Wednesday, 13 July 2011

A Deterministic Society

Karl recently said: "It is equally impossible to imagine any society or human collecvtive built upon the principle of determinism." I'll take that challenge if I may:
The Judicial System
I think this is the main thing you meant when you talked of a deterministic society - how the law would react to people's actions, rather than their 'choices'. My view is that in a deteministic society the outcome would actually be better for everyone, including criminals, and would make a better, more negative utilitarian world.

All crimes are committed due to either mental illness, a character fault or anger, jealousy etc. Every prison sentence therefore will not be to 'punish' criminals, but rather to reform them and make them fit into society again. If for the good of society they cannot be reformed, they will not be tortured in bad living conditions or killed against their will, simply kept away from the rest of society so as to minimise the total suffering of the world.

The Monetary System
Since everyone is necessarily not responsible for their own success, staunch capitalism is completely immoral. However since some people could not handle money very well, and because Communism has been shown by history to be a failure, the rich will be allowed to be rich, but they will be taxed heavily and the welfare system for the poor will be extensive - so everyone has a good quality of life.

Healthcare will be free
No one can help their familial background, so it is essential that a great social service is in existence, so abusive or otherwise unfit parents can be separated from their offspring, and so that the children can be given the time and care they need to grow into mentally balanced adults. No one should be told to 'suck it up' or 'pull yourself up by your bootstraps' if their life is bad. The government should instead help them maintain a quality of life equal to that of others.

There are numerous other ways that life could be improved if the government simply stopped believing in the myth of free will. Steven Pinker in his book The Blank Slate goes into them in more detail, I think. But the point is, a society like this could be possible and not collapse - in fact the UK and other places in Europe are actually becoming like this.


  1. I really like this outline. I, too, think a deterministic society is possible. Maybe later on if we somehow manage to make existence less unpleasant, so people won't have to cling to the notion of free will. Although I'm sure they would still manage to find some randomly chosen bullshit concept to attach some sort of a special meaning to.

    I would also propose banning breeders from having custody of their children altogether. Hopefully, that would reduce the motivation to breed somewhat.

  2. Yeah CM I was actually going to add something in there about raising children in psychologist-run communities, but I thought it sounded perhaps a little too revolutionary (some extreme feminists and Marxists have said something along the same lines). Baby-steps first, I think. But hopefully, as I’ve said in the article, the increasing liberality of Europe will turn these thoughts into reality – not that this couldn’t happen under a conservative government, it’s just that conservatives tend to put more emphasis on Christianity, ‘responsibility’ and being ‘tougher on crime’.
    And I agree with that statement about motivation so much - it would let Bryan Caplan prove that bringing his children into existence really is for their own good if he weren't there to 'ooo' and 'ahh' at his own spawn. Thanks for your comment.

  3. I agree with most of these points, except:
    "Communism has been shown by history to be a failure"

    No... Marxism was shown to be a failure. Any conceivable utopia is going to be non-capitalistic. I think you have to concede that.

  4. Hmmmm, this was more about a society based on deterministic principles, but I guess I did get carried away a bit with the utopian vibe. On the topic of utopias, I'd have to agree with a utopia being non-capitalistic, but I think that unless we seriously modify human nature, there needs to be some way to satisfy the greed of certain human beings so civil unrest does not occur. Socialism or an extensive welfare state are really the only things I think that could satisfy the paradoxical human urges for both equality and inequality at the same time. I'm not well-versed in the subject though, so you can explain to me your thoughts on Jim's chatroom.

  5. Estnihil,

    If there is no free will, the government simply cannot choose to reject the myth of free will either. =)

  6. If a criminal is rendered powerless by determinism to desist from their crime, the judicial system is rendered equally powerless to desist from punishing them cruelly, if that's what they do. And so on.

  7. Estnihil, Srikant has hit the nail on the head. Either everyone is determined or no one is. Your model implies that there are enlightened individuals who can freely impose new principles of society based on reasoned reflection and free choice. But if you're working with a hardline model of determinism (which is what I assume), then no one on the planet is free to be or do anything other than what they are, hence the concept of reform has no meaning. This is why I think discussions of deterministic models are ultimately futile. We're stuck with a functioning concept of free-will, regardless of whether science is unable to objectively validate it or not.

  8. Ok say a government (and there are many, so this is possible by sheer chance) will eventually come to the conclusion that free will is a myth by simple logic and evidence. This is possible, and is predetermined. They therefore enact some or most of these laws. This is predetermined because they saw the need for such laws if free will is non-existent. People therefore benefit from a deterministic society, and yet no one made the choice to make it a deterministic one.
    Let's try another scenario: I didn't choose to write this. You sent me a comment, and I responded to that comment in the way my brain generally would due to nurture/nature. Someone sees my post from a government and due to their sense of justice, acts and lobbies for these laws. The laws are put in place because the people vote for them due to their logic circuits or sense of justice. Nothing was a choice there. If you try to find the reason for everything in a chain, then you realise that no choice actually occurred. Have I misunderstood what you're saying? Thanks for your comments

  9. In the first example, you're assuming that people have mental free-will: people conclude there is no free-will and act accordingly. A contradiction. In the second you're assuming someone can make a free choice to act on account of their sense of justice.

    The problem with the whole issue of free-will is that because we can only choose one course of action at any given moment, when we look back it appears as if that choice was the only one available at the time. That is an enormous and unjustifiable assumption.

    On a more specific note, there are problems with the alleged benefits of a deterministic society. If people are predetermined, then the whole concept of "reform", "punishment" and so on lose all of their standard meanings.

    In general, any strict determinism rules out any meaningful form of debate, ethics, justice and so on.

  10. Presumably, such a society would recognize the "reform" as just another change that occurred as a result of pre-existing factors. The people of this society need not act as if there is no free will 100% of the time (that may be impossible anyway). But I think it's pretty obvious that the behavior of a person who is aware of mirages, hallucinations and optical illusions is going to differ from the behavior of a person who believes that everything they see is real. Right now the judicial system is the way it is because most people actually believe in free will. The justifications offered for the current economic system are also based on people's belief in free will. I don't think it's absurd to conclude that if people's belief in free will disappeared somehow, it would have an impact on society. Whether or not it ever disappears is another question.

    As far as decision-making, such a society would probably adopt some form of rule utilitarianism (while recognizing its shortcomings).

  11. OK, they talk about free will to "action" and free will on the "outcome". Yes, most reasonable people will believe in the former. However, people respond with anger at other people if their (even well-meaning) actions caused an unpleasant outcome.

    You should also (unfortunately) understand that the "free will" these angry souls have too is not absolute.

    "The people of this society need not act as if there is no free will 100% of the time (that may be impossible anyway)."
    That -- though it scares the living daylights out of me -- IS possible. :S

  12. "Yes, most reasonable people will believe in the former."

    Will believe ONLY in the former. And sometimes, may not believe in that even.