Intelligent Design

GP, Mike Pence and Free Will

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Last year the commentariat erupted in a frenzy of tut-tutting when it was revealed that Vice President Mike Pence has a personal rule never to eat alone with a woman other than his wife or attend events serving alcohol unless she is with him.  I thought about this story yesterday during a fruitful discussion I had with gpuccio about the limits of free will.  See comments 13-15 to this post.

GP summed up his position as follows:

I mean that we cannot really know what our real choices are, but that we always have choices.  I will try to be more clear. Your example of an addict is very good for that.

We could think that the choice for an addict is simply to go on or to stop.  But, as you say, it’s not so simple.  Sometimes, many times, it seems that an addict is simply not capable to “stop”.  So, where is his free will?

I think that free will means that, whatever our circumstances and our constraints, there is always some inner choice that has a meaning and that can change our future.  Those choices are mainly based on our intuitive attunement to something that we could call “a moral field”: they are not random, but they are not only a matter of reasoning, even if good reasoning is an important factor.

So, for an addict, the choice could simply be between: going on with a completely passive and self-destructive attitude, or going on with some minor, apparently desperate, form of inner resistance.

The great truth is that the second option, if pursued long enough, can change the balance of the inner constraints, and open a path to greater operative freedom, so that someday the choice will be: to go on or to stop.

That inner attunement to our best inner potentials is the true source of our free will, and it can change our personal destiny . . . But the great glory of human free will is that it can help us to free ourselves from our constraints: we are free because we fight against constraints, not because we have none.

Relish that last sentence with me.  It is a thing of true beauty.

I call the sum total of a person’s genetic and environmental influences (the whole sum of all nature and nurture factors) that person’s “aggregate influences.”  Those who deny free will insist that our aggregate influences utterly determine every choice we make, from what to have for lunch to what career to pursue.  And even the most ardent advocate of libertarian free will admits there cannot be the slightest doubt that a person’s free will is, in GP’s words, “highly constrained” by his aggregate influences.  But, thank God, that is not the end of the story.

The undeniable existence of the constraints imposed on our choices by our aggregate influences is actually tremendous evidence for the existence of free will, not the other way around.  Why?  Because we can choose to resist going the direction those aggregate influences are pushing us.  If we had no free will, the Borgs would be right.  Resistance would be not merely futile, but impossible.

Back to Mike Pence.  Presumably Mr. Pence’s rule is based on a common sense pragmatic recognition of human, especially male, vulnerability.  The rule is designed to minimize the risk of succumbing to temptation.  But doesn’t Mr. Pence have free will, one might ask?  He is not an insensate beast.  Why does he need a rule like that?  Why doesn’t he just exercise his free will to avoid succumbing to the temptation if the temptation arises?

The answer to these questions lies in GP’s discussion above.  Yes, Mike Pence has free will.  Yes, he can exercise that free will to avoid succumbing to the temptation if the temptation arises.  Those questions are red herrings.  The real question is not whether Mike Pence could possibly avoid the temptation if it were to arise.  The real question is what strategy gives Mike Pence the best chance of not falling.  And here is where the issue of constraints comes in.  Some constraints, by their nature, ebb and flow.  Human males are designed such that they generally have a very strong sexual attraction to human females.  No one doubts that strong sexual attraction is a constraint on a male’s choice to not pursue a female in a particular instance.  But the constraint is not constant, and therein lies the wisdom of the Pence Rule.  The best time to choose not to pursue a female who is not your wife is NOT when you are alone with her at dinner drinking alcohol.  [here one is tempted to add “Duh!”].  The best time to make that choice is long before that situation ever arises.

As between “alone at dinner drinking alcohol” and “any time before then” the latter is the time when the constraints are lower and the ability to make the right choice is correspondingly higher.  It does not mean that Mike Pence has admitted he is a beast with no free will.  He has admitted he is a human with constrained free will.  And his rule is designed to minimize constraints at the point of choice.  Again, this is just common sense.  Which is why the controversy that erupted over the issue was so silly.

