the DRs tended to be farmers and craftsmen. John Adams was generally regarded as the leader of the Federalists while Thomas Jefferson was viewed as the leader of the DRs. The interesting thing was that the parties then agreed on things that now divide us; both parties were in near agreement about basic human nature.

It's no longer true today. While both parties have their respective economic and social models, they are very different because they both view the human animal very differently. The traditional view is that humans on an individual level have Free Will and can make choices about who and what they become, while the "enlightened" view is that humans are primarily a product of their genes and environment and cannot help but be what and who they are.

It's not our power and abilities that decide who we are, but our choices. Albus Dumbledore at the end of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

This may shock many of you, but I own a DVD of the movie A Clockwork Orange; and I sort of like the movie, but I really love the book which is far superior and ends differently. (The movie ends one chapter before the book ends, the movie having a morally ambiguous ending while the book has a fairly solid moral ending.) In the book Alex is a horrible young criminal who is brainwashed into being a perfect citizen, but in having all his violent tendencies completely suppressed, he also loses his ability to function.

Equally important is that he lost his ability to make a moral choice. This really disturbed the Prison Chaplain, who was the only truly good person in the movie and the only person who genuinely cared about Alex. The following exchange takes place after Alex is brainwashed and then, to prove he was no longer capable of violence, a man beat him to a pulp in front of an audience of dignitaries and was incapable of defending himself.

Prison Chaplain: Choice! The boy has not a real choice, has he? Self-interest, the fear of physical pain drove him to that grotesque act of self-abasement. The insincerity was clear to be seen. He ceases to be a wrongdoer. He ceases also to be a creature capable of moral choice.

Minister: Padre, there are subtleties! We are not concerned with motives, with the higher ethics. We are concerned only with cutting down crime and with relieving the ghastly congestion in our prisons. He will be your true Christian, ready to turn the other cheek, ready to be crucified rather than crucify, sick to the heart at the thought of killing a fly. Reclamation! Joy before the angels of God! The point is that it works.

In the book after Alex was un-brainwashed, he went back to crime for a while, but tired of it and wanted a real life, thus decided, by his own free-will, to change his life and become a proper citizen. The point was that this time he chose to change.

When I was a teenager I briefly studied Astrology. I don't remember much of it, but I do remember this line: The stars impell, they don't compell. That was how astrologers allowed for free will in spite of our being destined by the stars. I no longer believe in astrology, but I think that line is how conservatives view our background and genes influencing our decisions; they may make a choice easier or harder, but the choice is still ours.

Now most conservatives acknowledge that our genes and background do influence our decisions but we believe that Free Will is the deciding and most important factor. Most modern liberals do believe in Free Will but believe that genes and background are the more important factor. A few follow the beliefs of BF Skinner who wrote in Beyond Freedom and Dignity that free will was more of an illusion and all behavior is predetermined. While the more extreme of his ideas are rejected by the modern liberals, they are still strongly influential in policies. It's why so many educators are down on home-schooling and private schools; kids are being educated (thus programmed) in an environment that the elitists don't control, thus they're not being conditioned to be part of the proper program.

Most economic and moral differences between the left and the right come down to a question of just how much does free-will influence our life: completely? mostly? somewhat? it doesn't exist?

In the end, those who don't believe in free-will believe that by molding each generation they can bring about utopia. Huxley described that dystopia in his masterpiece Brave New Word. A world where every life was pre-planned, perfect and meaningless. It was a world without love or heroes. So much for perfection.

Even the Humanistic Star Trek (the original series) recognized this in the brilliant episode The Apple where they find humans living a perfect but pointless life and Captain Kirk makes this observation: We can't function in perfection. We don't achieve anything.

We often say that most people are sheep who are easily led astray. People are sheep not because the can't make choices, but because they don't have to. If they had to make a choice they could.

The bottom line is this. I believe free will is more important than other factors. It is my choices, good and bad, that have led me where I am and not my DNA and background, though they certainly played a part.


Blogger Tim said...

Mostly I agree with you, but let's face it: your upbringing has a huge influence on how you turn out. If you are brought up in a negative enviornment, most likely (though not always) you will turn out to have some neative behaviors.

I think the objection to home schooling by most mainstream educators and parents (myself included) is not so much that we feel that you have been properly indoctrinated (brainwashed "sheesh") by the Liberal establishment, but that a home schooled child misses out on the social aspect of meeting and befriending a diverse group of kids their own age and learning to be tolerant of differences in others. The indoctrination tends to be what prejudices and worldview of the parents that do not allow their children to associate with mainstream children outside of their particular social or religious sect. So let me ask you this: Should Muslims in this country homeschool their children so that they are not polluted by our infidel society and be taught that secular society in America is evil and degenerate? If this is acceptable for Christians to do, why not the followers of Muhammad as well? Or would it be better for them to go to public school and learn that we are not all devils but that there are decent people there that they would like to be friends with? Maybe they might fall in with the wrong crowd, and that is when the parents should intervene to set things right. I guess I feel that as American, we are all in this together so let us all have a common formative experience to help unite us. Public school is just such a way. I am not against private schooling as long as there is a diverse group of kids that can interact and socialize. Isolating your child from mainstream society is not a good idea in my opinion.
I agree 100% with the final paragraph in your post.

