Last Will and Protocol

Agency, Schmagency

Are we the architects of our fate? Or just tumbleweeds made of stardust?

The free will debate is alive and well. On the side of determinism are prominent public thinkers like Sapolsky, Harris, and Gray. A biologist, a neuroscientist, and a philosopher walk into a bar. Or rather, they are walked into a bar. 

Most people I know believe in human choice. Many intellectuals do. But I’d say the loudest proponents of free will are the internet’s hustle porn influencers. Andrew Tate, Gary Vee, etc. They might say, “Why walk into a bar when you could buy it?”

If I’m waxing philosophic, it’s because I just finished Straw Dogs by John Gray. He’s a British political thinker and a great writer. Even if this book made me feel like a wet rag, I’m glad I read it. 

I tend to think that humans have agency; that we have the ability to choose, be moral, and change the world. Straw Dog’s many counterarguments weakened my hold on that opinion. Gray makes the case that morals don’t improve – they just change. He does, however, view technological and scientific progress as a true phenomenon.

Among those debating about free will, it seems that there is a loose consensus around one thing. Technology is morally neutral. Nuclear energy, from this perspective, is the ultimate Rorschach test. It could scorch the Earth. Or it could usher in a harmonious future. Scientific knowledge grows increasingly complex, but it doesn’t care. Technology mimics our posture.

When we look at the human body as a machine, we see progress there as well. Our ability to maintain good health has never been better. Dentistry, medicine, vaccines, nutrition, and exercise science have all come a long way. Regardless of whether we choose to or not, humans have gotten better at meeting their basic Maslovian needs. Bodily health is adjacent to, but is not squarely in, the realm of morals.

What Straw Dogs did not touch on much (and I sorely wish it had) were social technologies. Protocols for voting, communicating, sharing resources, dispensing justice, etc. are grey areas. Are these technologies, growing more powerful over time? Or are they moral judgments, oscillating the direction of their favoritism without reason?

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