Free Will, Responsibility, Politics and Everything Else

Free Will, Responsibility, Politics and Everything Else August 24, 2018

I recently posted on Raoul Martinez and his book Creating Freedom, as well as a TED talk that went with it. My friend sent me this email on what he thinks is a tremendous book, picking out some really pertinent parts, and listing the endorsements. Given time, it would certainly be one I would love to read. You can buy it here (UK here).

Alas, time.

CREATING FREEDOM

by RAOUL MARTINEZ

 

This 2017 book has received extraordinary critical acclaim in England where it was published. I append these below simply to show that I am not alone, see pages 6 and 7.

CREATING FREEDOM  is probably the most challenging book I have ever read. Challenging not in the sense of being difficult to understand — it is crystal clear — but in the sense of challenging so much of what I have thought is correct.

It is a magnificent, reasoned, and documented indictment of nearly everything we are taught by the experts to believe. He marshals expert testimony, often from the establishment, to support his claims. Though, a great deal of it is part of our common experience.

It cries for a rebuttal as well documented, reasoned and argued as is the case Martinez makes.  And I am sure it can be done – in parts.

It is ironic that the ethical foundation for this critique of the way the world is now and has been in the past is not God-based but on the very fact of determinism. Ironic because it is common for those who deny determinism to claim exactly the opposite, that determinism removes the ground for ethics.

 Martinez shows with self-validating examples and citations to many studies in the fields of psychology, social science and the hard sciences that it is our endless inequality on all measures which proves there is no ethical basis for any of it. It is simply the luck – for better or worse – of our birth which absolutely determines who we are and what we do at any point in time.

An appreciation of the real brotherhood of man flows from truly understanding — what is so self-evidently verifiable — that we made no choices which account for the brain, body and set of experiences that each of us gets in the lottery of life. Thus, we cannot justly be held as ultimatelyresponsible for our acts though we can and must be held accountable for anti-social acts and subjected to imposed reformatory measures not to retribution.

He challenges us to have the courage and honesty to try to imagine what it is like to be another person, to try to see the world from their perspective. Here is a simple test: why do you not have the brain of a psychopathic killer?

That Martinez is only thirty-four years old, a very successful portrait artist and movie maker, and also had time to become so conversant with the relevant literature in many fields, is simply astounding to this nonagenarian.

A Few Extracts Bearing Mainly on the Illusion of Free Will 

 (I have re-paragraphed these for emphasis and clarity):

Page 11:

“To be morally accountable, it is not enough to establish someone’s intent, it must be shown that they are ultimately responsible for that intent, and that as we have seen is impossible. A psychopath may make many morally horrendous choices, but they will not include choosing the brain of a psychopath. Malicious choices may be voluntary; possessing a brain that makes them possible is not.”

Page 18:

“If we believe that each person bears ultimate responsibility for their lot in life, it is far easier to justify discrepancies in power, wealth and opportunity. . . . But no behavior occurs in isolation. Every choice is the result of heredity, experience and opportunity. Billionaire Warren Buffet recognizes more clearly than most the decisive role of luck: ‘Most of the world’s seven billion people found their destinies largely determined at the moment of birth . . . For literally billions of people, where they are born and who gives them birth along with their gender and native intellect, largely determine the life they will experience.’”

Page 20:

“Some people defy every expectation, achieving remarkable things in the face of adversity. It is tempting to view such as evidence that we can after all, be masters of our own destiny. Forces beyond our control determine the resources – psychological, physical and material – at our disposal to carve out a new path, and these resources, along with countless other twists of fate, ultimately determine how successful we will be in our attempt.

Page 24-25:

Our capacity for happiness, confidence, ecstasy, empathy, love and hate is not of our own making. None of this means we cannot change, learn and grow, or that making the effort to do so is unimportant – on the contrary, it is essential – but it does not mean the extent to which we succeed in our attempt, relative to others, is not something for which we can take credit. Just as the tiny seed that grows into a giant redwood cannot take credit for its height, we cannot take credit for what we become, In an important sense, our achievements are not really our achievements. We are notes in life’s melody, not its composer.”

Page 25:

“To expose the myth of responsibility is not to deny the existence of inspiring and admirable human attributes; it is simply to view them in the same way that we view the splendor of a sunset. Such beauty is meaningful and uplifting in itself.”

Page 27-28:

“The perennial debate over the existence or non-existence of ‘freedom of the will’ is fuelled by the cognitive illusion that we make free choices. The fact that the notion of a truly free choice has never been coherently formulated has little impact on the vigor of the debate.

