Are we responsible for our reactions to things? Using weather as an example since we can’t control it (yet), if you dislike rain, and it’s raining outside, are you responsible for the fact that you won’t be as happy as you would be if it were sunny? Put more generally, are you responsible for your own status at any given time? Even though you might agree in a certain sense, following the adage “take responsibility!” I am going to put forward that, in order to be morally consistent, you’re going to have to take that concept further than you might like.
A relativist would tell you that you aren’t responsible for your status in certain vaguely defined ways, perhaps you’re depressed because you suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) over which you have no control. They might say a murderer had a terrible childhood, or that a student with poor grades had poor parents who never taught them what they needed to know to learn well. This variety of thinking is popular these days since it seems somehow nicer than assaulting the ego of the guilty. Of course, it seems callous to say that in all cases the individual is responsible for their own status or nature. What about genetics or early childhood environment? Are people with learning disabilities responsible for their shortcomings in the workplace?
The key difference here is that I am not saying you are responsible for properties of your existence. I am not responsible for the fact that I am white because that stems from genetics and the randomness of birth. I did not choose to be born and I am therefore not responsible for anything stemming from that event, in the same way that I am not responsible if someone else rams into my car. However, I am responsible for every last choice and action and I must take into account the objective reality that surrounds me, including any properties and aspects that I do not control. If it’s raining outside, I can’t go outside and become angry when I get wet. I made the choice to go outside and, due to certain aspects of the environment, an undesirable outcome resulted and I am responsible for it. Broadening this line of thinking, I’m male, and therefore can’t go into the womens’ restroom. True, I didn’t choose to be male, and neither did I choose the social norms that deign “here, men, thou shalt not tread” but nonetheless those are aspects of objective reality that I can either accommodate, or get slapped. Unfortunately most people don’t respect objective reality as much as they should, and make exactly this type of choice in all sorts of areas. For example, the student that knows they need to study if they want to get good grades, but nonetheless spends all their time playing video games and smoking pot. Or the stock market investor who buys a stock, and when it falls they keep on telling themselves “it’s going to go up” while it continues to fall, until they’re broke. You’re free to make any choice you like, but objective reality will reward or punish (relative to your subjective perspective) different choices. And if you make choices that are synonymous with someone else whose happiness-set includes poverty, sickness, dissatisfaction, or whatever, then that’s your prerogative. It is possible that there could be a person who wants those things and will make choices to actively seek them, so those choices aren’t more or less valid than any other. More people will want the opposite, but that changes nothing. You need to actively seek what you want. And the big secret to that is that, at all times, you are present with a choice that can either take you closer to something (or everything) you want, or farther away. Your call.
However, this post is about your responsibility for your reactions. Now that we’ve established your responsibility for you choices, a much easier task, we can move on to the more intriguing aspects of emotions and subjective perspective. Are you responsible for the fact that you prefer apples to oranges? We have already established the fact that if you choose an apple over an orange, then you’re accountable for that action. But are you similarly responsible for the generalized, nonspecific preference for apples over oranges? Apples and oranges is something of a fool’s example, this conclusion will apply to all our emotional reactions in all circumstances, and all our preferences and desires. Once again, a relativist would say that no, you aren’t. Your parents, your genes, and a host of other factors have summed together and created you and you’re just living out your conflict of internal and external variables into a form of destiny.
CONTRADICTION CAVEAT WARNING <IGNORE IF ALREADY CONFUSED>: I actually agree with this concept. However, I add the very significant point that you cannot simulate X amount of data with X amount of data without actually recreating that exact data set. This means that, while the path of the universe is actually predestined, it’s logically impossible for us to know with absolute certainty what the totality of it is. Newtonian physics works because the universe is predestined, but in order to apply those laws to the entire universe, we’d need the entire universe’s computation capacity, necessitating metadata to understand itself, which we can’t obtain because we’re out of matter in the universe. Therefore, Fate is broken because while it is true that whatever you’re going to do you couldn’t have done any other way, the fact that you can’t know what it is means that your actions have effect in creating it. If you just mope about in your room because you “can’t do anything- it’s all Fate anyway” you have determined what your Fate is retroactively. Think of it this way: in quantum physics, you can’t know both where a particle is, and how fast it’s going. This is Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, and it means that we can only say probabilistically where an electron is going to be at any given time. Your future life is a probabilistic system in similar fashion. </IIAC>
Now, while it is true that you biologically require food and therefore you have a preference to acquiring it. If you haven’t eaten in three days, I bet you’d be prepared to pay quite a bit of utility in exchange for food. Did you have control over this preference? Probably not. However, that three days of hunger is probably as a result of at least one choice you have made so you can’t claim zero responsibility, and you already knew full well that not eating for three days would create some pretty serious hunger issues for you. Now, the big issue I see with old systems of philosophy is this style of archaic differentiation of forms from one another. The human body is somehow logically different from an animal body, or a rock, or empty space. The human mind is somehow logically different from the universe that creates it, metaphysics is somehow separate from objective reality, etc. etc. There are all sorts of distinctions that do describe the world to a certain degree. Theories of absolute morality apply to the ethics of human behavior, epistemology to describing the systems of human thought, and so on. However, because the universe is a single contiguous and concrete entity consisting of a single set of rules, there can be only one set of rules that must be fundamentally connected to one another. You can’t have one set of rules that applies some of the time, except here, here and here, where we use this one. You can have a single set of rules that can produce different effects in different circumstances. The difference is like a card game’s rules: you can have a single set of rules which allows for change (like, when someone plays a red 4, reverse the value of cards or somesuch), but you can’t play a single card game with two different sets of rules (like from two distinct sources). Gravity is strong when close, and gets weaker by the inverse square law- distance is a circumstance. We don’t see gravity applying some of the time, and mystical Ytivarg energy some of the time.
So if we’re going to unify everything then way more thought is necessary than just this post, but we can keep that process in mind for now and find something that exhibits interesting parallels and similarities to the system we’re trying to describe. In this case, the responsibility of choice seems integrally connected to the motivations we use to make those choices, and those motivations also appear to be connected to choices we have made in the past. Is it possible we’re drawing a distinction where none exists, and we can just restructure our system to accommodate the difference of circumstances? Let’s analyze what a choice actually constitutes. We have the actual action of choosing, the agent making the choice, the information and resources availably to that agent, the predicted consequences based on that information and resources, and then the subjective perception of those consequences. We’re seeing an input of information and resources, and an output of simulated prediction which is then selected among to maximize resources (or information). Due to the wide variety of choices and the potentially huge amount of time needed to make them, our emotions give us shortcuts to judging a lot of data at a glance. Our reaction to those simulated predictions is just like our reactions to objective reality, except they haven’t happened, and factoring in inaccuracy, perhaps substantial error due to misinformation. So our actual choice consists of a selection of utilities for a rational entity, but we are force-fed by our survival systems a rehashed version of those utilities to make our choice more efficient, like the President receiving reports that percolate up from countless petty bureaucrats. Our emotions are basically those reports based on our survival systems’ analysis of the data and utilities of choices available. So I guess we aren’t responsible for our emotions, in the same way that you aren’t responsible for an email in your inbox. It’s just input, albeit from a source that is intimately connected with who you are. As I’ve said before, your body is basically a vehicle you were locked in from birth. That’s not a bad thing, because it’s a very sophisticated and flashy vehicle, and you have to ride around in something. But you aren’t responsible for the fact that you need food the way your car needs gas. That said, you live in objective reality and your body is a part of your environment. Neglecting to deal with your environment’s objective reality has drastic consequences. You didn’t make the rules, but you have to live by them or objective reality will slap you, hard.