We don’t want to be too self-congratulatory in these posts, but I’d like to take the chance to give you some ‘mad props’ for a well-written piece of prose. The free-will continuum you outlined is an insightful idea that may be an effective way to gradually shift society towards a more ego-free, contextual understanding of human behaviour. That said, I’m still convinced that the fundamental insight that we do not possess free will does not, and should not, lead to a dystopian society.
Take, for instance, your average Joe. You say he will blame himself less for committing a crime, and I agree, as he should! For certain psychopaths (the severely broken clocks) this may lead to a feeling of complete freedom (ironically): they can commit whatever heinous crime they want to because it’s not their ‘fault’. But these are exactly the type of people we should lock away! Good ol’ average Joe is not going to do this, and if he finds himself ‘at the wrong time, at the wrong place’, his reduced feeling of guilt may actually lead to a speedier recovery and a smoother transition back into society.
Further, an important point here is one you bring up, but then sweep under the rug: practicality. The free-will shift you outline would be incredibly hard to implement practically. How can you possibly understand and categorize all the different factors that affect an individual’s actions? Clearly we can’t have separate entities that deal with different classes of people. Imagine: ‘immigrant courts’, ‘courts that deal with the top 1%’, ‘athlete courts’, ‘IQ > 120 courts’ etc.? Clearly, lumping people together like this has serious ethical repercussions. I think simply acknowledging the fact that all humans have a questionable amount, if any, ‘free will’ is a much more egalitarian and digestible way to effect change in the justice system.
Finally, I come to the reason we started talking about free will: doping! How deliciously ironic is it that taking ‘performance enhancing drugs’ can actually level the playing field for athletes! Kudos for finding this quote: it’s quite obvious in retrospect. Instead of continuing the never ending cat-mouse game of drug testing vs. drug masking, perhaps sport federations should simply use drugs to standardize a certain level of blood chemistry for all athletes: ‘performance matching drugs’ if you will.
Let’s push this further: imagine a world where all athletes are identical, a world where weight, height and muscle mass are all standardized. A perfectly fair, equalized world. This is the inevitable conclusion of this type of reasoning, isn’t it? Yet I can’t help but imagine this world as a bleak, depressing Orwellian dystopia. Should we then forget about levelling the playing field, and regress back into the comforting world of motivational speeches and inspiring quotes? I don’t think so. Perhaps in the sporting world, your ‘free-will shift’ would be most useful. Officials need to be more open to other types of ‘unfair factors’ that could provide clear advantages to athletes (apart from simply chemical compounds). They need to better characterize individuals and create more finely structured levels of competition (similar to those found in boxing, for instance). Can we do this without crossing too many ethical lines? I think this certainly stands a better chance than the justice system.
The world is confusing and unfair: if sport can be a true respite, we need to be more honest about our own understanding of what it means to be an individual, and what parts of our life we are truly ‘responsible’ for.