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eeeeeeeli
07-18-2011, 11:45 AM
My assumption for some time now is that there is a natural alignment between those who deny contra-causal free will (either hard determinist or compatibilist - we may act as though we have choice but ultimately we are determined) and those who favor liberal, progressive, etc. policies. Likewise, there is an alignment between those who believe in contra causal-free will and conservative, laissez faire, etc. policies.

The logic of this assumption is laid out in the essay by Tom Clark, Progressive Policy Implications of Naturalism (http://www.naturalism.org/progressivepolitics.htm)

The purpose of this thread is to stimulate discussion on the following:

- Is this a valid assumption?

- To what extent is it shared by those on either side of the question of free will?

- If the assumption is correct, to what extent is a discussion of free will crucial to its larger political and policy implications?

Any of these discussions might naturally lead to a debate over the issue of free will itself. As my answer to the 3rd discussion topic is that the political implications are profound, I welcome this larger debate!

stephanie
07-18-2011, 12:29 PM
The purpose of this thread is to stimulate discussion on the following:

- Is this a valid assumption?

It might be, but it's not so simple. I suspect that people who deny free will are in both liberal and conservative camps. I suspect that people who accept some mix of choice and no choice in human behavior are also in both and, as I've mentioned before, that the belief that we have some choice is behind a lot of the rhetoric and motivation for the views that liberals have as well as conservatives. While if you stripped away all this and asked people who denied free will how the world should be set up it's entirely possible that you'd get a more leftwing answer than the current set up, I don't think that's at all certain.

- To what extent is it shared by those on either side of the question of free will?

Not by me.

- If the assumption is correct, to what extent is a discussion of free will crucial to its larger political and policy implications?

I think not very, as I think it's probably easier to convince people that the mix of choice and non choice favors certain leftwing or liberal positions even without denying choice. Moreover, I think there are arguments for more conservative policies within the no free will world, obviously, and the connection is less than obvious, again because you'd have to dump a lot of traditional liberal arguments as well as certain conservative ones.

Ultimately, though, I think it's like fighting political issues by attacking belief in God. While you may get more success in a world in which fewer people believe in God, people tend to cling to such beliefs (and I'm not being snotty) when directly attacked even when they are willing to morph them to allow for other things that they think make sense. I think people are going to generally refuse to accept that they have no choice, given how strongly we perceive otherwise and think it's important to try and so on. Therefore, you'd have an easier time convincing them of most things without insisting that they first deny free will in all respects.

But feel free to discount all this, since I don't think anyone knows one way or another if free will exists, and therefore I think it makes more sense to assume that we have some choice, even if we don't know the full extent of it.

eeeeeeeli
07-18-2011, 01:52 PM
Ultimately, though, I think it's like fighting political issues by attacking belief in God. While you may get more success in a world in which fewer people believe in God, people tend to cling to such beliefs (and I'm not being snotty) when directly attacked even when they are willing to morph them to allow for other things that they think make sense.
Thanks for your response, Stephanie. You've outlined pretty well a good starting point for opposition to my assumptions.

I'll wait to respond to more of what you said, but I wanted to address the similarity between belief in/against free will and God. This makes a lot of sense to me.

A couple of things, however. I wonder if there isn't a crucial difference in that belief in God generally implies a set of beliefs that tie in some way to original religious interpretations. Belief in free will is at least agnostic to most people, and there are no real original teachings from which people derive interpretation (apart from the more abstract philosophical writings, which relatively few people have ever read). So as religious interpretation would arguably bias one towards particular political policies, as one's religious perspective would color their ideological assumptions, these assumptions could no doubt be more clearly and consciously tied to original religious interpretation. For instance, the notion of caring for the poor, or maybe punishing sinners being a religious teaching.

I do think the question of will is as unresolvable to many people as a belief in God (although I think many people are actually biased on the question by already having a belief in God, even if it may depend on which one. See my thread on religious implications of free will (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?t=6604)). Yet it is clearly a more testable claim, and subject to scientific inquiry. And to the extent that it could be proven either way, its resolution would seem to have implications that stand on the merit of the question, not simply ideological bias. For instance, if I could prove definitively whether a criminal had free will, it would have serious implications for social policy.

sugarkang
07-18-2011, 02:01 PM
For instance, if I could prove definitively whether a criminal had free will, it would have serious implications for social policy.

I'm pretty sure Julian Sanchez said that he doesn't believe in free will in a recent post somewhere. Also, I think that Christopher Hitchens doesn't believe in it either. At least, that's the impression I got from the diavlog with Bob Wright, though he didn't outright say it.

If you get similar crime statistics in a given area year after year, it really makes you wonder. Underneath the veneer of civilization, we just want to eat, sleep and screw.

stephanie
07-18-2011, 02:10 PM
A couple of things, however. I wonder if there isn't a crucial difference in that belief in God generally implies a set of beliefs that tie in some way to original religious interpretations.