42 Replies to “GP, Mike Pence and Free Will

  1. 1
    asauber says:

    The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

    Anyone who pretends otherwise is selling something.

    Andrew

  2. 2
    Allan Keith says:

    Back to Mike Pence. Presumably Mr. Pence’s rule is based on a common sense pragmatic recognition of human, especially male, vulnerability. The rule is designed to minimize the risk of succumbing to temptation.

    I think that your presentation of this is correct for the drinking, but I think it is political pragmatism that dictates his decision not to eat alone with any woman other than his wife. Given today’s media (both social and old style), a public figure such as Pence eating with another woman would only cause rumours.

  3. 3
    vividbleau says:

    Hmmm

    For Christians only.

    When ever the topic of free will comes up I immediately think of Augustine
    “Non posse non peccare” Fallen man is not able not to sin.

    Vivid

  4. 4
    gpuccio says:

    Barry:

    Thank you for the post, and for the beautiful words and thoughts. This subject of free will certainly touches us deeply.

    And I would say that Mike Pence’s behaviour as regards his personla life is probably wise. 🙂

  5. 5
    StephenB says:

    The power of free will includes the power to avoid morally dangerous situations that weight it down with unnecessary psychological burdens. That is why the successful operation of free will, though distinct from wisdom, can never be totally separated from it. It is much more difficult for the alcoholic to remain sober if he spends time in a saloon. Yes, he could still use his free will to resist temptation even in the presence of heavy drinkers, but that would be asking his free will to perform favorably under unfavorable conditions. Why flirt with danger?

    In moral theology, this practice is referred to as “avoiding the occasions of sin,” and it also applies to Mike Pence and his decision to avoid such occasions. The parallels between the alcoholic and the libertine are evident in terms of the company one chooses to keep. It is easy to be good with the good and bad with the bad, but it is hard to be good with the bad.

  6. 6
    Dionisio says:

    Why would someone exercise his free will to deprive himself of a tremendous pleasure he could enjoy? Does that make sense? Is that masochistic free will?
    What would explain such a free decision that by most standards seems stupid? Mental illness?
    Can someone explain?
    Can’t imagine a boy who likes chocolate ice cream but will avoid entering a place where he could have chocolate ice cream.

  7. 7
    gpuccio says:

    Dionisio:

    I think we can use our free will to be in tune with that “moral field” of which we are intuitively aware in the deepest part of our consciousness, because we feel that it’s the way to express the best of what we are, and therefore to be really joyous.

    Pleasures are often contrasting experiences: some may help us, others can destroy us.

    Choosing those that destroy us does not seem like a good use of free will. The foundations of choice are rooted in both cognition and feeling, they are an expression of both wisdom and love, but in both cases they are deeply intuitive.

    We often trade minor pleasures for a greater love. That’s the idea, I suppose.

  8. 8
    Allan Keith says:

    As a person who has a problem with the bottle, I can respect his approach to drinking. But his refusal to have a meal alone with any woman other than his wife speaks to some other pathology.

    I am attracted to women as much as any man. Possibly more than many. But neither my wife nor I have any fear should I have a meal alone with a woman other than my wife. Which I do often. It seems to me that anyone who would go to the extreme that Pence does either has absolutely no confidence in his own will power, which speaks volumes about his character, or that he is paranoid about the impact on his political career should he be seen with a woman other than his wife, again speaking volumes about his character.

  9. 9
    Barry Arrington says:

    Allan @ 8,

    Your comment is a classic example of the perils of projecting from your own experience to some else’s. Pence is a good looking powerful alpha’s alpha. You are an Internet troll. Why do you think your experience is remotely close to his?

  10. 10
    Allan Keith says:

    Barry,

    Your comment is a classic example of the perils of projecting from your own experience to some else’s.

    I agree. I obviously expect others to have the same self control as I do.

    Pence is a good looking powerful alpha’s alpha.