Although we may never be able to break the illusion completely, we can prime ourselves to respond differently by developing our understanding of freedom and responsibility. On issues of real significance we can inform our judgments with a more intellectually and morally defensible perspective, one that takes account of the fact our will is conditioned, not free. The roots of behavior go far beyond the will of the individual to encompass the political, economic, familial and cultural conditions from which it emerges.”

Page 66:

“Our capacity to be self-disciplined, to focus is just as much a part of our genetic and environmental inheritance as any other capacity. The treatment we receive as children – and whether we are prone to hyper-activity , have trouble maintaining our attention, lack confidence or self-esteem, suffer from severe headaches or depression, and so on can all impact on our ability to channel our energies in productive ways.

Page 239-240:

The particulars of our birth largely determine who we become and the representations of reality we construct in our minds. Our environment channels our vast potential into a particular identity.

How we end up speaking, thinking, feeling and acting owes much to the examples, opportunities and ideas to which we are exposed. From childhood until the day we die we are subject to a steady stream of influences – familial, corporate, state, school, religious, cultural – working to shape our habits, beliefs, assumptions, ideals and aims: our picture of reality.

The goals that appear valuable to us, and the best route to achieving them, emerge from the confluence of these forces.

Standing between reality and our understanding of the world is the arbitrary process by which our identity is formed. If we are not to be misled by the mental constructs we inherit, we have to question them. This is easier said than done.

Anyone setting out to understand themselves and society – why it is the way it is and how it could be different — faces obstacles at every turn, many of which exist precisely to mislead and misdirect.

By the time we’ve developed the capacity to begin questioning our identity, much of who we are has already been established. The emotional loyalties we develop towards our family, friends and community are entangled with ideas they pass on to us.

To question effectively we need to place a higher value on the elusive ideal of truth than on loyalties to nation, religion, race, culture or ideology – in short to our inherited identity. We need to be able to cultivate enough doubt and uncertainty to look at our beliefs – our definitions of success, failure, love, family,  good, bad, right and wrong – with skepticism.

Faith in every authority, expert and tradition needs to be put on hold long enough to be interrogated. As our mental faculties mature and strengthen, to challenge is to focus them not just on ideas that clash with our inherited identity, but on the very process that generated it.

Adam Smith argued that we should put ourselves in the shoes of an ‘impartial spectator’ and examine our beliefs and behavior ‘as we imagine any other fair and impartial spectator would examine them’.

We can never survey our own sentiments and motives , we van never form any judgment  concerning them;  unless we remove ourselves, as it were, from our own natural station, and endeavor to view them as at a distance from us. But we can do this in no other way than by endeavoring to view them with the eyes of other people, or as other people are likely to view them.

Page 347:

“We differ from each other in countless ways – height, weight, health, wealth and intelligence, aggression, kindness, courage and confidence – but in one thing we are all the same. Without exception, none of us is ultimately responsible for who we are or what we do.

This perspective creates the possibility for a deep solidarity between human beings, one built on the understanding that, had I been truly in your situation, I would have done as you did.

A profound equality emerges from this realization which provides a firm basis for the compassion and empathy, two ideals that have infused the pages of this book.

All systems of oppression and exploitation depend on the denial of this equality.

Contrary to the fears that some may have, learning to view ourselves more objectively does not undermine ethical standards or the capacity for love. It places them on firmer ground.

Page 348:

“Primatologists have no doubt that our cousins on the evolutionary tree of life, the great apes, regularly display empathetic behavior. Chimpanzees regularly console and groom one another. When a chimpanzee loses a fight or crosses a path with a competitor, others embrace or groom him to calm him down.

Numerous experiments with primates also point to a powerful instinct for fairness. In a classic experiment by American psychiatrist Jules Masserman, rhesus monkeys refused to pull a cord that gave them food while simultaneously administering an electric shock to another monkey.

Monkey would sometimes go for days without pulling the cord, starving themselves rather than hurt a companion”

Page 349:

“Empathy and solidarity are bred into us . . . . Empathy is the ability to identify what someone else is feeling and thinking, and respond to them appropriately.

The capacity for profound empathy and the compassion it engenders exists in almost everyone, but the degree to which we empathize is not fixed. Culture influences and channels our potential for empathy. It can be stunted or constrained by many factors from ideology and early experiences, to genes, hormones and neurology.

 Page 373:

“By thinking about how things could look from another perspective the ‘self’ doing the imagining is changed. As author Ian McEwan puts it: ‘Imaging what it is like to be someone other than yourself is at the core of our humanity. It is the essence of compassion, and it is the beginning of morality.’”