I think there are differences, sure, but I think the aspect of it that tends to be fervently held is maybe more narrow. I mean, I do think that if you attack people who are fundamentalist about something that I consider tangential (like creationism), they are going to see it as an attack to their fundamental beliefs and did in. But my guess is that the essence of what they consider fundamental might be less -- the idea that there's a purpose, meaning, something like that. That when they perceive right and wrong that has some real meaning, even if (as many modern religious people will acknowledge) thinking that there's right and wrong doesn't me we can discern that well what it is always.

Similarly, I think the perception that we do choose between actions, especially since we often agonize in making choices, is a fundamental belief to many so that it's really hard to convince those not already inclined that way that it's just perception, not reality. But that doesn't mean they won't also acknowledge that their ability to make that choice may be due to luck and other factors beyond their control. Insisting that they also say they had no choice seems to me more than you need to do and pretty difficult. And like I said, I'm sure I'm biased by the fact that I don't agree with your basic premise.

But to go back to the God comparison, I see the "God" belief as more fundamental than accepting specific teachings related to or which are said to follow from that. But I don't relate to certain ideas of religion -- specifically that there are any teachings such as "the Bible is inerrant and/or literally true" that I think are fundamental, that I would cling to in the same way I might in some more general notion of God or certainly than the idea that I have some degree of free will. That doesn't mean I don't have other beliefs, but that they are different in the way they are held, somehow.

I do think the question of will is as unresolvable to many people as a belief in God (although I think many people are actually biased on the question by already having a belief in God, even if it may depend on which one.

As both Rob and I said in one of the original threads, I think it is wrong to assume that there's an association between a belief in free will and God. Within Christianity, there's certainly a broad subgroup who deny free will (inexplicable to me, but whatever). I'm in a reading group where we always get into side discussions on free will, including during readings of Dante and Milton, and it's funny how there's one guy who grew up evangelical Protestant of some sort who hates the anti free will argument since he associates it with conservative Christianity and his upbringing, whereas another person assumed that only silly religious folks would buy into free will. And one other who is Jewish and insists he can't square belief in God (which he has) and free will -- I call him my Jewish Calvinist friend.

Yet it is clearly a more testable claim, and subject to scientific inquiry.

I disagree with this. But like I've said before, I'm more interested in the other aspects of the topic, since I do think we could reach some broad agreement (even with conservatives) that there's at best limited choice, so what does that mean for public policy?

eeeeeeeli
07-18-2011, 03:21 PM
Similarly, I think the perception that we do choose between actions, especially since we often agonize in making choices, is a fundamental belief to many so that it's really hard to convince those not already inclined that way that it's just perception, not reality. But that doesn't mean they won't also acknowledge that their ability to make that choice may be due to luck and other factors beyond their control. Insisting that they also say they had no choice seems to me more than you need to do and pretty difficult. And like I said, I'm sure I'm biased by the fact that I don't agree with your basic premise.
The difference between the feeling of choice, or that actual choices are made, and the notion that there is no ultimate choice, is I think essentially one of semantics. I'm not sure any determinist believes that choices aren't being made, and to the degree that there is a consciousness of choosing, I think would be the compatibilist position.

At any rate, I think the question comes down to the "who" in "who" is doing the choosing. In other words, what is this consciousness that perceives choices being made. It is much easier to accept that consciousness is a purely physical, determined, and therefor measurable and quantifiable (at least in theory, or to some extent) process if one denies the existence of a metaphysical "soul" or body of some sort that exists outside space and time, and certainly if it is operating within the sort of supernatural super-structure that religion entails by definition.

stephanie
07-18-2011, 03:32 PM
At any rate, I think the question comes down to the "who" in "who" is doing the choosing. In other words, what is this consciousness that perceives choices being made. It is much easier to accept that consciousness is a purely physical, determined, and therefor measurable and quantifiable (at least in theory, or to some extent) process if one denies the existence of a metaphysical "soul" or body of some sort that exists outside space and time, and certainly if it is operating within the sort of supernatural super-structure that religion entails by definition.

Sure, but then you have a universe created by God, which poses its own problems for free will.

Anyway, I'm not claiming that there's some "me" other than the product of my physical body. (At least, not for the purposes of this discussion.) I'm just not convinced that the consciousness that results can't account for some degree of actual choice, even if we don't understand precisely how it works.

