Friday, July 3, 2015
Our "Life is a Lottery" Culture
One of the things President Obama is famous for is dissing the successful as "life's lottery winners." This parallels his charge that successful businesses don't deserve the credit for their success, saying "You didn't build that." This is politically shrewd, because it taps into two basic weaknesses of human nature: envy and greed. His philosophy, and that of many liberals in generals, conveys the message that voters are justified in their envy of success and wealth. Voters are encouraged to demand income redistribution because the wealth of others was not earned.
Fairness doctrine dominates the ethos of liberals and lies at the heart of their increasingly successful efforts to punish success by government regulation and taxation policy. If success is due to circumstance and luck, then it is only fair to push for more equal outcomes in the efforts of people to succeed. Voters, perhaps now a majority of them, like the idea of leveling the playing field by taking from the successful and giving to those who have not succeeded.
At the other end of the spectrum, the lottery mentality offers an excuse for those whose lives are mostly marked by failures. Their problem is bad luck, or exploitation by the successful. This is another example of unfairness, perhaps even of the mendacity of those who have won life's lottery. No longer do we have to blame failure on bad choices and decisions or on laziness. Poverty or antisocial behavior can't be blamed on freely chosen actions. Those who fail can find scapegoats and blame them.
Politically, liberal politicians have found the guarantee of success: convince people they are victims and pledge to punish the perpetrators and restore fairness. As Jeff Bergner put it in his essay, "One cannot build a cult of victimhood on the soil of personal responsibility."
It is not just craven politicians who reject personal responsibility. Many brain scientists have arrived at the same conclusion from highly flawed experiments that seem to show that a person makes choices and decisions well before their claim of when they made them. This research has been interpreted to mean that the unconscious mind makes the decision and later that becomes known consciously. Thus, the decision cannot be made freely. It is driven unconsciously by our genes and past learning experiences.
Thus, scientists provide support for redistributionist and retributionist social policies, because life success is not based on merit. We now have defense lawyers arguing "diminished capacity" for criminal clients. We even have clerics who argue from original sin and predestination perspectives that we can't help our bad morals.
I am writing a book on "Making a Scientific Case for Free Will." So far, despite my track record of science-publishing success, no publisher will touch it. Has free will become politically incorrect?
So why try? If you succeed, you won't get credit. You will get diminished, perhaps even punished. If you fail, you won't get blame. In fact, you will get compensated. This is what life in America is coming to in this new age of "life's lottery."
Source for quote: Bergner, Jeff. 2015. The fame of life. The Weekly Standard, June 29, p. 25-26.
Source for critique of free-will research: Klemm, W. R. 2010. Free will debates: simple experiments are not so simple. Advances in Cognitive Psychology. 6: (6) 47-65.