    Do I sence a little bromance? 🙂

    You are an Internet troll. Why do you think your experience is remotely close to his?

    Well, I guess the difference is that I have no problem keeping my dick in my pants. What I don’t understand is that you are taking offence to the fact that I was saying that his decision to not have dinner alone with other women was due to political pragmatism as opposed to his inability to keep his libido in check.

  11. 11
    News says:

    The Catholic teaching is that free will increases with virtue.

    About Mike Pence’s dinner plans: In an age when so many politicians’ careers have been k-o’d by allegations of sexual misconduct, his approach is as crazy as buying householder insurance, wearing a seatbelt, and refraining from texting while driving.

    Gotta be something wrong with a guy who lives that way. He is depriving the people who hate him of so many whattaloser stories that it is practically a crime!

  12. 12
    Barry Arrington says:

    Allan

    I guess the difference is that I have no problem keeping my dick in my pants.

    And with all the temptation that comes your way down in your mother’s basement, that is a monumental feat of self-control. I am impressed.

  13. 13
    Allan Keith says:

    Barry,

    And with all the temptation that comes your way down in your mother’s basement, that is a monumental feat of self-control. I am impressed.

    What is more sad is that our Vice President has so little self control over his nether regions that he can’t be trusted with women other than his wife. Do you have this problem?

  14. 14
    Querius says:

    News at 11 . . .

    Good point! It might be precisely the point, considering today’s guilt-by-allegation and trial-by-journalism environment. Pence is wise.

    Many organizations encourage their employees to avoid even the appearance (or potential) for wrongdoing.

    A Junior High teacher that I once knew, taught at an inner city continuation school. He told me that he was extremely careful about never ever being alone with a girl or girls in a classroom, knowing that without enough witnesses, his life could easily be ruined and he would spend many years in jail based on tearful but fabricated testimony. He said that the girls there knew the power that they had and no one dared cross them.

    -Q

  15. 15
    Allan Keith says:

    Querius@14, you say this and nobody will criticize it. I say the same thing, as an atheist, and I live in my mother’s basement.

  16. 16
    Marfin says:

    Allan Keith- Allan you say you have a problem with the bottle, so what do you do to avoid causing yourself more problems with the bottle.We all do not have the same level of desire and temptation in each and every aspect of our flesh.I might as easily say to you oh my how weak you are I live in Ireland and have no issue with alcohol , I could go to any bar, or party and have no desire to drink you are so weak that you have this issue, but I have other issues,specks eyes and logs comes to mind.
    Mr Pence is being prudent and sensible as he see`s fit knowing one`s limit is a great blessing.

  17. 17
    kairosfocus says:

    Folks, there is another dimension in this age of personal destruction and the vulture media: avoiding circumstances that open up blackmail and/or accusations. Especially, for a conservative politician. KF

  18. 18

    Free will is not free action.

  19. 19
    News says:

    Querius at 14, exactly! It’s not a question of personal level of temptation but of, as kairosfocus says at 17, the consequences of accusation, true or false.

    I know nothing of the internet handle Allan Keith except the written words under it. So I do not know what consequences there would be if he were, say, accused of an impropriety (we will assume unjustly accused).

    Mike Pence is in a rather different position. His running mate is an earned media magnet like no other I have seen, for good or ill. Not even the Kennedys, for heaven’s sake.

    Channels are clogged with vast amounts of inflated trivia and speculations by anonymous sources dressed up as stories. They are instantly flogged up by media who apparently do not have a real story to tell but feel the need to write about the White House. American Pravda gives some sense of this.

    Pence’s rule may disappoint or offend some people. But in his job, it is the only safe way. I can think of some ex-politicians who would have been better off with his rule than theirs.

  20. 20
    asauber says:

    But neither my wife nor I have any fear should I have a meal alone with a woman other than my wife. Which I do often.

    Allan Keith,

    I suspect you are selling us on your virtue of chastity because you like having a meal alone with women other than your wife, and you would like to continue this behavior.