That said, I'll shut up and let others answer and I'm hoping that we actually get into the public policy implications eventually.

popcorn_karate
07-18-2011, 04:06 PM
I'm hoping that we actually get into the public policy implications eventually.

i think this may be like the public policy implications of quantum mechanics, i.e. just about none.

just as we have an essentially newtonian (or even less advanced) understanding of physics, we have a free-will understanding of minds. Even the people trying to convince other people that they only have the illusion of freedom can not help but talk about the world as though people make choices.

i guess once "elect me, because you actually have no choice in the matter" works for a candidate, we might see what the implications are for policy.

Ocean
07-18-2011, 08:18 PM
About policy implications:


I think not very, as I think it's probably easier to convince people that the mix of choice and non choice favors certain leftwing or liberal positions even without denying choice. Moreover, I think there are arguments for more conservative policies within the no free will world, obviously, and the connection is less than obvious, again because you'd have to dump a lot of traditional liberal arguments as well as certain conservative ones.


I agree. I don't think that there's much policy implication regarding presence/absence or even about degree of free will, from a practical perspective.

The different approach to shape behavior seems more relevant to policy.

Liberals tend to think that society can shape behavior (in a deterministic way) by providing better circumstances, positive experiences and opportunities that make people achieve closer to their potential. The assumption is that individuals were deprived of opportunities or resources that made them that way. Rehab programs, education, safety nets are all going to provide better support so that the individual can make better choices.

Conservatives, on the other hand, think of people as being flawed, by circumstances of birth or the way they were raised, they've become complacent, or twisted. They lack the discipline required for a decent life. Therefore, they need to learn the hard way. Society should let them pay for their shortcomings and learn. Punitive measures, or letting people pay the consequences of their acts without any external aid.

So, both approaches depart from a model of whatever is inherited plus environment shaping behavior and then society responding with some corrective action. What kind of action should be used is relevant to policy.

eeeeeeeli
07-19-2011, 12:13 AM
Liberals tend to think that society can shape behavior (in a deterministic way) by providing better circumstances, positive experiences and opportunities that make people achieve closer to their potential. The assumption is that individuals were deprived of opportunities or resources that made them that way. Rehab programs, education, safety nets are all going to provide better support so that the individual can make better choices.

Conservatives, on the other hand, think of people as being flawed, by circumstances of birth or the way they were raised, they've become complacent, or twisted. They lack the discipline required for a decent life. Therefore, they need to learn the hard way. Society should let them pay for their shortcomings and learn. Punitive measures, or letting people pay the consequences of their acts without any external aid.

You've presented that very well. I think it is quite fair to see policy differences in terms of assumptions about behavior and how to effect it.

However, and this is I suppose a larger problem in any debate, I think there is a correct response to an assumption of determinism and (surprise!), conservative policy isn't it. So how is this different than ordinary disagreement with conservative policy? Well, because it comes directly from a denial of free will. I said that in the sincere belief that were free will not true, I would have to seriously reconsider my liberal policy assumptions.

So, what does this actually mean? Let's take a basic illustration of social inequality: high rates of the poor and minorities in prison, and high rates of successful people having come from relatively successful families.

The simple free will argument on this is that both were just as able to choose their lot in life, so their unequal position is morally defensible and not something society need worry about. The standard determinist position is that they were both created by circumstance, and thus their unequal position is not defensible, and therefore society ought to try and help them.

Two nuanced versions of the free will positions might go something like this. A) These life circumstances must be addressed by stronger intervention. B) Though they have free will, there are life circumstances that make life more difficult for some than others. However, at the end of the day they must find their own way - this is how people learn to succeed.

A more nuanced determinist might say that though these unequal positions are determined, it is simply not within our power to do very much about them, at least no more than a properly free-market might allow for them to be better-determined.

So into these positions on free will come assumptions about behavior and the efficacy of government. But what does the question of free will have to say about these assumptions? My argument would be that it answers them definitively.

In order for this to be true, the small-government determinist must be wrong on his understanding of determinism. I might start this argument by acknowledging that determinism requires us to be morally concerned with inequality, in so far as that it is being determined by some system, it is wrong. Our difference lies in how to effectively address that inequality, governments or markets, broadly. (I think it might be relevant to here point out an argument pointed to on these boards by sugarkang, in which the fact of inequality itself actually provides a behavioral mechanism for determining individual change. I would only argue that this effect is not so strong, as evidenced by the degree to which it seems to have little effect at all.)

I would argue that determinism implies that individual thought is entirely* a product of circumstance. (* I will leave genetics out of this discussion because while there is human genetic variation, it isn't relevant to the question of social equality broadly) As such, it is his every interaction with society - family, peers, culture, neighborhood, schooling, political structure, etc. that affords him his every thought, and therefore action.

