Alrenous recently argued that Free Will is Analytically Impossible because we cannot do other than what we want to do, and we can’t control – can’t change – what we want (unless we uncontrollably want to, etc.). So, it’s our wants that run us, not we ourselves.
Is there a difference between what we want to do and what we will to do, on this account? Apparently not. If so, then all that Alrenous has done is kick the question of free will down the road a bit: the will is subsumed in desire, as its mere outworking or byproduct; so that the question goes back a step in the order of operations, from whether the will is free to whether its animating desire is free. But then that leaves quite open the question whether the whole system of will cum desire is free.
Benjamin Libet’s famous experiments showed that people arrive at their decisions preconsciously. Many – although not Libet himself – have taken this result as an indication that we are not free.
It is not.
It is a straightforward corollary of Gödel’s Incompleteness Theorem that no strict formalization of political theory can possibly adequate to the multifarity of human reality, either in the most general terms or, a fortiori, in the particular and peculiar. Only a very informal formalism respecting genera, types or sorts of political order – as democracy, monarchy, etc. – is practical. When it comes to the formulation of concrete policy for a particular concrete polity, then, only the most general recommendations can make good general sense. And even a good general recommendation based on the eternal verities of human society must be tweaked if it is to fit a particular society in its given historical condition.
What we now call the Christian religion existed amongst the ancients, and was from the beginning of the human race, until Christ Himself came in the flesh; from which time the already existing true religion began to be styled Christian.
— Saint Augustine, Retractationes, I, xiii, 3
Most modern historians of religion disagree with Augustine. The very title of Religion in Human Evolution, the recent magisterial magnum opus of that archon of latter day sociology of religion, the late Robert N. Bellah, aptly indicates their perfectly contrary hypothesis: that monotheism is a late development in a long process of evolution from early and metaphysically confused animism, nature worship, magic, ancestor worship, or the like. Their presumption seems to be that early man was rather dim, compared to themselves, and that any abstract notion he had not derived rather immediately from the rudimentary components of his everyday life was quite beyond him.
But this is of course only a prejudice. As Paul Radin pointed out in Primitive Man as Philosopher, we have on the contrary good reason to think that our earliest ancestors were just as intelligent and percipient as we are.
I’ve written for years about the coming Phase Change, such as the one that overtook the Warsaw Pact. Such social phase changes are mediated by preference cascades. According to Kevin Baker writing at Quora:
The concept of the Preference Cascade is credited to Turkish economist Timur Kuran. Glenn Reynolds described the idea in a 2002 op-ed, Patriotism and Preferences. In short, average people behave the way they think they ought to, even though that behavior might not reflect their own personal feelings. Given a sufficient “A-HA!” moment when they discover that their personal feelings are shared by a large portion of the population their behavior may change dramatically.
The boy who cried that the Emperor was naked triggered a preference cascade. The Fall of Late Classical Civilization (in Persia, the Levant, Africa, and Iberia) to Islam might have been due to a preference cascade. Ditto for the Bronze Age Collapse. Many collapses are due to preference cascades, including – obviously – financial panics. When the morale of a great army or of a whole nation suddenly vanishes all at once, it is due to a preference cascade. Great Awakenings and mass conversions are mediated by preference cascades.
The American Revolution happened because of a preference cascade. So did the French, and the Soviet, and the Glorious. All the great epochs began and ended with preference cascades.
Numerous commentators are interpreting the recent Brexit vote, the sudden rise of the European reactionary Right, and the Trump phenomenon as evidence of a radical rightward preference cascade.
If there were no borders between nations, that kept them from bleeding into each other, they would tend to assimilate. In the limit, and except for variations arising from climate and geology, they’d all be just the same. At that point, they’d have nothing of value to exchange with each other. Nor then would they, any of them, do anything better than any of the others. There would be then no such thing as comparative advantage. There would be no trade, properly speaking. Nor would there be tourism. There would be only transportation.
It would be cheap, perhaps, and perhaps efficient. But it would not be valuable. It would not, that is, be much good.
I’ve been writing the last year or two about tariffs, transaction taxes, tolls and tonlieux as just and fitting ways – and, indeed, economically efficient ways, Pareto optimal ways, ways that should gladden the hearts of Austrians and Chicago Scholars – for a sovereign to farm revenue from the domains under his sway. Implicit in all that talk of justice, fitness, optimality, and so forth, is the presupposition that the sovereign has the right to collect such revenues – that, i.e., it is not wrong per se for him to collect them, but rather, possibly, quite correct and proper, and true to the ontological and moral facts of the matter.
Notice then that collections of such transaction taxes are effected by free and uncoerced exchanges by his customers of something they possess for something the sovereign possesses. To put it bluntly, such revenues are collected from sales by the sovereign of something he owns: the control over who shall participate his realms, and on what terms. It is that ownership which confers upon the sovereign the rights of ownership, such as the right to transfer title, to sell, let, give, bequeath, rent, permit, tax – and by extension to exert any sort of control, rule, command, etc.
When you carry an improper reduction into practice, you end up destroying valuable things – you make your theory a weapon. This can end in only two ways: you drop your weapon, or you use it to hack at yourself.
Take, for example, libertarianism.
Homo economicus gets a bad rap, as being insensible of the finer things in life: love, charity, worship, beauty, and so forth. He is supposed to be interested only in profit for himself.
In fact, the notion is far more comprehensive. Included in the calculus of what is profitable to economic man is his evaluation of what is morally best, spiritually best, and so forth. We all weigh our decisions in this manner, balancing our desires to fulfill obligations, to meet duties, to care for our bodies and for those whom we love, to tend the garden, make some profitable trades, respond to customers, go to church, and so forth. Economic life is not about spending and getting money, it is about allocating time. And the question ever before each of us is always the same: what is the right thing to do now, mutatis mutandis? I.e., given my overall schedule of preferences for all the possible things that I could do – including doing nothing – what is optimal?
Homo economicus is often profane and wicked and debased and ignoble, to be sure; but only because he is Fallen, and then only insofar as he has not been baptized and converted to a new and righteous and truer mind, so that his preferences are still whacked by idolatry and falsehood and unbelief, thus queering and ruining all his evaluations. The homo economicus that people gripe about is miscalled. His true name is homo irreligiosus.
Walking through the Financial District of San Francisco and taking in the tremendous diversity of dress and accoutrement there to be seen is a source of endless interest. After years of observation, I have developed a hypothesis about what a person’s dress indicates about his inner condition, to wit: any obvious design to appear abnormal indicates spiritual disease, a deep unhappiness of some sort – alienation, confusion, loneliness, perhaps despair – that has prompted a compensatory effort to attract attention, as it were almost a cry for help. Or, more succinctly: if you look as though you are trying to look a certain way, you feel you are failing to be what you would like to have been.