    That’s all well and good but to then to slam Mike Pence for exercising his virtue of prudence kind of makes you look a little inconsistent.

    But then again, if you are an Atheist, you don’t know what virtue is, and you are just preening.

    Andrew

  21. 21
    Allan Keith says:

    Anrew, Allan you say you have a problem with the bottle, so what do you do to avoid causing yourself more problems with the bottle.

    I do something very similar to Pence. I make a point of only drinking when I am in a social setting. My only point was that I don’t think that Pence’s approach to eating alone with woman has anything to do with avoiding temptation. Given todays climate, it is just a wise move to avoid false rumours.

  22. 22
    Allan Keith says:

    News,

    I know nothing of the internet handle Allan Keith except the written words under it. So I do not know what consequences there would be if he were, say, accused of an impropriety (we will assume unjustly accused).

    Yes. That’s exactly what I meant.

  23. 23
    Allan Keith says:

    Andrew,

    That’s all well and good but to then to slam Mike Pence for exercising his virtue of prudence kind of makes you look a little inconsistent.

    I am just saying exactly what News, Querius and KF have said. That his decision not to eat alone with other women has less to do with avoiding temptation and more to do with avoiding unjustified rumours.

  24. 24
    asauber says:

    I am just saying exactly what News, Querius and KF have said.

    Well, not really. You said some different things.

    Anyway, when this story was news, my wife and I talked about it, and I told her I thought the Pence Rule was a good rule. For guys, it’s a great way to show respect for your wife, that you would, in premeditated fashion, spare her from a potential moment of doubt.

    That’s better than subjecting your marriage to trust problems.

    Andrew

  25. 25
    ET says:

    Allan Keith:

    Presumably Mr. Pence’s rule is based on a common sense pragmatic recognition of human, especially male, vulnerability. The rule is designed to minimize the risk of succumbing to temptation.

    You don’t have any right to such a presumption. I could easily counter with political correctness has him doing what he does. He is not just an ordinary citizen and he is held to higher standards.

  26. 26
    Allan Keith says:

    ET,

    You don’t have any right to such a presumption. I could easily counter with political correctness has him doing what he does. He is not just an ordinary citizen and he is held to higher standards.

    Take it up with Barry. Those are his words, not mine.

  27. 27
    ET says:

    Ok got it:

    Presumably Mr. Pence’s rule is based on a common sense pragmatic recognition of human, especially male, vulnerability.

    That presumption is unwarranted. It is just as easy to see that political correctness has him doing it that way. Or that he actually has a deep love for his wife- or both.

    That said the reason Islam requires women to be covered is male vulnerability- as in we can’t keep our hormones in check

  28. 28
    LocalMinimum says:

    What is more sad is that our Vice President has so little self control over his nether regions that he can’t be trusted with women other than his wife.

    Assuming your every implied aspersion is true in the worst possible way, that would put him on the same moral footing as JFK; who, last I heard, was generally agreed upon as a pretty good president; especially by the liberal bloc whose media arm flogged Pence for stating what he doesn’t do.

  29. 29
    kairosfocus says:

    LM, the media shielded JFK (and others). It now plays the tabloid scandal card at every opportunity with those it does not like, in an attempt to take such people apart on the merest hint of an uncorroborated story from even the least credible accuser . . . it seems we have forgotten the lesson of Potiphar’s wife. Better to shut the door to the problem ahead of time. And no, you cannot have your cake and eat it; complaining of lost opportunities for informal confidential association and mentoring. Those who used scandal-mongering to destroy people through drive-by accusation and media puffing* up should have thought about the implications. KF

    * I remain of the view that US defamation law is a mess.

  30. 30
    Allan Keith says:

    LM@28, Sorry, I used the “…so little self control…” to highlight the absurdity of him not eating alone with other women as a means of avoiding temptation. I apologize if I gave the wrong impression. I have no doubt that he is very faithful to his wife.

    Andrew,

    That’s better than subjecting your marriage to trust problems.

