Origins of addiction.
L. KEVIN KELLY
Schuyler Lake, N.Y.
Dr. Bryjak's defense of free will ("It's never our fault these days") leaves one question unanswered, If people freely choose to become addicts, criminals, abusers, etc., then why do they so choose?
For example, why would one of 10 people all raised in a poor neighborhood become a criminal, and the other nine not? Bryjak says it's because that person simply chose a life of crime out of free will. But isn't it rather more likely that this person had worse parenting, was exposed to more violence, perhaps had a particular genetic predisposition for risk-taking or any number of other explanatory factors? After all, why else would they have taken that life path? Similarly, the other nine didn't simply choose to ignore the criminogenic conditions surrounding them; rather, they were lucky enough not to be exposed to enough of those conditions to become criminals.
Free will explains nothing; it simply points to something mysterious and unexplained within the individual. It places ultimate blame on the person, ignoring what caused the person's character, motives and actions. This view is useful if we want to avoid taking responsibility for remedying the conditions that create crime, addiction, etc.
I agree with Dr. Bryjak that personal responsibility is vital, but disagree that free will is the necessary basis for it. We can, and do, hold persons responsible as a way of getting them to behave properly. As a researcher in the addictions, I've explored the consequences of giving up free will for our attitudes toward addicts and for our prevention and treatment practices. Seeing that behavior is fully caused undercuts the stigma surrounding addiction, which makes it easier for addicts to access treatment. It also permits the design of effective interventions, in which we hold addicts accountable in compassionate and productive ways. About alt this, see the Addiction page at www.naturalism.org, in particular, "Causality, Victimhood, and Empowerment: How to Hold Addicts Accountable."
Christianity champions forgiveness and compassion as virtues. Seeing through the myth of contra-causal free will is a path toward both, even as it permits more effective approaches to crime, addiction, mental illness and social inequality.
[Tom Clark is the director of the Center for Naturalism, which is based in Somerville.]