Saturday, October 26, 2013

Grotesque Consequences

Here are two quotes, one from holocaust survivor and psychologist Victor Frankl, a free will libertarian and one from the famous twentieth century trial attorney and determinist Clarence Darrow. Together they illustrate vividly the consequences of a belief that our behavior and our choices are the product of our brain chemistry and nothing more. First Darrow:
The reason I talk to you on the question of crime, its cause and cure, is because I really do not in the least believe in crime. There is no such thing as a crime as the word is generally understood. I do not believe there is any sort of distinction between the real moral condition of the people in and out of jail. One is just as good as the other.

The people here can no more help being here than the people outside can avoid being outside. I do not believe that people are in jail because they deserve to be. They are in jail simply because they cannot avoid it on account of circumstances which are entirely beyond their control and for which they are in no way responsible.
And here's Frankl:
If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone.

I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.
I think Frankl is much closer to the truth, and to the reality of human experience, than is Darrow. Darrow was a philosophical materialist, that is, he believed that everything could be reduced to the swirl of atoms. His determinism was a logical consequence of that belief, but when the consequence of one's beliefs does away with the distinction between good and evil, when the consequence of one's belief is that the Nazis responsible for the suffering of millions in the holocaust were no more nor less moral than those who risked their lives to smuggle Jews out of Europe, then I think we need to reassess the belief that leads to such grotesque consequences.