    If having dinner with a female coworker, or a friend, can raise trust issues, then the trust problems already exist.

  31. 31
    asauber says:

    If having dinner with a female coworker, or a friend, can raise trust issues, then the trust problems already exist.

    Allan,

    Pardon my joke, but is your wife a woman? lol

    If you think you having dinner alone with females other than your wife hasn’t raised questions in her mind or among her friends, then she’s just not sharing them with you.

    Andrew

  32. 32
    Allan Keith says:

    Andrew,

    If you think you having dinner alone with females other than your wife hasn’t raised questions in her mind or among her friends, then she’s just not sharing them with you.

    I think that you underestimate the level of trust that most couples have. My wife and I each had friends of both sexes before we were married and we still occasionally meet up with them, for lunch, dinner, a drink, a coffee. The biggest danger to any relationship is jealousy, especially when it is unwarranted. But I also realize that some people are so insecure that jealousy becomes a type of pathology. It is really sad to see.

  33. 33
    asauber says:

    I think that you underestimate the level of trust that most couples have.

    Allan,

    It’s not that I don’t think there can be a high level of trust, it’s just that I am an observer of human nature. And I see that it’s human nature to question, and sometimes doubt as the result.

    I think I should put my wife first when it comes to attention to females. That means all other females take a back seat. A way that I can fairly easily put this idea into action is the Pence Rule.

    Andrew

  34. 34
    Seversky says:

    Whatever Pence’s motives for adopting that policy, an underlying theme would seem to be that men are unable to control themselves in presence of attractive women – which is what Islam uses to justify its oppressive treatment of women. While Pence may have done it from the best of intentions, it’s sets a dangerous precedent.

  35. 35
    vividbleau says:

    Sev

    “it’s sets a dangerous precedent.”

    Utter nonsense.

    I am a small business owner and I will tell you that I would never meet with a woman alone that’s just standard protocol now. This is the result of the unintended consequences of our PC culture where anything no matter how innocuous can be taken as some kind of micro or macro aggression that depends on the sensibilities of the one perceiving the so called “aggression”

    Hell with something like 36 different gender types and various pronouns Im thinking of applying the same standard to men.

    Vivid

  36. 36
    kairosfocus says:

    Vivid, you are right. The cultural marxists have ridden piggyback on a lot of genuine issues, turning them into occasions for mobbing, media trial by accusation and lawfare. A sensible man now realises that to interact with potential ticking time bombs is something he must do only with the utmost caution and protective measures. Soon, men are going to start wearing body cams in self-defense. Those who have set up this situation do in fact want to trigger the breakdown of the social capital built up through centuries of Christian civilisation. Their folly is, they are beginning to get what they asked for, and they are not enjoying the consequences: breakdown of civil society and the return of the clan as a micro-community of trust and mini army to defend itself — and BTW that is one reason a serious gun confiscation attempt in the USA would trigger civil war. The economic, socio-cultural, governance and civilisational implications are huge. Even here, doctors now refuse to examine female patients without a nurse immediately present as a witness. KF

    PS: I have reason to believe the genders count now exceeds 100, a sure sign of epicycles running out of control.

  37. 37
    vividbleau says:

    KF

    I think you are spot on. We are reverting back to tribalism and as you point out this is not happening by happenstance IMO

    Sadly some of the victims of all this happen to be women. I used to open doors, wait for them to enter first when going into an elevator, compliment them on one thing or another, not anymore my philosophy is the less said the better. Now some women may think that all of the above is sexist but some women probably dont ( my wife for example) but those women that appreciate those gestures are being caught in the crossfire.

    As Andrew Breitbart pointed out polictics is downstream from culture. IMO the culture is going the wrong way and politics ( which is war without blood) reflects the tribalistic path we are marching down.

