Could our Past, Present, and Future be Pre-determined?

     What if everything was meant to happen? Everything that has ever occurred in history, and everything to come. Alike the fate commonly seen in romantic movies, what if there isn’t only fiction to those plots or phrases like “it’s meant to be”. What if everything, even on a smaller scale, was actually “meant” to happen? Like years ago when you lost your favorite necklace in preschool, or last week when you found that five dollar bill in the parking lot; what if these experiences were destined to happen? Think about your whole life being a pre-written script that you can’t rewrite or even critique, and you have no free will to what has and will happen to you in your lifetime. This philosophical way of thinking is actually an ethical theory called determinism. According to determinism, human beings have no freedom in what happens in their lives because the future of everything is already inevitable; furthermore, there is no such thing as an uncaused event because everything that ever has been or will be has already been pre-determined.

    Whether everything is predestined by god or by nature, everything that has happened is thought to be planned by something. In religion, it is usually believed that god makes everything happen, and in science, everything is observed to be a part of a chain reaction like seen in universal causation. In accordance with determinism, if nothing that has or could happen is unchangeable, is any decision of mine actually my own if it was meant to happen before I was even born? In hard determinism, it is simply believed that all events are unchangeable and inevitable to happen no matter the situation; the belief that every event is pre-determined and unchangeable is also called fatalism. A common argument of hard determinist is that a person can’t be held accountable for an action since that action was foreordained; simply, that person has no human control in their actions. On a moral standpoint, if everything is preset, no one can be held morally responsible for their actions because the event was fated, and they had no control over it happening and whether it’s considered being right or wrong. This concept was used by famous defense lawyer, Clarence Darrow, during the infamous 1924 trial for the murder of Bobby Franks; in which, Darrow was defending the wealthy students turned “thrill killers” Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb. He declares, “What had this boy to do with it? He was not his own father; he was not his own mother; he was not his own grandparents. All of this was handed to him. He did not surround himself with governesses and wealth. He did not make himself. And yet he is to be compelled to pay”. If these actions, no matter how immoral they may be, were destined to happen then what could have anyone done about it? He basically was stating that these men had fixed futures in which they couldn’t choose. There is a sense of hopelessness in not being in any control of your own past, present, and future. It is your own; nevertheless, and this is why there is a lesser degree of determinism, which is called soft determinism. Soft determinist still believe all events have causes; however, they believe that there is a certain extent of freedom when it comes to personal decisions; indeterminism uses these same concepts as well.  Unlike the nonexistence of free will in hard determinism, soft determinism and indeterminism still allows us to have some control of our lives and decisions.

    When you look at the history of all living things, do you see a common occurrence? The extinction of species who are no longer equipped for survival. Aristotle has said, “There are species in which distinction is already marked, immediately at birth”. What if the fate of these creatures was already set upon their start on this earth? Were they meant to become extinct, while all surviving creatures were meant to strive? This theory is called biological or genetic determinism. Biological determinism is the belief that every creature is overall determined by their scientific attributes like their genes, intellect or brain size. This theory is best demonstrated in Charles Darwin’s famous scientific literature The Origin of Species, which introduces the scientific theory that species have evolved throughout the history of time using a process called natural selection, which is simply that only the creatures best fit for survival survive; for example, some creatures have gone extinct because they no longer evolved to survive with the changes in their environment. Biological determinism also gives notion that our genetic makeup determines our behaviors, like the genes or evolution of a creature can make their behavior or fate predictable.

