Is Free Will A Rich Fairy Tale?
Dispelling the harmful bias of the fortunate
“Man make plans, and God laughs.” — Old Yiddish proverb
Ever wondered why the 1% define the status quo? Why we idolize and follow their dogmas? From the Matthew effect to Pareto’s principle, the wealth gap reality is clear, but it doesn’t need to be. At the heart of these injustices lies a central tenet: free will. A doctrine preached by the rich to deceive many, especially the poor.
The idea that we have the ability to choose between different courses of action is called free will — aka the idea of “choice”. It is an age-old dilemma tackling our sense of agency and control in the universe, but when combined with individualistic values, can result in harmful ramifications.
American discourse has used this idea to justify inequality, healthcare, and faith; for it is easier to blame than to help the unfortunate. Here is a simple test: ask anybody from a 3rd world country about “choice” and this worldview crumbles down. While citizens of rich nations take simple amenities for granted, the rest of the world cannot even fathom these privileges.
Americans are also more likely than the rest of the world (73%) to believe that hard work pays off. This belief coincides with a Pew study* that surveyed them on this statement: “Success in life is determined by forces outside our control” — below are graphs from income and religious preference:
This comparison reveals a small insight: the majority of the upper class and Protestant Christians share a common ground — i.e. the richer and/or more religious you are, the more likely you will believe in free will. Is free will exclusively American or is it a bias of the rich and religious?
“Rich” can also be in health, status, knowledge, opportunities, time, etc. — a power dynamic is key.
On “Are Protestant Nations More Prosperous?”, a study was initiated to see if Protestant ideals had an effect on a nation’s prosperity. Free will is often preached at churches to explain everything from the existence of evil, to faith justification and material success.
The idea persists because it is tied to freedom and responsibility: “If I am not in control, why should I take responsibility for my actions?” Yet copious studies from science, economics, mathematics, and theology seem to point by consilience, to the impossibility of free will.
Are Americans victims of their own culture?
The idea of “choice” is pervasive in popular culture like books, movies and games. Take a sample from Disney’s Marvel series What If?, or Netflix’s Ozark (spot the word “choice” in their introductions) — both targeted toward families, the foundation for our values. This pattern expands onto more serious issues, from gender and abortion to vaccines: “Gender is a choice”, “My body, my choice”. Be warned, popularity does not equate truth. Repetition makes a lie come true and propagandists know this.
Consider the possibility that the “choice ideology” might be a construct of propaganda
There seems to be a correlation between how comfortable someone is in life and their tendency to believe in this bias. This popular rhetoric is construed to deceive if we don’t question our reality. Our tendency to connect free will to responsibility might be due to the logical fallacy of correlation vs. causation; yet both ideas can be mutually exclusive.
There is a book that proposes a challenging thesis: we might not have free will, but we do have responsibility. In an age where truth is no longer valued as we put our faith in the rich, can we unmask the deep biases and blind spots in our society? Perhaps this inquiry might bridge the gap between the privileged and the destitute.
Recommended book: The Truth Formula