Thursday, October 05, 2006

Give me the veal marsala...or whatever I was supposed to have.

So Mel Gibson goes off on Jews because he drinks. Rep. Mark Foley (shown with young campaign volunteer) can beat that hands-down: He propositions boys via instant-message because, he now tells us, he's a closeted gay drunk who was molested* as a child. Charles Roberts, the milkman/executioner who slaughtered those Amish girls before killing himself, did it all because of some vague something that happened to him 20 years ago that he either didn't want to repeat, or felt compelled to repeat. We may never know which.

Then again, we don't know a lot of things about why we do what we do. I'm not disputing the role that "past history" plays in the cause-and-effect of our adult lives. But we all have something we could point to in our past and say, "This is why I screwed up." Or at least, we like to think we can.

See, this is where determinists sometimes go off the rails. The fact that life may be predetermined—as I believe it to be—does not obviate our need to live it as if we're making choices. We have to "pretend" we're in control, and be able to fully suspend disbelief in so doing. Because no matter what made us this way, or whether or not we had or have a choice....here we are. We have to deal with other people and they have to deal with us. We have to TCOB. The great flaw of the Victimization wing, which (as you can see from my first graph) remains highly active in society despite the likes of Oprah and Drs. Phil and Laura, is that after essentially positing a determinist view of behavior, it takes the added step of arguing that because unseen forces made us this way, we're entitled to a (literal) get-out-of-jail-free card.
You can't run a civilized society that way. Whether or not Charlie Manson "had to become a killer," we still have to keep him away from the rest of us. Second, we don't really know the mechanics of how it all came together. We haven't the first clue as to how the events from our past (even our very recent past, like that extra drink Mel threw back before pulling out into L.A. traffic) conspired to produce what we find ourselves doing at this moment. And it's simplistic, naive, and extremely presumptuous to think that we can cut through the clutter of all the inscrutable forces that act upon us (our genes, our environment, the interplay between the two) in order to isolate the causal factor in our present behavior.

We know that something made us this way. But we almost never know what. Which means we can't point the fingers of blame at that last drink, or that pedophilic clergyman, or that mysterious incident from 20 years ago. Even if we're sure we know, we just don't.

Determinism isn't about shrugging helplessly and saying, "Oh well, it's out of my hands, whatever happens, happens...." (Unless you were determined to do that.) Determinism doesn't, or shouldn't, change anything about how we live our lives or structure society going forward*; it simply says that once we get there, it's where we had to be. Ergo it doesn't matter that the full script for whatever we're going to do on January 5, 2012 is already written. It doesn't matter that our "choice" of a menu for that day has already been made, that dinner for that evening is already on the great stove of fate, if you will. We don't know any of it. Just go the grocery store each day and buy what you feel like buying.

Determinism is not a justification for hopelessness or anarchy.

On the other hand, if you believe it is...It's OK. You can't help thinking that. (wink)

* by a clergyman, no less, so we have an added measure of pathos injected, as well as an obvious attempt to "trump" one scandal by superimposing a bigger one on top of it. It's as if he's arguing, in effect, that the young boys he approached were really molested by the Catholic Church or whoever.
* It does have a role to play in the attitude we take towards life, and those around us, and perhaps, yes, should be considered in some areas of public policy. But I don't want to muddy the waters here with such concerns.

5 comments:

a/good/lysstener said...

Wow Steve, this is one of those posts that has a person going round and round in her head till it explodes. I'd say thanks for posting it, but I'm not sure I want to thank you for it!

Rodger said...

Interesting...but I think your logic about determinism is falling apart.

You can't have both choice and determinism, at least not the way you've described them here.

More later after I wrap my mind around your post...

Trish Ryan said...

Determinism sounds an awful lot like faith; you might want to be careful there :)

And I have to stand up for Dr. Phil - from what I've seen, he cares about your past for about five minutes, then the rest of the show is about TCOB.

Steve Salerno said...

Actually, Trish, determinism is pretty much the polar opposite of faith--so I must've done a really crappy job of presenting my thoughts here.

As for Dr. Phil...you're right. He is (generally speaking, except when it suits him) one of the leading voices for Empowerment, which is the opposite of Victimization. I have my problems with Dr. Phil, too, but they certainly don't include his espousal of Victimization theory. So I must've done a pretty crappy job of presenting that, too.

As always, Trish, thanks for the feedback. And I hope I expressed at least THAT clearly!

Cosmic Connie said...

Actually, Steve, I think you expressed your view pretty clearly. You said that the Victimization wing of the self-help industry exists *despite* Dr. Phil, et al. And if I read you right, you are saying that even if our lives are predetermined, we are not absolved of the responsibility to TCOB.

In any case, it seems most people spend a lot of time trying to figure out *why* something happened (usually, of course, they do this when something bad happens). When disaster strikes, they wonder why God or the universe or whatever seems to have it out for them.

It is natural to wonder these things, of course. And sometimes introspection is useful when, for example, we are trying to break free of self-destructive patterns.
But sooner or later we have to stop wondering "why" -- and stop second-guessing God or whatever -- and just deal with it. Or at least blog about it! :-)