I borrowed the public library’s copy of Sam Harris’ “book” denying free will by upholding it. I’ve tried to read it several times, but every time I pick it up, it falls open to Harris mocking the idea that the reader is the author of his own life. I look at the words and mutter, “Who is the author of this fucking book?” Then I throw it back onto the pile of useless wastes of perfectly good paper.
The New York Times wastes quite a bit more paper than Harris on any given day, but Sunday is the day set aside at the Times for wasting human minds. This has always been the case, going back decades. Sunday’s paper is filled with huge department store ads, and the Times elects to “cover” those ads by giving space to the most pernicious sorts of anti-human ideas.
This Sunday’s paper features an amazingly stupid Dancing Bear Fallacy from an academic named David Barash:
Voluntary actions are, we like to insist, ours and ours alone, not for the benefit of some parasitic or pathogenic occupying army. When we fall in love, we do so for ourselves, not at the behest of a romance-addled tapeworm. When we help a friend, we aren’t being manipulated by an altruistic bacterium. If we eat when hungry, sleep when tired, scratch an itch or write a poem, we aren’t knuckling under to the vices of our viruses.
Get it? Free will is just a disease and you are nothing more than a zombie robot hewing mindlessly to the genetic predispositions of nefarious micro-organisms.
What is Barash’s evidence for making this absurd claim? You have to pay attention to his “defenses,” but what you end up with is a very simple answer: Nothing. He makes one analogy after another from diseases among other species of organisms, then uses those stick figures to construct this straw man:
Here, then, is heresy: maybe there is no one in charge — no independent, self-serving, order-issuing homunculus.
The idea of the homunculus is itself absurd. If a “little man” inside your brain is the source of your will, what is the source of the little man’s will? It’s turtles all the way down. But to analogize from diseased bees to the self-initiated creations of the human mind is pure Dancing Bear. Quoting from Man Alive!:
As a sort of pocket-reference to the kinds of bogus arguments made about your mind – claims you will see everywhere if you look for them – take note of these three general categories:
1. “We now know we know nothing!” Either your mind is inherently unreliable or the world outside your mind is fundamentally incomprehensible.
2. “Your good behavior is not to your credit, but at least your bad behavior is not your fault!” The actions you think of as being morally good or evil are either causally unavoidable or are caused by something other than your free will – hormones, brain chemistry, genes, brain defects, drugs, diseases, your upbringing, your environment, your wealth or poverty, memes, etc.
3. “Dancing bears are just like us!” Either animals such as apes or dolphins (or even “artificially intelligent” computer programs) are just as smart as you, or you are just as flailingly ignorant as an animal.
Note that all three of these categories are self-consuming: To uphold them, necessarily, is to deny them. If we know we know nothing, then we must know at least that one something – begging the question of how we can know even that little bit of nonsense. If the human will is not free, I cannot will myself to persuade you of this claim – nor even simply to make it – and you cannot will yourself either to accept or reject it. And if your mind works “just like” an animal’s brain, then you cannot discover anything at all about how your mind works, nor record or communicate your findings. Do you doubt me? If so, please have your pet or your software project write a peer-reviewed paper denouncing my egregious intellectual arrogance. No one believes this hogwash. They just want for you to believe it – or at least not dare to challenge it.
As with Harris, if the poet is not author to the poem, then what undetected disease “caused” Barash to produce this oh-so-sophisticated denunciation of the human mind?
I can answer that question. The purpose of all academic quibbling with the obvious and undeniable ontological fact of free will — and, not-at-all-coincidentally, the over-arching objective of all of academia and of The New York Times itself — is to undermine your ability to defend your one irreplaceable indomitable human life from the tyrants who long to enslave you.
So what alien organism occupied Barash’s mind to induce him to construct this hideous, scurrilous, flagrantly fallacious lie about the nature of your mind?
Karl Marx, of course. The man may not be king of the zombie bees, but he is beyond all doubt Lord of the Flies. If you don’t learn to mind what goes into your mind, your own will will be his, too, soon enough.