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Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Thinking Out Loud: Free Will, Forest Fires, and Reconstruction

Two moves, and a split from the fiance have been debilitating in terms of my daily routine. So as part of a restorative effort that includes more reading, more sleeping, (I hope), more exercise, and more typing, i'll be setting out to do some small scale thinking on this blog. The reason I say small scale is because work is twelve hours a day and night shifts really diminish the cognitive function (nicotine and caffeine only do so much), but I am going to try to toss some thoughts on a regular basis in addition to my regular contributions at TheeWesterner. 

Firstly, I am not a person who lives in the contemporary timescale. I don't keep up with news well, nor do I wish too. It's too much. Its too fast. I'd rather spend my time taking in something substantive and being able to find some greater insight than simply snap up sound bites and regurgitate news coverage with spin. However, I am going to touch on something today. 


I feel genuine sorrow for those who lost their homes and workplaces in that catastrophe, but it seems to me that the conservative commentariate in Canada is a little off base on this one. No Notley Trudeau conspiracy seems to be extant. Rather, its been, not to underplay the disaster, a relatively small amount of damage to the community, it was the potential that was the killer. We are lucky and we are recovering, and I have spoken to a number of evacuee's at my day job at the hospital and all seem relatively content with the treatment they have received. It's sad, but its not a conspiracy, its not bungling, (the disaster seems well managed) and its not a partisan issue. These people leaving Fort McMurray are Canadians and I applaud Brian Jean as well as the rest of the political class for treating them as such. They are people getting by lets not complicate it. 

Secondly, I cannot abide the garbage suggestion that these people are receiving some form of cosmic karma for either their employment in the oilfield or their squandering of money and failure at frugality. The frugality issue is slightly unrelated, but with the latest economic crisis and the plummeting oil prices are sure see a great many people throwing stones. Human beings lack foresight, and for those who take the time to carefully plan, budget, and limit their hedonistic consumption, good for you, but I don't see any merit in throwing stones. We all make errors, and to pretend our frailty is any different is a lie. Sure we may not have multiple RV's, boats, or overpriced vacations but we all fail at monitoring our indulgences. 


I recently read the long essay 'Free Will' by Sam Harris. I know many dislike him, indeed I think Harris is erroneous as a New Atheist, but I don't doubt his intellect or his authority in terms of philosophy or neuroscience. I think Sam is doing his best to make us more moral and ethical and for that I appreciate his efforts even if they do not jive well with the theological disposition. 

In 'Free Will' Sam argues that we in fact do not have 'free' will and I agree to a great extent. I don't believe we necessarily fail in the sense that our cognitive functions precede our rationalizations or conscious awareness and that somehow makes us less autonomous or rational, but rather, I agree with him in two other senses: firstly, that our free will belongs to us only in the sense that it originates and is exercised in the context of our community, family, and institutions, and secondly, that our capacity to know our self is limited by a predisposition to rationalize post hoc in the vein of David Hume. Finally, I found it interesting just how well Harris's argument meshes with the Augustinian understanding that our locus of control is outside ourselves and that despite our inability to exercise a free will, or at least exercise it in the conscious sense we would like to,  we are still able to find salvation and grow our empathy outside of such concrete understandings of autonomy. If I could sum up my conservatism a large portion of my understanding would cohere with Harris in that our notion of the man as an island to himself consciously and always in control of his actions is fallacious. I don't agree with Sam that this is necessarily a physiological phenomenon in the sense he does, but I do agree it is part of the human condition; its a part we have spent too long ignoring for the alternative fetishization of autonomy. 

If we do choose to perceive our autonomy in such a fashion as to assert that each man makes decisions in full and conscious control of his faculties and without a fallen, debased, or impulsive fashion then it seems to me that we abandon the societal imperative to construct a community worth living in. 

Feel free to stop me if I am wrong....