MUCH of the current debate around knife crime has made me depressed. First, mindless violence among the young is always sad. Second, it has thrown up more evidence of the muddled thinking that characterises our epoch.
The knife crime debate reveals that the edgy, fashionable, oh-so-original idea that free will is an illusion is deep-rooted.
According to the commentariat, people stab people for many reasons: because they are poor, because of gang culture, because of Tory cuts, because of violent video games, etc. The desire to understand is commendable, but too often it becomes a desire to excuse, justify, obfuscate.
Whilst the motivations for human behaviour are a cyclone of nuance and complexity, the fact remains: you always have a choice.
The concept of personal responsibility – the clarion call of the Right – is redundant if we don’t have free will. How can we take responsibility for something (our behaviour) over which we have no control?
The argument against free will has existed for a long time. Now it manifests itself in the obsession over genetics and sociology: people have ‘genetic markers’ or ‘were socialised in such and such a way’.
Of course, people react to things and certain circumstances are conducive to human flourishing. Others are not. It would need a hard heart not to take into consideration that the boy who saw his father beat his mother might be more likely to be violent.
The crucial point, though, is that he doesn’t have to be more violent. Further, not everyone from a violent home turns out violent. When we say ‘Oh, he was brought up in a violent household’ or ‘he has genetic markers for violence’ as a way to excuse, we are playing a dangerous game. There is a massive difference between excusing and explaining, justifying and understanding.
Of course these factors play a massive role in why that person has turned to violence, but he always has a choice. To remove choice from the equation is to render us all useless idiots at the mercy of life’s caprices.
The erosion of free will and human agency can also be seen in the world of relationships. People ‘fall in love’, as if this something they have no control over. They then ‘fall out of love’, and thus they should get a divorce. Again there is no sense of personal agency. Love is something that exists outside of them and subjects them to its unknowable mystery.
It is ironic that the clamour to kill God was said to make us more free, but it has only left us enslaved to ourselves. The Catholic Church has long taught that we become slaves to our sin. Now we conceive of freedom in terms of holidays abroad, delicious dinners and the ability to go out and get smashed. But is this true freedom?
Freedom, in my opinion, is the ability to decide between good and evil, to use reason to make a choice that leads to human flourishing. When you remove free will from people you neuter them, you remove their agency, their sense of responsibility, their oomph. You make them passive and compliant, easily to manipulate, and easier still to lead astray.
The knife crime epidemic is a terrible blight on the nation. It is important to look at the various factors that turns someone to violence. But in this desire to understand we must not forget that we all have free will.
True redemption begins with the individual, when they realise that they are active movers in their own life and that they have the power to change things for the better. The Left loves to talk about empowerment. The most empowering thing to know is that you always have a choice, regardless of how tough your life has been.