The Free Will and Universal Basic Income
This is a copy of a letter I sent to Ben Shapiro. If you've looked at my Food For Thought page, you'll know I've been listening him to better understand the conservative viewpoint. Here are two questions about free will and the future of our economy that showcase some of the engagement.
Your show is one of the few that I try to watch regularly. I am a liberal, for what you take it to mean it. Some liberals that I know immediately clump you with sources of media that ought not be engaged with. Still, I come back to your show most every day, and agree with you more than I would like. Whether or not I agree, I appreciate your thoughtfulness.
Here are two questions for you that I have formulated. Roughly speaking, the questions of free will and a universal basic income.
1. What do you make of the atheist argument surrounding free will? I’m curious how you relate to the worldview of thinkers like Sam Harris and Steven Pinker, etc. that cast doubt on ideas of free will, the blank slate, and a soul. These thinkers argue that a whole lot of what we are as humans is genetic, and how we behave is a product of our neurology, and outside of the control of something like “will” or a “soul.” I tend to agree with them. Without getting into too much data in neuroscience about what is going on in the brain when we "decide" something, or how "decisions" change when the brain changes, I want to hear your opinion.
We know the question of will and choice has impact on political conversations. Apart from free will historically being used to tell gay people to ‘choose to be straight,’ it still informs our criminal justice system-drugs. More importantly, thinking of too many decisions as free will stops us properly caring for people that are predisposed towards aberrant behavior. I applaud your appearance on the Joe Rogan show, where you discussed concussions and brain damage in the NFL. Is that brain damage, which has immediate bear on moral culpability, really an on/off switch? Aren't we all on a spectrum of brain damage, or varying abilities to make moral choices? Is it really fair to blame poor choices on free will?
I also tuned in to your Big Ideas segment about Athens Vs. Jerusalem on August 10th. I get the impression you think secularists need faith in order to have moral values. I believe that abandoning faith doesn't mean you abandon the moral conversation. I wonder what you think of a morality that could be grounded from below. We don't need faith, we can figure it out from each other, like the empiricists did, perhaps like Spinoza does, and in a more modern form, like John Rawls.
2. How do you perceive the telos of our society as regards the technological/robotic replacement of jobs and the employment market?
Some are convinced our future employment market doesn't have enough jobs for our population. In the close run, automatic cars close off trucking, internet warehouses replace brick and mortar, and more. A report by a technology consultant estimated that 38% of current American jobs are at risk of being replaced in the next 15 years.
What do you think of a future where the economy simply does not have enough jobs for the population? If you think that this is our lot, the questions of our politics and individual vs. society change dramatically. If the job market simply cannot match the population, it would be extraordinarily cruel to blame individuals’ poverty on their choices. Even if you are prudent enough to avoid a gender studies degree(sorry - no shade), there simply might not be enough jobs for 300 million STEM majors, much less 7 billion.
If this is our future, the question of further curtailing individual rights becomes not if, but when. These thoughts crossed my mind while watching you debate health care with Cenk. If all estimates are that we won't have an economy with enough jobs for our population, should we give them health care, or let them die? More importantly, even if our employment isn't there yet, shouldn't we start preparing our government to provide those services? Maybe we should figure out single payer...
3. A minor question would be about Jared Kushner. I know you have criticized nepotism, or at least said that Americans don’t like the perception of nepotism in their representatives. I also heard you defending him regarding some of the scandal surrounding the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. that he was acting idiotically and didn't know politics.
If he doesn’t know politics, should we really have him in charge of the opioid crisis, peace in the middle east, relations with China, and way more? I would love to hear you speak more vocally about this.
I sincerely appreciate your content. I continually pause and think throughout your podcasts, and have modified many of my opinions since starting looking into your content some 12 months ago. One thing that I love is how you try to let dissent to the front of the line. The questions above represent my a good engagement with your thinking.
When you get a minute, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
There it is. I'll post if I hear back from him. Apologies for the letter format- I'm sure that I will return to asking and writing about free will and the universal basic income in another form soon.
- How should we change our criminal justice system based on neuroscientific understandings of free will?
- If we are headed towards a future without enough jobs, when should we start preparing to provide more social services?
A few more free will comics... Can you really choose differently?