Pre-packaged Excuses For A New Millenium

When I wrote “mad people are everywhere” I didn’t mean “schizophrenics”. “Schizophrenics” are an entirely theoretical construct. No one has yet supplied any convincing proof of their existence. They’re like the sasquatches of the post-modern era–all unicorn.

This brings me to a post in the National Post, written a few days later, We’re all schizophrenics now: Jonathan Kay on James Holmes, Sam Harris, and the morally terrifying case against free will.

Sam Harris is a neuroscientist. I find it no surprise at all that a neuroscientist, blood brother in research terms to your bio-medical psychiatrist, would be disputing the existence of free will. Funny thing though, I understand he wrote a short book on determinism that he called Free Will. The book isn’t about free will at all, it’s about his belief that free will is an illusion. I’m wondering if it would be feasible to write a book called “Determinism” all about free will.

I have no desire to read the book Sam Harris authored. I am free not to read his book, and so there. He can’t make me read his book either.

Not surprisingly, again, the author of this piece on that piece is indulging in what seems to be fast becoming a national pastime, namely, the pathologizing of criminality, or pin the “mental disorder” on James Holmes.

But a new book raises a question that puts the very existence of that continuum into doubt: What if none of us are truly “responsible” for our actions?

I’m also a firm believer in responsibility and accountability. I don’t see a lot a movement taking place in the human world that isn’t guided by some semblance of consciousness. Yes, let’s say that this person or that person acted this way or that way because he or she made the conscious decision to do so.

By way of example, Harris provides a list of five hypothetical killers — (1) a four-year-old who accidentally shoots someone while playing with his father’s gun; (2) a severely abused 12-year-old who kills a tormentor; (3) a child-abuse victim who, as an adult, shoots his ex-girlfriend after she leaves him; (4) a 25-year-with a solid upbringing, who kills a young woman “just for the fun of it”; and (5) a seemingly heartless murderer who later is discovered to have a large tumor that is short-circuiting his prefrontal cortex.

I feel like we’ve entered the lair of the forensic shrink. Could you please make it five hypothetical lovers instead? Oh, Okay. I guess not.

By conventional analysis, #3 and #4 would be branded evildoers; #1 and #5 would be given a free pass on grounds of age and biology, respectively; and #2 would lie somewhere in between. But Harris’ point is that, once you put aside our mythical religious baggage about good and evil (as he sees it), all of these cases are motivated by the same amoral whirling of a human brain’s synaptic gears. But not for the luck of the biological draw, any one of us — in another life — could be #1, #2, #3, #4 or #5: There is no magical, spiritual, free-willed force within our minds that will allow us to overcome the fate that is wired into the physical universe.

I’m not sure anyone should be given a free pass, especially when that free pass is a pass to murder. I also think at least one of the hypothetic killers should have been a police officer. Police officers, you might have noticed, kill a lot of people.

I’m still awfully curious about those hypothetical lovers. I wonder, do lovers choose their victims?

Actually I think the people who come up with these unlucky schemes for other people find a loophole that allows them to count themselves among the lucky ones. How convenient! I, on the other hand, think there is something to planning that can potentially avert disaster in the long run. When disaster can be diverted, it isn’t determined. Free will, in other words, for me, is no illusion.