Global CO2 emmissions

This is an illustration from which I commend as a jolly interesting site. If you click the link and then click on the picture in their site, you can zoom in and actually read it.

To save you the trouble of looking, I point out that the UK’s emissions seem to be so insignificant that we don’t even justify a named box. It’s not really true though: the Dept. for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy says the UK put out 366 million tons in 2018 – which is about the same at Thailand (somewhat strangely, it seems to me). Still only 1% of the global total though.

It’s also noticeable that all the world’s aviation and shipping combined are responsible for a fairly small 3.2% of C02 emissions. Even when everybody was still gadding about going on holiday all the time, as well as getting all their wordly needs from China. Arguably the effect of spreading various aerosols and gases in the upper atmosphere makes aviation’s contribution to global warming more than just its share of C02 output. Maybe double? Still only a couple of percent then.

All in all, I’m forced to observe that there’s really not much we can do about it all from here, is there? Even if we were to elect a gallant and spectacularly effective crusader, who inspired the whole of our home continent of Europe (remember?) to give up absolutely everything, immediately, it wouldn’t really affect the big boys in the game all that much. And so, given the scale of the issue, is it wrong to conclude that my personal life choices actually, quite literally don’t matter?

Free Will

Most people, in my experience, are convinced they have Free Will. I, on the other hand, don’t think there is any such thing.

Of course there’s no disputing the “will” part – that’s just a description of behaviour, quite reasonably attributed to the body which actions it.  In as much as it’s reasonable to regard people as individual beings (quite reasonable for most purposes, I think), then attributing at least some of their actions to their “will” makes complete sense.  It’s just a description of the result of their decision-making: “I decided to set up a semi-autonomous spaghetti-crushing commune in Senegal” would be an act of will (and quite possibly folly).  Or, for a rather more prosaic example, “I decided to put on a pair of trousers”.  Definitely an act of will.

But what of “free”?  Ah, say my many opponents, I could have decided to wear a skirt instead, there was nothing to stop me; and so it was my free choice which I did.  And that, in their view, makes the choice an act of free will.

But here’s the thing: if the choice had been deferred to a random system (say, the toss of a coin), you wouldn’t say that was free will.  Likewise, if the choice were constrained (say, by a very strong early conditioning that the only socially acceptable legwear for someone of my sex and background is trousers, with the expectation of punishing ridicule from my peers if this rule were to be transgressed) then that wouldn’t be a completely free choice either.

But these two mechanisms are how we actually make any personal decision –  it’s either constrained (by the “reasons” we made that choice), or random; or some combination of the two.  This is true right down to the level of biological, chemical or physical interactions. Either there’s a constrained reason for an outcome (predictability), or there’s some randomness (unpredictability). There really aren’t any other mechanisms by which choices can be made; and both of them are completely lacking in freedom.  Thus, it seems, there is no way a decision can be made by a free will.

Spinoza (born: 1632) was quite good on the subject, although he confused the issue (to my mind) by ranting on about God a good deal.  This was probably necessary to get properly excommunicated from the Sephardic Judaic community of Amsterdam, who thought God to be quite important (unlike me).  Despite this distraction, he did come up with the following ripping quote:

 “Men believe themselves to be free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined”

Exactly.  I’m sure it’s useful to our selves (as separate entities) to have an idea of self (ego), and the concept of self-agency is a fundamental part of that, so it’s useful to have the idea of free will.  But that’s no reason to suppose that it actually exists!

I’ve noticed that as soon as people can attribute specific causes to behaviour (early trauma, PTSD, genetic abnormality, brain tumour, drugs, etc.) they find it easy to admit the possibility that the person so afflicted doesn’t have a free choice any more.  But what’s different about people whose behaviour hasn’t been categorized yet? We are all constrained by such things to some extent; it just doesn’t usually show.  (See Spinoza quot. above.  It’s worth reading again, even after such a short time)

It’s also worth noticing that when inanimate things behave unexpectedly, people say “it’s as if it’s got a mind of its own!”   Exactly so.  It’s fundamentally impossible to tell the difference between so called “free will” and unfathomable complexity in decision-making.  

I’d like to point out that this doesn’t make me a determinist, by the way.  There’s plenty of randomness out there to put a stop to any idea of complete predictability. Some randomness may be just unpredictability which we haven’t analysed yet, but real randomness (like radioactive decay, the first and best example) seems to be a different animal altogether. Unless everything really is made out of Leibnitz’s windowless monads, after all.

As a slight aside, I read an interesting article recently which you might like, if you’ve got this far. It’s couched as a discussion about the arrow of time, but the idea at the bottom of it is that there may be no “perfectly defined” state from which causality follows: instead the definition of exact initial conditions might just be a reverse construction out of the resulting state. Hmmmm! Here’s the link.

Of course, if like me you really don’t believe in free will, the idea of personal responsibility becomes a bit silly, which tends towards a more compassionate, less blame filled perspective of the way the world works. Which fits nicely with Buddhism. However, it does make it seem that all the Abrahamic religions are, to a large extent, barking up the wrong tree.  Which reminds me of one of my favourite cartoons; which, unfortunately, seems to be the only thing in the universe which can’t currently be found on the internet!  So I’ll have to describe it for you.  It consists of two dogs amongst some trees: one dog is saying to the other: “What if there is no right tree up which to bark?”

What indeed?

U.S. Vaccine Legislation

Here’s a little piece about U.S. pharmaceutical legislation, from my own research.

First, an excerpt from the U.S: legal code governing vaccines (emphasis mine):

42 U.S. Code § 300aa–22.Standards of responsibility

(a) General rule

Except as provided in subsections (b), (c), and (e) State law shall apply to a civil action brought for damages for a vaccine-related injury or death.

(b) Unavoidable adverse side effects; warnings

(1) No vaccine manufacturer shall be liable in a civil action for damages arising from a vaccine-related injury or death associated with the administration of a vaccine after October 1, 1988, if the injury or death resulted from side effects that were unavoidable even though the vaccine was properly prepared and was accompanied by proper directions and warnings.

( full text: )

In other words, in the U.S, as long as you put a warning of possible side effects on the packet, you can’t be prosecuted for selling a dangerous vaccine.

This legislation was passed following a “scare” about alleged side effects of whooping cough vaccine (DPT), which had resulted in big payouts from some vaccine manufacturers, and the consequent threatened withdrawal of all of them from the DPT vaccine market.

With this in place, is it possible that some pharmaceutical corporations (all of which have a legal requirement to direct their efforts to best serve the interests of their shareholders) might try to promote vaccines of dubious worth and/or potentially suspect safety?  I’d say it’s not just possible, it’s inevitable.

But all is not lost – there is a Federal “Vaccine Program” to which you can apply for monetary recompense if you have been harmed by a vaccine.  Since 1990, it has awarded 3.9 billion dollars in damages.

This money comes from taxpayers.  Pharmaceutical companies don’t even contribute to it.

In other words, the U.S. system of market-driven pharmaceuticals and litigation-driven liability resolution simply doesn’t work, justifying the intervention of the state.  However, rather than fix the real issue, the state’s chosen intervention is to use taxpayers money to protect corporations from any damaging effects of their irresponsible behaviour.