Scott Adams of Dilbert fame is on a roll over at Scott Adams Blog. His recent post Shame Shaming just plain annoyed me so much I have to respond here. I would respond in comments to his post but he gathers 1,000 comments per post so my comment would be lost. Also you have to register to comment there and that is a pain.
Basically, his thesis [in my interpretation] is that people are moist robots and free will is an illusion. Nothing should be shamed because everything about people is determined.
He starts with fat-shaming. You should not shame fat people because a person’s appearance is outside of their control. I question that assumption. I have always contended that anyone could lose a pound of weight if some super NSA or CIA agent arrived at their home in the middle of the night and put a gun to their head and said, “There is nothing you can do to stop me from coming back for you in one year wherever you go, and when I do, if you do not weigh one pound less than you do now I will kill you.”
Many fat people who later shape up report that they were just not willing to do something about being fat before and later became motivated and could take the fat off. Scott claims that most civilized people reject fat-shaming, yet my daughter goes to school with many international students and she reports that the Japanese engage in merciless fat-shaming of other Japanese. She thinks it is terrible because the Japanese students are afraid of putting on pounds. She likes the American non-judgmental attitude. Still, the shamed Japanese have less obesity with fewer health problems cause by it. And their women look much easier on the eye to men, in general.
Mr. Adams says nothing is worthy of shame because no one is actually choosing anything. Even if that is true, in their non-choices people are influenced by incentives. You do not need free will to draw your hand away from a flame. If you are a Japanese student in an American University and you eat french fries to your hearts desire and your friends start to avoid calling you to study together and having a supportive social network is important to you, you might be “determined” to avoid french fries and loose some pounds. You might not actually be choosing of your free will, you might be responding to conditions as a wet robot. In this case shaming is promoting a health and aesthetic good.
More importantly, there is an epistological problem in asserting, as Mr. Adams does, that all your thoughts are determined. If all your thoughts are determined, it is not relevant if your thoughts comport with reality. If it seems to you that certain thoughts are more logical and align more with evidence, that is merely a determined phenomenon. If I believe that I have free will and judge ideas on their merits, that is just something I have to believe. If Mr. Adams believes he has no free will, it is a conclusion he has to draw. Moreover there is no reason to try to resolve the apparent conflict. The concept “truth” becomes something like “authenticity”. If I am reporting my beliefs accurately that is the best it is possible for me to do. Mr. Adams makes mountains of arguments why Donald Trump is a better persuader than average. Why bother, if what everyone believes they have to believe. As Pangloss believes, it is the best of all possible worlds.
Perhaps I am missing a subtly of the position. Perhaps the actions of other people on your beliefs are part of what determines what you believe? Of course that is true, I can see it every day. Wait a minute, what I think I see is just a belief I am determined to have. Reality may be that the actions of other people have no effect on my beliefs, or have the opposite effect that I believe I see. Why do I believe in causality? My belief in causality may be determined regardless of the evidence for or against it. Contra-causality may be the rule of the world, but I just can’t see it. Everything that I believe, I should know is suspect.
Most importantly, why believe the belief in determinism, or in evolution, or that living organisms die, or that certain beliefs have a survival value? The whole theory states that theories have no validity, but, take this on faith, they help organisms survive, and, more faith, organisms need to survive, and, more faith, some beliefs are better at forwarding survival than others, und so weiter.