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Clinging to wealth only keeps unfair systems in place

POSTED: June 20, 2011 9:44 a.m.

The age-old debate over free will and determinism is as relevant today as ever. If we have significant amounts of free will, then people deserve what they get, now and forever. Punishment is justified. We may offer conditional forgiveness and second chances, but it will be limited and temporary.

On the other hand, if most of our free will is an illusion and most people's fate is determined by nature, nurture and luck (as growing evidence suggests), then we can either ignore the disadvantaged in our society and try to minimize their negative impact, or we can exercise compassion toward them by establishing economic safety nets, rehabilitation programs and some type of humane isolation when rehabilitation fails.

Most of our current political debates, locally and nationally, can be understood using these scenarios.

Proponents of free will tend to oppose tax increases that benefit the masses and favor tough enforcement of laws that punish "bad people." The individual is more important than the group and government exists primarily to protect individual rights and possessions.

Wars, long prison sentences and library closings are acceptable. The powerful (financial, religious and political) ultimately will become skillful in defending this position and even exploiting it for economic, religious and political gain. A common mantra is "anyone can be successful or good if they choose to be" or "what part of illegal don't you understand?"?

Here's an illustration of just one way the powerful exploit this first scenario. A rich man, a middle-class man and a poor man sat down at a table with a pile of cookies. The rich guy immediately grabbed all but one. Then he said to the middle class guy, while pointing to the poor man, "Are you going to let him steal your cookie?"

Proponents of determinism, on the other hand, are of two groups. One may hold the same positions as the first group above, not because they believe in free will but because they simply don't care, or they believe its best for the majority. Their mantra is "survival of the fittest."

Other proponents of determinism, however, will exercise compassion and sacrifice. They support tax increases that benefit the masses, but they don't support a top-heavy criminal justice system based on retribution and exploitation. This third group's mantra is "love thy neighbor and live simply, that others may simply live." They may or may not be religious.

As a crazy old man who wants to identify more with this third group, I believe we would all be healthier and happier living more simply and closer to the poverty level. I believe "the poor are blessed" and "the love of money is the root of all evil."

I believe it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to be saved, but I believe he will be. I don't believe we need new taxes. Instead, I believe the wealthy should give up more of their wealth.

Alan Shope


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