This places moral responsibility for the individual squarely at the hands of society, every moment. While he feels he is thinking freely, he is completely tied to his past interactions with the society around him, in no less a manner than as an animal in an ecosystem. Now, while it is true that many behavioral outcomes, determined as they are, will only come about through a certain degree of individual autonomy, and his interacting with the "invisible hand" so to speak, of social interaction. Even if we wanted to, there is simply no way we could account for and control every aspect of his determination so as to give him the greatest possible sense of liberty and satisfaction (how's that for irony?!!!). In fact, most of what we think of as positive human experience is a function of a sort of free-market of social interaction.

But nonetheless, we are are still morally accountable. I think we recognize this implicitly when we set out to be altruistic even when there is no clear immediate reward; we believe that we are a part of a larger, invisible hand of society that will do us all good. It is through these acts that we demonstrate - if only to ourselves - our fealty to the greater moral good.

So, if true determinism implies an intense responsibility for our fellow man, as morality itself, having been shorn from the individual and attached to the determining society at large, we must be all the more careful and scrupulous in our endeavor to provide optimal levels of human good.

And this may be where it gets the trickiest. My claim is that, given the obvious fact that there is such inequality, and that that inequality almost by definition results in such massive amounts of potential for human suffering, that relatively high levels of state - the pinnacle of social codification - intervention. Here I might make appeals to numerous specific cases of inequality resulting in real human tragedy. I might make the case that neither history nor logic provides evidence that a more free market approach to reducing social inequality will do much of anything to reduce these problems, and that government intervention will at least reduce their pain.

Yet what am I doing but appealing to flaws in behavioral or policy assumptions? In the end, is my argument, that determinism implies left-wing, or statist economic policy, resting primarily on the claim that determinism simply implies a more robust empathy for the plight of the unfortunate?

Maybe. I suppose I feel I've made the case that determinism implies a high degree of moral concern. Maybe I'm just skeptical that free market solutions are really sufficiently that. I suppose it is in no small part an expression of bad faith. I simply can't see how the work that needs to be done, work predicated on the thought that these people are as much my own personal responsibility (and each of ours), as my own kin. And what would I not do to make sure my own family has health care? Or a proper education, and a degree of equality?

Ocean
07-19-2011, 07:54 AM
I might start this argument by acknowledging that determinism requires us to be morally concerned with inequality,...

I don't quite agree with this assumption. There are more variables that affect the link between determinism and concern for inequality, or any other moral concern.

I would consider the role of beliefs that people somehow "deserve" what they get, the idea of inborn rights (firmly originated by our history of royalty/nobility/plutocracy), god's will, etc.

The concern for inequality as a moral concept is, in my opinion, separate conceptually from determinism. You can accept determinism in the sense of society shaping our behavior and yet think that inequality is an inevitable result of the way the world is organized. Whether by god's mandate, or as a fact of life, hierarchical structures with the weak and the strong in constant tension can be explained. In that sense there's a social determinism implicit. Wanting to change those spontaneous natural hierarchies requires a greater belief in social autonomy (societal free will?), and going against the "natural order" to pursue greater equality. But that comes from a moral framework that isn't directly related to determinism.

Of course, I do understand that you have to apply concepts that include determinism to understand the origins of inequality and to prescribe the solutions to the same.

Again, policy implications come from the degree of intervention that different groups are willing to undertake (versus acceptance of the established "natural" order), and the kind of intervention, if any. One group favoring supporting remedial interventions, the other merely establishing a system of punitive consequences for the flawed.

stephanie
07-19-2011, 11:34 AM
The different approach to shape behavior seems more relevant to policy.

Liberals tend to think that society can shape behavior (in a deterministic way) by providing better circumstances, positive experiences and opportunities that make people achieve closer to their potential. The assumption is that individuals were deprived of opportunities or resources that made them that way. Rehab programs, education, safety nets are all going to provide better support so that the individual can make better choices.

Conservatives, on the other hand, think of people as being flawed, by circumstances of birth or the way they were raised, they've become complacent, or twisted. They lack the discipline required for a decent life. Therefore, they need to learn the hard way. Society should let them pay for their shortcomings and learn. Punitive measures, or letting people pay the consequences of their acts without any external aid.

So, both approaches depart from a model of whatever is inherited plus environment shaping behavior and then society responding with some corrective action. What kind of action should be used is relevant to policy.

I think this is a good way of putting it, and why I don't think the real argument has to do with the hard-sell of no free will or even the hard question of whether we have choice and in what areas and to what extent.

stephanie
07-19-2011, 11:39 AM
The concern for inequality as a moral concept is, in my opinion, separate conceptually from determinism. You can accept determinism in the sense of society shaping our behavior and yet think that inequality is an inevitable result of the way the world is organized.

I agree. In fact, I'd suggest a veil of ignorance experiment, and I suspect that with or without an assumption of free will of some sort you'd still end up with a society with a good bit of inequality.

