Show 407: Personal Responsibility, the Social Contract, and the Future of Naturalism in the Age of “Occupy”

Is there a relationship between a naturalized view of human behavior and rejecting a system which lavishes extreme rewards on some, and doles out harsh privation and punishments to others?

The strongest argument against our becoming an egalitarian, socially just society is the commonly held idea that if things in someone’s life are going badly, they have no one to blame but themselves. But does understanding that human behavior is ultimately caused by factors that are not freely chosen make it more likely that someone would support a more compassionate social agenda?

It’s not surprising that most people in our society subscribe to the belief that people have free will. And that, regardless of the determining factors, they can always choose to behave in a manner that runs contrary to cause and emanates from them alone. Nor should it be surprising that those with this view believe that people who behave in ways we like deserve reward and those who behave in ways we dislike deserve hardship.

What is surprising, however, is that, of the relative few who accept that our behaviors are determined by factors we do not choose and that our actions at any given moment are always the only actions to which the prior determinants could have led, most seem to feel that keeping our system of applying reward and punishment to motivate desirable behavior is justified, albeit with some moderate amelioration.

Does this make logical sense? Does it make moral sense? Is it the most effective approach to protecting our society and maximizing people’s greatest potential to contribute? If not, is there a more effective approach to protecting society and supporting desirable behaviors than retaining the fiction that it is justified to hold people (in the traditional sense) responsible?

Also, what is the role of major organizations and social movements in addressing such questions? Should the leading organizations that promote a naturalistic understanding be in some way involved with the new progressive zeitgeist that is emerging? In several Islamic countries a significant feature of the new egalitarian movements seems to involve expanding the influence of religion in public life. If here in the US the proponents of naturalism do not connect themselves to the new progressive movement, are they ceding a potentially important opportunity to promote a naturalistic perspective? Is it the destiny of the new progressive left in the US to be connected with a faith-based agenda?

Helping us consider these questions will be Center for Inquiry Metro-NY Director, Michael De Dora, along with Director of Center for Naturalism, Tom Clark, as well as representatives from the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.

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