Justice Of Misfits
The Edge Annual Question asks What is your dangerous idea? Here's Clay Shirky's answer on the erosion of free will - that is to say, as we discover more about ourselves and our interaction with the world and society around us, we are increasingly able to draw inferences between external stimuli, and individual responses. In other words, the concept of personal free will and responsibility is lessening its grip. _
Clay hits on an aspect of this that I haven't really thought about before. To start with, I'm not a particular fan of free will theory. But I also admit that I haven't really thought through the practical consequences of accepting this either, especially from a judicial viewpoint. I don't think it's as simple as saying "if all of people's behaviour is caused by something other than themselves, then they can't be held responsible and can't be put through the legal process". Indeed, the law itself can be seen as an "external stimulus" in and of itself, an arranged social contract designed to coerce a body into or against a particular behaviour.
Similarly, the implications of such an acceptance would also surely mean that nor can the managers of McDonalds be held accountable for their behaviour, as it's their legal duty to make as much profit for their shareholders as possible (although, methinks, more motivated by psychopathic-domination tendencies).
What we can say we have, though, is a very obvious split between the "clear-minded" and the "influenced". Obvious in terms of power exerted, not necessarily in terms of who's actually either of these. Clay brings up the examples of differentiating between a sane person and a mentally-ill person, or between a 15-year-old and a 16-year-old. But if these distinctions in explaining behaviour become increasingly subject to a science of responsibility, then doesn't it start to clash with the idea of what's right and what's wrong? In other words, aren't right and wrong based on the idea of free will? And if "wrongness" is further explained away by biological "malfunctions" and psychological "impairments", then surely all that we're left with is a state in which "right" is re-defined as "normal" and "wrong" no longer exists - replaced by a fragmented, calculated, categorised landscape of misfits, to be measured and forced into "normal" behaviour. But then, who isn't a misfit in some way? Over time, the "mass of people with a uniform amount of free will and a small set of exceptional individuals" as Shirky puts it, will become a mass of people each with some amount of power being exerted over them to save them from themselves and a small set of "normal" individuals.
Unfortunately I suspect that this is the way things will go for quite a while, hence why Shirky's idea is dangerous, I guess. We aren't equipped to give up the one thing that allows us to believe in the system - our own sense of freedom. In a world where efficiency and scientific rationale are the main driving forces, the risk and uncertainty involved in letting things "simply happen" in its own chaotic manner has no place. - and yet such systems are what science is supposed to document in the first place.
(See also: Objectivity )