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Saturday, November 3, 2018

Just deserts

A Conversation Between Dan Dennett and Gregg Caruso
aeon.co
Originally published October 4, 2018

Here is an excerpt:

There are additional concerns as well. As I argue in my Public Health and Safety (2017), the social determinants of criminal behaviour are broadly similar to the social determinants of health. In that work, and elsewhere, I advocate adopting a broad public-health approach for identifying and taking action on these shared social determinants. I focus on how social inequities and systemic injustices affect health outcomes and criminal behaviour, how poverty affects brain development, how offenders often have pre-existing medical conditions (especially mental-health issues), how homelessness and education affects health and safety outcomes, how environmental health is important to both public health and safety, how involvement in the criminal justice system itself can lead to or worsen health and cognitive problems, and how a public-health approach can be successfully applied within the criminal justice system. I argue that, just as it is important to identify and take action on the social determinants of health if we want to improve health outcomes, it is equally important to identify and address the social determinants of criminal behaviour. My fear is that the system of desert you want to preserve leads us to myopically focus on individual responsibility and ultimately prevents us from addressing the systemic causes of criminal behaviour.

Consider, for example, the crazed reaction to [the then US president Barack] Obama’s claim that, ‘if you’ve got a [successful] business, you didn’t build that’ alone. The Republicans were so incensed by this claim that they dedicated the second day of the 2012 Republican National Convention to the theme ‘We Built it!’ Obama’s point, though, was simple, innocuous, and factually correct. To quote him directly: ‘If you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own.’ So, what’s so threatening about this? The answer, I believe, lies in the notion of just deserts. The system of desert keeps alive the belief that if you end up in poverty or prison, this is ‘just’ because you deserve it. Likewise, if you end up succeeding in life, you and you alone are responsible for that success. This way of thinking keeps us locked in the system of blame and shame, and prevents us from addressing the systemic causes of poverty, wealth-inequality, racism, sexism, educational inequity and the like. My suggestion is that we move beyond this, and acknowledge that the lottery of life is not always fair, that luck does not average out in the long run, and that who we are and what we do is ultimately the result of factors beyond our control.

The info is here.

I clipped out the more social-psychological aspect of the conversation.  There is a much broader, philosophical component regarding free will earlier in the conversation.
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