Page 382 — last page:

“Life is rare, delicate and short. Given all this why would we not join together to do what we can, for the brief time we have air in our lungs and strength in our bodies to transform this world into a place of joy and wonder for all those passing through – a place where all can flourish, contribute and create?

After all, it is only through the creation of what we deeply value that we find the fullest expression of our freedom. And what could be more valuable than that?”

______________________________________________________________________________

CRITICAL ACCLAIM IN ENGLAND FOR CREATING FREEDOM

1.      “Exceptional. This year’s essential text for thinking radicals.”—THE GUARDIAN

2.      “Creating Freedom is quite magnificent in its intelligence, acuity, scope, human warmth and – most importantly – hope! My book of the year.”—STEPHEN FRY

3.      “If you believe you are free, think again. Strong arguments . . . epic in scope . . . [A] manifesto to enlighten citizens stuck in an illusion of democracy.”—FINANCIAL TIMES

4.      “Creating Freedom presents a stunning treatise; the freedoms within our society are illusory or entirely antithetical to actual liberty… The author, and the arguments within his book, have a tendency to leave a reader feeling enlivened, stirred and provoked… Martinez has arguments to make your head spin… The difficulty of imagining this new moral landscape seems daunting, but in the company of Raoul Martinez it seems a tiny bit more likely.”—IRISH TIMES

5.      “Thought-provoking . . . sound and persuasive . . . Eminently readable with a an elegance of style not often found in theoretical works. It is no less than a rallying cry to take back the substance rather than the illusions of our freedoms.”—NEW INTERNATIONALIST

6.      “Martinez speaks for a generation living through a profound mismatch between their aspirations for freedom and creativity and the thudding conformity a society, driven by the market, demands.”—PAUL MASON

7.      “Provocative, powerful and important, Creating Freedom is a rigorous exploration of what’s gone wrong with our society and how to make it right. A book for our time, this radical manifesto exposes the myths at the heart of our system and shows what the ideal of freedom truly demands from us, individually and collectively.”—SUSAN SARANDON

8.      “In this stunning and lucid book, Raoul Martinez re-assesses our past, re-examines our present, and re-imagines our future. It’s such an exciting and compelling read that you almost don’t notice at first how radical it is. Creating Freedom makes me think that we humans are on the cusp of our next big step – and it’s this kind of thinking that will carry us over.”—BRIAN ENO

9.      “Lucid and bright, Creating Freedom is a light to guide us onwards. Please read it.”—RUSSELL BRAND

10.  “Everyone trying to puzzle through how to deal with the madness of the world – and the forces destroying it – should read this book.”—JOHANN HARI—

11.  “Comes the moment; comes the book. A manifesto for real and radical change. This is a brilliant and timely analysis of our political landscape and the ideals which should inform how we reshape the world.”—HELENA KENNEDY QC

12.  “I’ve been working my way through, highlighter in hand, at times thinking “why bother! Just highlight the whole thing”. Super impressive.” —DAVID BYRNE

13.  “This discussion of the impossibility of ultimate moral responsibility is extremely well written, aphoristic in places, and philosophically right on target.” —GALEN STRAWSON

14.  “A superb book; it is not only beautifully written, vigorously argued and remarkably researched, it is a unique contribution to a subject — discussed for more than two millennia — where unique contributions are rare indeed. There is nothing in the literature that places the issues of freedom and responsibility in such a broad and enlightening context, enriching familiar debates surrounding punishment and the justice system but also going far beyond. No one has examined the issues of freedom and moral responsibility in such an extensive and fascinating context, or done more to show that these issues are not ivory tower debates but absolutely life and death issues for individuals and quite possibly for our species.”—BRUCE WALLER

15.  “An impassioned social and political critique with glimmers of hope for change. British artist and documentarian Martinez makes his literary debut writing on a theme taken up recently by writers such as economists Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz: inequality, injustice, greed, and entrenched power have undermined democracy and threaten the common good and the future of our planet. An intelligent, rigorous manifesto.” —KIRKUS REVIEWS

16.  “Every now and then you read a book that’s so good you want to recommend it to everyone. Creating Freedom: Power, Control and the Fight For Our Future by Raoul Martinez is such a book. It’s a clear and convincing plea for freedom and democracy, and against capitalism and inequality, and it really opens your eyes to things that you might have felt, but couldn’t yet formulate.”—VICE MAGAZINE

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