We might have more trouble feeling good about it if we said no one had free will, but as I keep saying, even with a vision of limited choice you end up with results that feel unfair yet which I'd say are necessary. For example, people clearly have different inborn skills, and a meritocracy doesn't really reward people who choose to do better, but people who are more innately blessed with those skills and luck. Even if we debate over what degree is due to hard work and chosen sacrifice and whether that's really a choice, I think we all -- even most conservatives -- could agree that some large portion of it is out of our control.

eeeeeeeli
07-19-2011, 11:44 AM
I don't quite agree with this assumption. There are more variables that affect the link between determinism and concern for inequality, or any other moral concern.

I would consider the role of beliefs that people somehow "deserve" what they get, the idea of inborn rights (firmly originated by our history of royalty/nobility/plutocracy), god's will, etc.

The concern for inequality as a moral concept is, in my opinion, separate conceptually from determinism. You can accept determinism in the sense of society shaping our behavior and yet think that inequality is an inevitable result of the way the world is organized. Whether by god's mandate, or as a fact of life, hierarchical structures with the weak and the strong in constant tension can be explained. In that sense there's a social determinism implicit. Wanting to change those spontaneous natural hierarchies requires a greater belief in social autonomy (societal free will?), and going against the "natural order" to pursue greater equality. But that comes from a moral framework that isn't directly related to determinism.

Right, I think you can find ways of reconciling determinism with inequality, or even supporting it. But I think they are flawed. Furthermore, I would argue that determinism itself directly contradicts these justifications. For instance,the idea of people "deserving" what they get is demolished by determinism.

I guess I would say that accepting determinism doesn't magically lead everyone to correct conclusions. But I think it does lay a groundwork that ultimately cancels out many of our classic defenses of inequality.

stephanie
07-21-2011, 12:09 PM
Right, I think you can find ways of reconciling determinism with inequality, or even supporting it. But I think they are flawed.

I'm curious what you mean by "inequality" here -- any inequality? or simply inequality of the sort we currently have. I'm guessing that you may mean the former, and if so I definitely disagree. I think you end up with inequality being necessary and societially desireable (even if unfair) even if you assume no choice at all. I was serious when I suggested a veil of ignorance analysis -- I think it would be interesting to think about how one would structure society without limited choice and why some people would likely still end up supporting a set-up with a good deal of inequality.

I'm actually thinking that two other relevant differences, both potentially as significant as the amount of choice you assume people have, would be in how significant you think innate qualities are vs. learned/socialized qualities and in how successfully you think we, as a society, can legislate effective socialization. I think I'm more skeptical than you about the latter (and I'd assume real conservatives are more so) and that I also give more significance to innate qualities/natural differences (and same re: real conservatives, but more so). My guess is that that's a bigger difference policy-wise than where we fall on the question of how much choice people have, although we do differ there. My belief in choice is one I think pushes me toward liberalism, not conservatism, as it makes me value the exercise of choice more than I otherwise would. This goes back to the distinction between liberalism and left-wing politics, highlighted in the most recent Michelle Goldberg diavlog.

I do think the assumptions about choice have an influence in some cases, as I said above. For example, if we apply the veil of ignorance analysis, your answers are going to be different depending on what assumptions you make about who "you" inherently are. Are you someone who will have the ability to choose as you do now, who will have most of the strengths (and weaknesses) you do now, regardless of where you fall in our hypothetical society? Or are you going to be a very different person, potentially? I'd say the latter, even though I think there's something more than determinism and I consider innate qualities extremely important. It seems to me that a lot of conservatives will also concede this -- Heather MacDonald did, for example, in one of her more recent diavlogs. However, I think your discussion with whburgess elsewhere that is going on now demonstrates that there may well be a significant difference, and I'd agree with you that some extent of this may fall along liberal/conservative distinctions, although not as clearly as I think you believe.

eeeeeeeli
07-21-2011, 07:38 PM
My belief in choice is one I think pushes me toward liberalism, not conservatism, as it makes me value the exercise of choice more than I otherwise would. This goes back to the distinction between liberalism and left-wing politics, highlighted in the most recent Michelle Goldberg diavlog.

(I want to spend more time than I have right now thinking about your posts.)
But could you elaborate more on what you mean by this difference?

Just to note, I thought that diavlog was really interesting in that it kind of went into what felt like more intimate places then we usually see in ideological discussion.

stephanie
07-22-2011, 06:34 AM
...could you elaborate more on what you mean by this difference?

Just to note, I thought that diavlog was really interesting in that it kind of went into what felt like more intimate places then we usually see in ideological discussion.

I liked the diavlog a lot for that reason.

