How Free is “Free Will”
by Brian T. Lynch
This is purely my opinion, but my understanding of “Free Will” is very narrow compared to most people I talk to about it. I see it as something that emerges gradually along a continuum from actions that are totally coercive to purely rational and independent. It isn’t an all or nothing phenomenon, as some see it. I exclude all impulsive actions taken due to internal urges from my definition since urges aren’t rational and follow from completely different pathways in the brain. Also, actions that spring from emotions may or may not involve free will in my view. It is here that the gradual blossoming of free will is most evident.
When ever we act to satisfy urges or emotions we really cannot distinguish “free will” from the actions taken since acting on a urge feels identical to acting by choice.. That is why people don’t even know they are addicted to something until they discover they can’t simply choose to stop. Addiction in insidious that way. No one can say for sure that they smoke by choice after that first cigarette because even six months later the brain can trigger powerful urges for another cigarette.
The same holds true, by degree, with our emotions. We can’t know for certain if we are acting on free will when we acquiesce to our feelings since emotions can also overpower free will. We even say we are “acting on our emotions” to explain certain behaviors, but it still feels exactly like a choice, even if we can’t help it. So inwardly speaking, we can only no for sure that we are acting on free will when our actions are contrary to both our urges and our feelings. It is only when we place them in check that we can know for sure we are acting on our own free will.
That said, what about free will in circumstances when our only available options for action are proscribed by others, or by circumstances out of our control? If we have no choice but to act, do we have free will? If we have only bad choices, are we exercising free will by making that bad choice? Was Socrates exercising free will when he choose to drink hemlock rather than face a public execution? It so, and I believe he was exercising free will, then a limited form of free will must exist even under extreme forms of coercion.
How we define “free will” has enormous social and political implications because it thereby defines how responsible individuals are for their actions. It is here we see the continuum of emerging free will run its course. Some folks believe everyone is 100% responsible for their actions. They might then blame the poor for being poor, or the sick for being sick (live style choices) and would probably not accept an insanity defense for crimes committed by the insane. Speaking of justice, we see the role “free will” plays in our action played being calculated in criminal sentencing hearings when mitigating and aggravating circumstances are used to determine appropriate punishment. We punish people for criminal intent but not acquit them, or lighten their punishment if they were not in control of their actions.
These are just examples. In fact, we use these sort of calculations everyday with each other or our children in judging their actions and in modulating our responses. So the idea that free will is an all or nothing phenomenon just isn’t born out in our every day experience.
Anyway, here is an interesting article on the subject.
It has become fashionable to say that people have no free will. Many scientists cannot imagine how the idea of free will could be reconciled with the laws of physics and chemistry. Brain researchers say that the brain is just a bunch of nerve cells…
Why Democrats Keep Losing!
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
May I rant? It helps me to think out loud. Maybe you will find it helpful too. (or just ignore this if you like.)
Democrats are loosing in state after state and in federal elections because they are acting too white and wealthy for their base, the REAL latent base of the party. And this base is NOT its liberal donors. Dem donors are nice folks, but they can’t compete with the GOP donor machines. (Nor should they try)
According to OpenSecrets.org, from the prior election, two-thirds of corporate donations go to the GOP and one-third to Dem’s. That’s more than enough money to distract Democratic candidates. But that’s not the whole story.
We already have a party of wealthy white guys, so we don’t need another party of wealthy (relative term here, not pejorative) white gals or guys to oppose them. As badly as the GOP is exploiting and marginalizing woman (treating them like subordinates), woman’s issues are not winning over woman like it should, not even female Democrats. But that’s not the whole story either.
We need a Democratic party that gets intimately in touch with the needs of the ordinary people who haven’t been voting lately, people who, from their distal vantage, can’t tell the two parties apart. Their issues are literally bread and butter, not theoretical or ideological economics. They live in a deflationary universe where wages are flat and a dollar keeps shrinking. Their daily sweat has been sanitized and turned into a market commodity. There is no profit left in labor for them. They know their children will have no inheritance because everything they own can be sold at a flee market.
The middle class that we usually picture in our mind is not the middle income folks of today. Popular culture’s view, reinforced by network TV’s portrayals of middle-class lifestyles, matches people making more than $100,000 a year, twice the median wage. Which politicians for federal office speak openly and bravely for this half of our hard working citizens who make less than $50,000 per year? You can’t reach them by talk of job creation! Most of them have more jobs than they can handle.
