Friday, May 06, 2016

There Are Those Who Think That Life Has Nothing Left to Chance

We love to have an excuse to deny our own agency. We also love to buttress our bad faith with the latest soon-to-be-obsolete studies. It's been at least a couple of weeks since I last saw one. Aren't we about due?

More evidence that you’re a mindless robot with no free will

Sigh. Rather than get bogged down in the interminable, worthless debate over essence, let's turn our focus to action.

Gotama is interested in what people can do, not with what they are. The task he proposes entails distinguishing between what is to be accepted as the natural condition of life itself (the unfolding of experience) and what is to be let go of (reactivity). We may have no control over the rush of fear prompted by finding a snake under our bed, but we do have the ability to respond to the situation in a way that is not determined by that fear.

But if reactivity is an inclination, and therefore part of the experience over which you have no control, how can you exercise any choice that might make a difference? Or, more simply stated: If everything you experience arises from conditions, how can there be free will? Surely the doctrines of not-self and conditioned arising preclude the possibility of freely chosen agency and present a vision of life that plays itself out according to the blind forces of impersonal causality. These oft-stated objections come from treating the Buddha’s teaching as though it were a metaphysics concerned with illuminating the true nature of reality. As soon as we consider it a task-based ethics, however, such objections vanish. The only thing that matters is whether or not you can perform a task. When an inclination to say something cruel occurs, for example, can you resist acting on that impulse? If you can, you have succeeded. Whether your decision to withhold the barbed remark was the result of free will or not is beside the point.

— Stephen Batchelor, After Buddhism

Straightforward, sensible and useful. Avoids all the arcane hairsplitting and rationalization. Which is why it will never catch on.