Brief answer on liberalism vs. leftism --

Liberalism tends to be focused on the rights of individuals to define their own lives. The contrast in feminism is a good example -- liberal feminists would be primarily concerned about laws that differentiate between men and women or enshrine cultural ideas about sex differences into law. Liberals will be concerned about protecting personal choice, really focused on ideas of rights (i.e., the ACLU), and concerned about getting rid of private discrimination that serves to enforce societal discrimination, such as outlawing employment discrimination on irrational bases, such as sex, race, religion. Given this focus on choice, liberals tend to be concerned about education and access to education, so would also strongly oppose barriers to education for children/public education. I think liberals these days tend to acknowledge that culture can limit choice, but to focus on rights-based ideas, such as free speech and rights to make choices about where and how one lives, as the solution. Michelle's focus on cosmopolitanism and why she loves NYC reflects this.

There's a lovely statement of liberalism in Casey v. Planned Parenthood that I've found leads to many social conservatives hating the decision worse than Roe, even though in theory that decision limited the right recognized in Roe and gave the state more authority to regulate.

Men and women of good conscience can disagree, and we suppose some always shall disagree, about the profound moral and spiritual implications of terminating a pregnancy, even in its earliest stage. Some of us as individuals find abortion offensive to our most basic principles of morality, but that cannot control our decision. Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not to mandate our own moral code. The underlying constitutional issue is whether the State can resolve these philosophic questions in such a definitive way that a woman lacks all choice in the matter....

It is conventional constitutional doctrine that, where reasonable people disagree, the government can adopt one position or the other.... That theorem, however, assumes a state of affairs in which the choice does not intrude upon a protected liberty. Thus, while some people might disagree about whether or not the flag should be saluted, or disagree about the proposition that it may not be defiled, we have ruled that a State may not compel or enforce one view or the other.... [citations omitted for readability]

Our law affords constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education.... Our cases recognize

"the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child."

Eisenstadt v. Baird, supra, 405 U.S. at 453 (emphasis in original). Our precedents "have respected the private realm of family life which the state cannot enter." Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166 (1944). These matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life. Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were they formed under compulsion of the State.

(Leftism in the next post.)

stephanie
07-22-2011, 07:09 AM
Leftism or radicalism, on the other hand, takes a variety of forms, but tends to be more conscious of the extent to which class and economic issues, and not merely law plus culture, preclude real choice and make liberalism into merely a tool of the dominant class. (You can see this in some of the snotty responses to Michelle in the comments section.) Again, the fight within feminism is an example, as well as some criticisms from outside feminism, which say that feminism as constructed ends up helping privileged women, who gain the ability to achieve on the same basis as the more privileged class of men, but arguably does nothing for poorer women or even results in a worse life for them, as it puts both men and women who are more economically privileged ahead of their own husbands and family.

I think this criticism is both correct -- liberal feminist is focused on the rights of women and hasn't traditionally done a lot to deal with the plight of the least privileged -- and sexist and short-sighted. It does matter if the laws are fair and employment opportunity available to poor women, in part because it's not better for these women to be dependent on the largess of their husbands or other men without recourse to the law. Plus, the overall opportunities available to women do matter to young girls, whatever their background, as well to our societal ideas of men and women. I think changing the law has changed society.

Leftists are the ones who focus on how economic inequality can strip any ability to participate in the rights supposedly available to all and that liberal "rights" may be built on the backs of the economically underprivileged. See, for example, the responses to Michelle's comments about the opportunities available to her in NYC with the comments about how the status for the working class there and her own acknowledgement that the DSK accuser could be seen as a victim of this kind of freedom or at least not a beneficiary thereof.

Leftism to me is easy to recognize but harder to define, since there are different forms. Some are more Marxist -- the liberal focus on rights simply protects the class privilege that exists. Others are more cultural -- you can go to the old argument between opening up access to things like marriage for gay people v. criticizing a hetereosexist social structure and attacking the privileged place of marriage. (This is echoed in liberal vs. radical feminism with the fight between those who would give women the same rights as men vs. those who would say that the way our world is structured is inherently problematic for the family or those with concerns other than the privileged ones that are profitable.)

I think leftism tends to work well with your argument that we lack choice than liberalism (as well as the idea that we can change society to create equality, that which I expressed skepticism about). Liberalism does not. Yet liberalism is still extremely important in the US "left" -- it's certainly the dominant force in the Democratic Party.

Part of the conflict goes directly to what Michelle was talking about (and my Casey quote). She said basically "I care about liberalism because it gives me the right to express my full self, who I really am. Not to live a life in which I'm forced to conform to some societal understanding of women or non-Christians that would have been false to who I am and a form of oppression." I think both leftists of some sort and social conservatives would disagree with that. They'd say, first, who you think you are is more defined by society than you acknowledge, and if you lived in 15th century England, you'd have a different (and perhaps better -- social conservative, here) understanding of what fulfills you as a woman. That's one reason why you get social conservatives talking about what real freedom is in ways that liberals find outrageous -- just as even liberals might be able to acknowledge that addiction is not freeing, they'd say that badly exercised freedom in which we live in ways humans are not intended to are not free.

