Is Sam Harris a utilitarian

I was the poster who asked “how are we gonna change society like sam proposed”.

I have now completely changed my mind on the usefulness of rejecting free will.

I still know that free will doesn’t exist, it cannot be mapped onto physical reality, it attempts to go against the laws of causality, etc etc. but trying to spread awareness of it and change society will not work. and even if it did miraculously work, it would not change for the better.

Sam Harris proposed that if we rejected free will as a society, we would focus more on love and compassion, and our hatred for one another would evaporate after realising it makes no sense. He said that our criminal justice system could have the opportunity to reform by focusing on rehabilitating criminals instead of uselessly punishing them. millions and millions of dysfunctional unhealthy emotional arguments would cease to exist when we stop blaming others and try to understand them better.

Wrong. I think this is an extremely idealistic fantasy that brings about a lot of problems.

First of all, this claim assumes that everyone is logical and intelligent and can challenge their own emotions. This is obviously not true. Most people are average in intelligence and emotional capacities, they have no interest in psychology or philosophy, and are too scared or unmotivated to challenge their insecurities and engage in personal development.

After telling my best friend about there not being free will, I thought it would change his life forever, because then he would realise that anyone who has ever treated him badly was not in control of their actions, and he would stop feeling guilty for his own weaknesses, he would focus on understanding people and show compassion, etc. Instead, the opposite happened.

He said to me:

“you act like this no free will stuff is some fundamental truth that everyone needs to hear, but it hasn’t made a damn difference for me. I still have horrible road rage, I still want revenge on the people I hate, I still get pissed off at you, I still feel guilty for my own mistakes, and even though I know nobody is in control of anything, it hasn’t had an effect on me whatsoever. now I feel like I can’t even get angry at people in front of you because you might judge me, thinking they had no choice in their actions, which even though is true, is still fucking annoying and now I feel a shit load of mental conflict every time I complain about someone. This free will bullshit is useless. logic doesn’t automatically trump emotions.”

My friend also now feels depressed because now he feels fatalistic, thinking he’ll never change and improve his weaknesses because of the way his brain is wired. I tried to assure him that he is mistaking determinism for fatalism, and tried to say how rejecting free will actually makes you more free to improve because you’ll realise there’s so many biopsychosocial factors that control your behaviour. unfortunately, even though this made sense to me, it didn’t give him any inspiration to improve whatsoever.

He also is now mildly suffering an existential crisis upon realising that there’s no rational reason behind liking/loving people as it’s only the result of chemicals in the brain, how your life is actually like a film, etc.

This is a completely average person, neither dysfunctional nor super mentally healthy and perfect, just like most other people in society, and it seems that telling him the so-called fundamental truth of the universe made his life worse.

I’ve received lots of benefits for rejecting free will, but that’s only because I’m interested in psychology and have recently been reading up on philosophy. the most of society are not intellects who study this sort of stuff.

So no, unless you are seriously well equipped with knowledge of psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, etc. then trying to tell people that free will doesn’t exist is a useless, anti-utilitarian idea that will cause society more damage than good.

Not to mention that trying to radically change society is extremely extremely difficult. Think of the many societies which still promote homophobia like russia, despite the fact that being accepting of homosexuals is an easy logical moral behaviour to adopt that doesn’t cause a tonne of philosophical problems.

Sam harris is a neuroscientist and philosopher who studied his literature of interest for many many years, and experimented with lots of mind-altering drugs to become as profound as he is now. That’s why rejecting free will has made his life better. but for the rest of society, full of average people not particularly interested in intellectual stuff, rejecting free will does nothing but harm.

Being ethically obliged to not go apeshit on my friends when they do something disastrously wrong is horribly hard and counterproductive. I tell them in an angry voice that they are wrong for doing XYZ behaviour, but because I don’t say stuff like “you should feel ashamed of yourself” or “what were you thinking” or other judgemental phrases, they feel less motivation to change.

But the times where I have “pretended” that free will does exist and started getting mad at my friends and harshfully judged them for the issues they have sometimes caused, the fake anger I have for them has actually pushed us towards solving our problems and making our lives better. But when I act truthful, realising they were not in control of their actions, I have less passion and emotion in the words I say and they barely engage with me. They apologise and say they’ll improve, but because there was no emotional impact, no judgement that shocked them into getting their act together, they forget to improve their act.

when I act as rational and literal as sam harris, the lack of emotional oomph misleads my friends into thinking that what they did wasn’t that bad, no matter how many stern adjectives I use.

When I act as fiery and passionate as an influential guy like jordan peterson, it pushes all my friends to improve and we all end up growing from our problems, leading to better friendships.

So it now seems obvious to me that sam harris’s proposal for changing society by rejecting free will is anti-utilitarian and unpragmatic. It’s so damn obvious it will never work and I don’t understand why it’s one of his core topics. His lectures on criticising religion have lots of implications and are very useful, but rejecting free will? in what world does that affect society? it affects a small minority of intellects at the most. Sure, you can have an interest in the topic and discuss it, but there’s no reason why it should be a core topic that you aim to spread to other people. Highlighting the problems of religion provides useful truths. Highlighting that free will doesn’t exist provides a useless truth. Seeing sam harris debate someone like ben shapiro on free will seems utterly useless to me. It’s fine if he debated it with other philosophers just for the sake of philosophical conversation, like when philosophers uselessly but enjoyingly argue about brains in a vat, but he debated a political commentator on it as if he had useful societal implications to share.

So yes, even though free will cannot possibly exist, rejecting it is useless. I think you should honestly try to live as if you do have free will. It brings lots of problems itself, and there are people who have had their lives ruined due to blame and shame, but I feel that society can only stand on its own two foot with free will. unfortunately there is no evidence that a society can function under the notion of determinism.

the only problem is, if you have already come to the realisation that free will does not exist, you are stuck in a state of major cognitive dissonance. you know that every time you harshly shout at someone and make them feel bad for an action they’ve done, they technically weren’t in control of their actions. That’s horrible. Necessary to motivate people to change, but horrible nonetheless. That’s how I feel right now. I fucking wish I never knew about this shit.

last, last, laaaast point. It seems that you can actually gain lots of the hypothetical benefits of determinism (e.g. non judgement, more compassion, less hatred etc.) by simply popularising psychology. Instead of saying someone wasn’t in control of their actions, it’s better to say how and why they did such an action, and it’s self-evident that people easily become more understanding when you explain -why- a person said or did something bad. Every improvement in friendship or relationship I’ve ever seen came from communication that sought to understand why someone did what they did. Aaaand this is exactly what psychology is about. Think about the many times someone has said “sure, he was wrong to do that, but I definitely understand he was only trying to XYZ”.

Popularising psychology would lead to much better results in improving society compared to spouting the truth of determinism, and preserves the usefulness of free will.

P.S. there is a great laughable contradiction in someone who has deterministic views, yet talks rudely to others on this forum as if the other person was blameworthy for their actions. More evidence that rejecting free will doesn’t automatically make your life better.

P.S.S. please no hateful comments! I’m only looking to have a friendly, stimulating conversation where we can all challenge each other’s claims and assumptions to become less wrong and more knowledgeable!

[ Edited: 22 April 2018 02:50 by Serculis]