BTW- I have not seen any comments from you at my blog lately. I've got some interesting posts over there that you may be interested in.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

I don't agree with Tim on the background thing. Yes, some people turn out bad who were raised poorly, but some do not and I was one of them. My childhood was horrific and I'm not going to go into it here, or anywhere else for that matter. Too much crud to drag up! Many people are raised by absolutely devoted parents and turn out to be serial killers. I can't see where environment has much to do with it at all. I think it has to do with soul. I very much doubt that our souls are cloned and thus all alike at birth.

Very good analysis, Shoprat, and I agree with you.

6:16 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

Oops! I meant to mention the homeschooling subject Tim brought up. I know several parents who are homeschooling, and I know their children. What they are missing out on is the indoctrination of the libs in public schools. They are also missing out on the bullying from other kids, poor things. How will they ever survive?

The children I know who are being homeschooled do not live in a vacuum. They have friends over, most of them friends they have made in church. They are also taken to playgrounds where they have interaction with other children of all sorts of different backgrounds. They will grow up free of the liberal brainwashing going on in our public school system today and I say "Thank God for Homeschooling!"

6:20 PM  
Blogger BB-Idaho said...

As soon as we are born we start to learn. Learning is a form of indoctrination, whether it be in
a 'lib' public school (with sex ed)or in a home school wherein the Old Testament is substituted for modern biological sciences. IMHO, there are merits and disadvantages to both methodologies..and proponents of each throw 'indoctrination' around. Our free will is nudged this way and that by experience as well as pre-ordained genetics. Steven Pinker of Harvard has a few
excellent books on the subject

7:25 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Thank you for making my point for me on the homeschooling thing. Shielding them from the bumps in the road and sheltering them from any "Lib indoctrication" so that they are unable to think for themselves and only parrot the opinions of the parents and their circle of friends. This is the Taliban point of view about getting polluted by the outside world. Why not just stop them from going to school at all?

Also, I did not say that people are unable to rise above their upbringing, merely that that upbringing is going to shape in some way the person that they will eventually turn out to be. It's the story of the twin brothers of an alcoholic: one is a teatotler and the other follows in dad's footsteps. Both had the same reason: "with my dad being like that I didn't have any other choice"

7:26 PM  
Blogger shoprat said...

Actually the whole homeschooling discussion here is nothing but a tangent from what I was trying to say and I which I will have more to say. However, most of the homeschooling parents that I know make a point of having social activities for their children and a lot of homeschooling associations emphasize the importance of this. To answer your question Tim, I would not like it, but as long as they were not being taught that it was OK to kill or steal from the kaffir they have the right to raise their children according to their traditions and values, even if I don't like them. I brought up the same question when I was discussing the white supremacist act of Prussian Blue.

I will be discussing more of what I mean later.

Gayle: I don't think you and Tim are as far apart on this as you think you are.

bbi The bottom line is this - - does free will exist? or is it an illusion as Skinner said?

9:21 PM  
Blogger Gayle said...

I think we probably are as far apart on this as we think we are, Shoprat. I don't see why anyone would think it is wrong for me, or anyone else, to raise our children in our personal beliefs, as long as our personal beliefs are not harmful to others, as you pointed out yourself in the above comment. To me it is my absolute duty to raise my childen to be moral and good people. Teaching first graders sex education and alternative lifestyles is not my idea of bringing them up "moral and good". People who want to send their children to liberal schools to be indoctrinated by liberal thinking is fine with me... but for those who don't, homeschooling is a viable choice for people who can't afford private schools. Teachers do not have the right to teach my children things that are contrary to my belief system.

3:26 PM  
Blogger BB-Idaho said...

"does free will exist? or is it an illusion as Skinner said?" I'll let the philosophers figure that out. My gut feel is that were you (or I, or Tim) to repeat out lives
over and over (Bill Murray, Groundhog Day style), even with the 'nature/nurture' paradigm unchanged, each life would be different, perhaps significantly.
Consider how many choices we make from minute to minute..and yes, free will would exist. No science, no religion, no logic, just gut-feel for what it's worth.

12:54 PM  
Blogger Patrick Joubert Conlon said...

This was a most enjoyable read. I'm going to link to it. Anthony Burgess is one of my favorite writers and Clockwork Orange one of my favorite books.

9:02 PM  
Blogger Chas said...

Great post, I didn't know about the book ending to the Clockwork Orange story, would have liked to have seen it in the movie.

I don't believe in Skinnerism, I think it's been largely discredited since 1959, when Noam Chomsky (of all people!) wrote a devastating critique of Verbal Behavior, one of Skinner's most important books.

3:00 AM  

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