Leftists, of course, won't go there, but they will say that choice is limited because we have far less than we pretend. Michelle has choice because poor people don't. She sees the market-based opportunities in NYC as "choice" because we are socialized to do so and so on, and she has those because of cheap labor that exists due to social inequality, etc. If you look at the real opportunities that people have, considering the division of economic resources and the effect of how we are brought up, we aren't choosing so much as we think, so my focus on the opportunities that I have in 2011 that I wouldn't have had in 1911 are at the expense of those people today who lack choice (which explains the tone and obnoxiousness of some of the responses to Michelle).

What this means is that there's less patience for "we can't tell people what to do" and more focus on the way our supposed choices privilege certain ones.

eeeeeeeli
07-22-2011, 11:36 AM
Leftism or radicalism, on the other hand, takes a variety of forms, but tends to be more conscious of the extent to which class and economic issues, and not merely law plus culture, preclude real choice and make liberalism into merely a tool of the dominant class. (You can see this in some of the snotty responses to Michelle in the comments section.) Again, the fight within feminism is an example, as well as some criticisms from outside feminism, which say that feminism as constructed ends up helping privileged women, who gain the ability to achieve on the same basis as the more privileged class of men, but arguably does nothing for poorer women or even results in a worse life for them, as it puts both men and women who are more economically privileged ahead of their own husbands and family.

I think this criticism is both correct -- liberal feminist is focused on the rights of women and hasn't traditionally done a lot to deal with the plight of the least privileged -- and sexist and short-sighted. It does matter if the laws are fair and employment opportunity available to poor women, in part because it's not better for these women to be dependent on the largess of their husbands or other men without recourse to the law. Plus, the overall opportunities available to women do matter to young girls, whatever their background, as well to our societal ideas of men and women. I think changing the law has changed society.

Leftists are the ones who focus on how economic inequality can strip any ability to participate in the rights supposedly available to all and that liberal "rights" may be built on the backs of the economically underprivileged. See, for example, the responses to Michelle's comments about the opportunities available to her in NYC with the comments about how the status for the working class there and her own acknowledgement that the DSK accuser could be seen as a victim of this kind of freedom or at least not a beneficiary thereof.

Leftism to me is easy to recognize but harder to define, since there are different forms. Some are more Marxist -- the liberal focus on rights simply protects the class privilege that exists. Others are more cultural -- you can go to the old argument between opening up access to things like marriage for gay people v. criticizing a hetereosexist social structure and attacking the privileged place of marriage. (This is echoed in liberal vs. radical feminism with the fight between those who would give women the same rights as men vs. those who would say that the way our world is structured is inherently problematic for the family or those with concerns other than the privileged ones that are profitable.)

I think leftism tends to work well with your argument that we lack choice than liberalism (as well as the idea that we can change society to create equality, that which I expressed skepticism about). Liberalism does not. Yet liberalism is still extremely important in the US "left" -- it's certainly the dominant force in the Democratic Party.

Part of the conflict goes directly to what Michelle was talking about (and my Casey quote). She said basically "I care about liberalism because it gives me the right to express my full self, who I really am. Not to live a life in which I'm forced to conform to some societal understanding of women or non-Christians that would have been false to who I am and a form of oppression." I think both leftists of some sort and social conservatives would disagree with that. They'd say, first, who you think you are is more defined by society than you acknowledge, and if you lived in 15th century England, you'd have a different (and perhaps better -- social conservative, here) understanding of what fulfills you as a woman. That's one reason why you get social conservatives talking about what real freedom is in ways that liberals find outrageous -- just as even liberals might be able to acknowledge that addiction is not freeing, they'd say that badly exercised freedom in which we live in ways humans are not intended to are not free.

Leftists, of course, won't go there, but they will say that choice is limited because we have far less than we pretend. Michelle has choice because poor people don't. She sees the market-based opportunities in NYC as "choice" because we are socialized to do so and so on, and she has those because of cheap labor that exists due to social inequality, etc. If you look at the real opportunities that people have, considering the division of economic resources and the effect of how we are brought up, we aren't choosing so much as we think, so my focus on the opportunities that I have in 2011 that I wouldn't have had in 1911 are at the expense of those people today who lack choice (which explains the tone and obnoxiousness of some of the responses to Michelle).

What this means is that there's less patience for "we can't tell people what to do" and more focus on the way our supposed choices privilege certain ones.
Thanks, that was enlightening. It would seem to be fair to say that much of the distinction is the emphasis on culture versus economy. However, as I think you pointed out, to the leftist, certainly in a Marxist sense, culture is tied to economic freedom.

