One of the More Beautiful Asymmetries

I am in no way qualified, and in no way inclined, to judge between the arguments over the existence or nonexistence of free will. Let me just get that out there. I’m not smar enough, nor am I at all trained in philosophy or neuroscience. But this is the Internet, where that kind of thing, I am told, doesn’t matter.

Anyway, I am a fan of the work of Sam Harris, but I certainly found his book Free Will his most difficult for me to grasp, so unlike his other works, I did not finish that one off feeling like I was pretty much on board. I just couldn’t say with any certainty that it all made sense: either his arguments for his position, or the arguments he makes against others. Or, since then, vice-versa.

Harris just posted a small follow-up article in which he addresses the implications for love and hate under his conception of free will being an illusion, and I particularly like this part:

Hatred, however, is powerfully governed by the illusion that those we hate could (and should) behave differently. We don’t hate storms, avalanches, mosquitoes, or flu. We might use the term “hatred” to describe our aversion to the suffering these things cause us—but we are prone to hate other human beings in a very different sense. True hatred requires that we view our enemy as the ultimate author of his thoughts and actions. Love demands only that we care about our friends and find happiness in their company. It may be hard to see this truth at first, but I encourage everyone to keep looking. It is one of the more beautiful asymmetries to be found anywhere.

As I said, I don’t know if he’s right about free will being an illusion, though it has a ring of truth that reverberates for me. But this aspect is rather appealing (and of course, its appeal has nothing to do with whether it’s correct).

One can let go of hate, which is great, because hate consumes. It eats up processing power and energy that could be used otherwise (affection, creativity, productivity, etc.). And you can let it go because there’s “no one” to hate. You can dislike how people behave, avoid them, deal with them if they are threats, nuisances, or have committed bad acts, but the fire of hate need not burn away the rest of your inner life. There’s no point.

But love we can still embrace, because it need not be given because someone “has it coming,” as we do with hate. We can simply succumb to loving because it’s a expression of a positive reaction or connection to others. We can take the good, fulfilling one, and jettison the bad, useless one.

It’s a liberating way to think. It may or may not be “correct,” but at least in a practical sense, it can be a good guide for “how to live.”

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