    Take the gun control debate. I am sure that I will trigger someone but I am a proud NRA member. I am a law abiding citizen yet I am called a terrorist. The shooting in Florida had nothing to do with the NRA and in fact was a total failure of government. If anything we have learned that the government cannot protect us. I dont know of ANY NRA member that has participated in a mass shooting although I do know of one who stopped one ie Sugarland.

    The only organization I am aware of that participates in mass murder is Planned Parenthood which was founded by a racists bigot, a hero to Hilary Clinton (along with the KKK Grand Claeagle Harry Byrd) and gets a half a billion a year from the Government!!! Yet the NRA is the villain. This is insane.

    Vivid

  38. 38
    kairosfocus says:

    Vivid, professing to be wise they fell into absurdity and patent evil re-labelled as good. Such then has to be sustained by abuse of power and the community moves ever closer to the crumbling edge of a cliff. All it takes is a sudden earth-jolt from a quake and, collapse. The signs are there but who is willing to face the signs of absurdity as usual heading to ruin? KF

    PS: I was raised to treat women with special respect. Now, I, too, have to be very wary of ticking time bombs who will twist circumstances into occasions for attack. Where, only a fool would keep falling for Lucy’s promise not to snatch away the football. But then, that is how polarised politics plays out. The backlash is going to be truly nasty.

  39. 39
    ET says:

    Whatever Pence’s motives for adopting that policy, an underlying theme would seem to be that men are unable to control themselves in presence of attractive women –

    And yet we do, many, many times a day.

  40. 40
    Querius says:

    What’s pathological and repulsive to me is “selective responses.”

    This means straining at gnats and swallowing camels– factionalism that’s either hyper-critical in a state of outrage, or complete tolerance in a state of apathy depending on the person or issue.

    For example,

    “I’m so infuriated that Christians want to force their morality on everyone, especially on children against their will.”

    “Female circumcision is a very complex cultural and sociological question within Islam that needs to be treated with sensitivity and respect.”

    Or vice versa.

    -Q

  41. 41
    kairosfocus says:

    ET, I think the ongoing use of destruction by politically motivated poorly grounded accusations is so manifest that we are looking at denial. Pence is clearly concerned about the same thing as Billy Graham (who is probably the church leader most associated with the stance) — being tainted by false accusations — so that he is taking prudent precautions. We have cases of people being subjected to accusations that are dubious but are trumpeted and used to destroy them. Frankly, when I see the media entertaining those who accuse millions of murder while themselves being implicated in enabling the ongoing abortion holocaust [800+ millions in 40-odd years, now mounting up globally at 1 million further victims per WEEK, by Guttmacher/UN numbers], I have to add to the list of underlying motives, projection. Graham, Pence and others know we are in a very sick civilisation, where those who stand up for virtue and for reform will face all sorts of accusation and attempts to discredit, denigrate, demonise, dismiss and scapegoat. In that situation, their counsel makes a LOT of good sense. But for those who would enable such accusations, there is a cognitive dissonance involved, and one of the “solutions” to such is to project blame to targets. So, we have a heads I win, tails you lose mentality. If you leave the smallest opening (and sometimes if you don’t), the accusations will be trumpeted to destroy. If you take precautions that are publicly known, you will be smeared as being unable to control yourselves or as being prejudiced against women and/or imposing the “glass ceiling.” Not at all, the underlying factor is that there demonstrably is deeply polarised and implacable hostility — indeed, outright hate — out there and there are those whose spirit is that of the Accuser. Therefore, know that a roaring lion is out there seeking those he may devour. It is time to turn the tables and expose the culture of accusation, the tabloidisation of the media and the tabloidsisation of politics and policy making. Where, a clear driving force is cultural marxism disguised as progressivism and its use of agit prop, street theatre, media lynch mobs and lawfare, leading onwards to full blown 4th generation warfare. We are carelessly walking the edge of a crumbling cliff. KF

  42. 42
    mike1962 says:

    Seversky: Whatever Pence’s motives for adopting that policy, an underlying theme would seem to be that men are unable to control themselves in presence of attractive women.

    The mind-reader tell.

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