If we think of the lower half of wage earners as being made up of those who are working and those looking for work, then 7% unemployed minus the 50% who earn less than a middle wage leaves 43% of the wage earners who are not being represented by either party. Of this group, those who call themselves Democrats aren’t showing up to vote. Why should they? What will change when no one seems to notice them?
Republican in this same low income group do show up to vote, but that’s because they are cynically manipulated by the wealthy wing of the GOP. They are voting out of fear, anger and pain. The wealthy wing of the GOP hears their pain even as it twist the knife.
Democrats in public office, or running for office, don’t want to ruffle the feathers of the powerful minority groups (Wall Street, CEO’s, Billionaires, etc.) even though these folks aren’t voting for them. Money is tight. I get that.
Let me give you just two examples from two New Jersey congressional races that were below the national radar, The incumbent Republican, Rodney Frelinghuysen, raise 7 times more money than his Democratic challenger, Mark Dunec in the 11th District. Incumbent Republican Leonard Lance raised 8 times more than his Democratic challenger, Janice Kovach in the 7th District. All this money did not come from the 43% of hard working American’s who still need some form of government subsidy to survive.
And what help did these Democratic candidates get from their party elders? Very little! A decision was made to write off these districts. The slick election strategy that carefully targets resources to the most competitive races writes off the needs of millions of people who have every right to be represented. The big get out the vote strategy touted by the party fizzled because they didn’t have an explosive message to motivate the 43%ers.
People who live below the median wage level have one thing in common with the richest billionaires… their vote is just as powerful. One person! One vote! It isn’t how corporations operate; It’s how democracies operate. And until Democrats start collecting those uncast vote, instead of appeasing the rich, Democrats will continue to loose.
It is time to stop playing the Republican’s game.
Here is a helpful article by Robert Reich that says in fewer word what I am trying to say above.
Anyway, I’m done with my rant. Thanks for listening, even if you didn’t make it this far. All the best in the future.
Image Credit: http://news.yourolivebranch.org/2011/05/24/iec-declares-election-free-and-fair/
Should Living Wage Minimums be Based on Individuals or Families?
by Brian T. Lynch, MSW
“No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this country… By living wages, I mean more than a bare subsistence level — I mean the wages of a decent living.” (1933, Statement on National Industrial Recovery Act – Franklin Delano Roosevelt)
Question: In looking at the Living Wage calculator, I see that $10.83 for a single adult in Morris County, New Jersey where I live. This seems fair to me for a single person, but when you add one child to that scenario the rate jumps to $22.12 per hour. This raises a serious question. Does the Living Wage Movement suggest that wages should be adjusted according to need? [ http://livingwage.mit.edu/ ]
Answer: That’s a great question. I am not a spokesman for, or advocate of, the living wage movement as an organization. I do believe that living wages should be the minimum wage in this country. Minimum living wages should be what we pay summer college help or student interns, not full-time employees. It might also be appropriate for part-time seasonal help. It shouldn’t be what we pay permanently hired employees.
To answer your question, I researched what a living wage is in the 130 cities that have living wage laws. It turns out that their wage base is for a single employee, not including any dependents. A living wage in Manchester CT equals $15.54/hour (the highest) while it is $8.50 in Orlando FL (the lowest). It would appear that the Living Wage Movement is looking to index a minimum living wage minimum to local economies based on one adult with no dependents.
That said, the minimum wage in 1986 was $10.86/hour as opposed to its current level of $7.25/hour. If it had been indexed to inflation in 1986 the current minimum wage today would be $23.59/hour today. That clearly was intended to provide for a worker with a family. The current median family size is 2.54 persons per household. That inflation adjusted wage equals about $47,000 per year while the current median family wage is a little over $51,000 per year (and still declining, I might add).
Here’s the thing, we have only been talking about wage adjustments to keep pace with inflation. We have not been talking about raising wages to reward workers for our growing productivity. We have not been talking about sharing the wealth that workers help create so everyone keeps pace with America’s growing economy. Cost of living adjustment are important, but they shouldn’t be confused with a productivity, or merit raise.
America is $1.7 trillion richer today than it was in 1976. Our economy has doubled, yet the share of all that new wealth created by American workers in this same period of time is insignificant.
In the 1960’s my father was an appliance repairman at Sears. His salary was enough that my mother could stay home to raise my sister and me. Her role as mother to the next generation of citizens was valued. Today, a typical family of four making about $51,000 does so because both parents work. And they are only able to make ends meet because of easy access to credit to shift their financial burdens onto their future earnings.
When I speak about a living wage I am thinking about getting back to a point where one breadwinner can hold one full-time job and still raise a small family without needing government assistance to do it. That’s what we had, and that should be our goal as a country.