This may be why libertarians, on the face of it, would seem to be equal parts liberal/conservative - in the broad sense, yet in reality side with conservatism/republicanism. It seems that they tend to not buy into the argument that economic freedom drives cultural freedom. They seem to see more economic freedom, and are more comfortable taking cultural freedoms as a given.

I was just in a dialogue (http://bloggingheads.tv/forum/showthread.php?p=217782#poststop) with whburgess, in which he made the classic conservative argument for free will that has led me to believe it is at the core of their understanding of economic and cultural freedom.
"Conservatives don't see the world in terms of social darwinism. Because they don't see the world as some sort of jungle that is difficult to survive in. They see the world as a place where anyone who follows those simple rules it takes to not be a loser, can survive, and anyone who doesn't follow those rules are choosing not to since it doesn't require a lot of natural talent to do so. This is why conservatives tend to see losers as people looking for a handout and as their circumstances being partially a result of handouts which enable them"

Notice how he asserts that choice is available to them, but that they choose not to take it. I would argue that the practical existence of choice is dependent on individual consciousness, or awareness and capacity for action. For instance, I could choose to run 5 miles every morning, but as making that choice would require a conscious capacity that I don't possess presently, it isn't a realistic choice - at least until there exist sufficiently motivating factors that arise.

My leftist critique would be that economic and social structures are such that certain populations, who in theory could make different choices, in reality cannot because these structures limit their conscious capacity. For instance, just because night classes are available to you, if it is not within your social or cultural norms to do so, that choice is not in fact available to you. It is the simple mechanics of human development and all of the knowledge, cognitive, emotional, etc. development that gives us agency.

So, I would agree that liberalism, to the extent that it requires in practice a consciousness on the part of the individual to embrace its freedoms, and not simply their availability, is not going to accomplish much. Ironically, this reminds me of the conservative critique of the sexual revolution, etc. resulting in the breakdown of the family. And Goldberg reminded us that if you really look at the breakdown, this is largely in poor, undereducated communities. These communities tend to actually be much more conservative. The teen mothers and fathers I work with have incredibly traditional views of gender roles. I think to a degree some of the cultural liberalism trickles down, but the real reason for breakdowns in family have more to do with social and economic pressures, such as concentrated poverty, high rates of incarceration, and the dysfunctional norms it tends to solidify.

stephanie
07-24-2011, 04:55 PM
I was just in a dialogue with whburgess, in which he made the classic conservative argument for free will that has led me to believe it is at the core of their understanding of economic and cultural freedom.

Yeah, I saw that. I think that whburgess does seem to hold conservative ideas in part for the reasons that you predicted, so that for you and him the free will thing might be the difference. I'd be interested in exploring the questions to determine if he and I really have a different view of how much choice people have or if there's something more to it. For example, I'll not that a lot of the people affected -- children, for example, adults who made a bad choice earlier in their life -- seem to me to be deserving of help, even if one takes a really expansive view of choice (more than I would, even).

My point here is that I think you and whb are both wrong to the extent you assume that the choice aspect is the difference more generally between liberals and conservatives. That someone like me, for example, would become a conservative if I accepted free will (which I believe in, in fact, to some extent). Many liberals not only don't deny choice but also see it important, as I tried to illustrate. Similarly, many conservatives would admit that choice is as limited as I would or even more so (as have some on this forum), but still want conservative policies due to the effect on society.

My leftist critique would be that economic and social structures are such that certain populations, who in theory could make different choices, in reality cannot because these structures limit their conscious capacity. For instance, just because night classes are available to you, if it is not within your social or cultural norms to do so, that choice is not in fact available to you. It is the simple mechanics of human development and all of the knowledge, cognitive, emotional, etc. development that gives us agency.

Even though I don't go as far as you -- in that I believe in some choice and all -- I think there's clearly some truth in this.

So, I would agree that liberalism, to the extent that it requires in practice a consciousness on the part of the individual to embrace its freedoms, and not simply their availability, is not going to accomplish much. Ironically, this reminds me of the conservative critique of the sexual revolution, etc. resulting in the breakdown of the family.

Heh, it reminds me of consciousness raising as an aspect of feminism, but I see the connection you are making too.

And Goldberg reminded us that if you really look at the breakdown, this is largely in poor, undereducated communities. These communities tend to actually be much more conservative. The teen mothers and fathers I work with have incredibly traditional views of gender roles. I think to a degree some of the cultural liberalism trickles down, but the real reason for breakdowns in family have more to do with social and economic pressures, such as concentrated poverty, high rates of incarceration, and the dysfunctional norms it tends to solidify.

Yes. I wonder if we are going to get more recognition of this now it's becoming so prevalent in white communities also.