    It is also believed that because of natural selection we are genetically hardwired for survival; this is the only explanation to why in cases of feral children, they have been able to survive on their own for a number of years. It is almost unfathomable that a mere child is able to survive in the wilderness at such a young age, toddlers mostly, when Christopher McCandless, a man, only survived for five months when he ventured out into the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. How could the children survive while a grown man could not? In biological determinism it is believed that since the children were so young they did not yet learn about society and culture, so they were at their most primal state as a human, and that survival is arguably hardwired in us from birth. These cases of unimaginable survival are quite interesting because the children co-existed beside the closest creature and even learned that creatures mannerisms like they were of their own kind. This goes into Psychological determinism, which arose from Sigmund Freud’s psychology and believes that human beings are driven by their unconscious mind that society and culture usually requires them to repress. Could this be the reason the feral children survived years in the wild, while McCandless barely survived half a year? The fact that McCandless was an adult and had been exposed to society could be the reason, because if the situation were to be examined by a psychological determinist they might come to the conclusion that his natural drives to survive were suppressed by the influences of society. Another attribute to psychological determinism is that people are highly affected by their early childhood. The belief to this notion is that a person’s early experiences and social interactions mold them into the people they become or; therefore, make the person’s behavior predictable depending on the attention they were given or the situations they experienced. This has been used to defend serial killers during their murder trials, simply stating that their actions must be determined by something they experienced early on in their lives, and that they were just acting according to their natural drive. In a way serial killers could possibly not have developed a repression of the natural drives that psychological determinists suggest societal influences cause. Could the drives of our subconscious mind be declared morally wrong if it is natural? Biologically we are merely creatures with hardwired primal instincts that have been suppressed by society for centuries. Are serial killers just people that acquired more primal instincts than usual and their actions are merely an act of acting out due to society’s forced suppression? I’m aware that killers are mainly driven by mental illnesses, but animals kill each other all the time, what is the differentiation? What separates us from the creatures that co-inhabit the earth with us? The occurrence of feral children may have an answer to this question, it’s possibly society. As quoted by B.F. Skinner, “Society attacks early, when the individual is helpless”. These feral children with no prior influence of society upon discovery were found to be developmentally delayed from lack of human interaction during their developmental years and some weren’t ever able to be fully functional in society. It really brings to light the debate of nature vs. nurture; while in the wilderness these children mimicked the animals that surrounded them and; therefore, never learned how to act or be human. The notion that human beings development is completely determined by external stimuli they experience during early childhood is called behaviorism. This stimuli could be how much attention they receive by their parents, their environment they are exposed to, and the culture or society they are brought up in. B.F. Skinner, creator of the theory of behaviorism, puts his theory in simple words, “Give me a child and I’ll shape him into anything”. Behaviorism is discerned in the 1970 case of the feral child only known by the pseudonym “Genie”. Unlike other cases of feral children, Genie wasn’t found in the wilderness, but she was confined in a single bedroom for the first 13 years of her life with the only external stimuli she received being the small amount of things in the room with her, and her social interactions were limited to her father’s abuse. As a result of the abuse from her father she was silent a lot of the time and unable to express emotions outwardly. She also was unable to distinguish her own emotions, and had a complete lack of understanding to self-awareness and social situations. Genie’s early childhood experiences determined her functionally not equipped to live normally in society for the rest of her life.

      Referencing back to what Darrow said about Leopold and Loeb not being able to choose their lives or wealth, this is called economic or social determinism which was created by German philosopher Karl Marx. Marx believed that humans are determined by their social class. Could Leopold and Loeb’s wealthy born status have attributed to their fate behind bars? Throughout history there has been numerous cases of wealthy born individuals committing crimes and murder, an example being the Menendez brother who killed their parents for inheritance. Could there be a determined fate according to social class? The same goes for the poor as well, there is a stigma that the more poverty stricken a neighborhood is it could produce more crime. Not always indefinite, but does being born a certain social class determine how you’re going to act or be treated? In Mark Twain’s 1881 novel The Prince and the Pauper, when Tom Canty, the pauper, and Prince Edward switch places and part ways, the Prince gets mocked and beaten leaving the palace. The crowd is unaware they are in fact beating the prince, who is wearing the pauper’s clothes. The unfortunate truth about the theory of economic determinism is that no one can choose the social situation they are born in. The problems associated with this theory is that even though we can be influenced by our individual social statuses, there is a variety of other things that could influence us and determine who we are as well, like genetics, history, and psychology. Furthermore, this theory isn’t the most plausible being there have been people who overcame the odds of poverty and have changed their social status.

    When it comes to determinism, soft determinism is most feasible because it gives us a certain degree of free will. In a world without any control of your own life, there is a hopelessness to your fate, and your whole existence seems that of a prison, much like the plot of a dystopian novel. Reality would be that of Aldous Huxley’s 1931 novel Brave New World. Like quoted in the novel, “We are not our own anymore than what we possess is our own. We did not make ourselves, we cannot be supreme over ourselves. We are not our own masters”. People generally like to feel like they have freedom to their own lives and that’s why soft determinism is more cogent than hard determinism. Besides, it wouldn’t be completely reasonable to believe that everything, no matter how small, is pre-determined. The world is full of many options and choices; what could make every decision you’ve ever made in your life pre-determined? It was in fact your decision and you could have chosen the other choice just as well. I do agree that some factors of life are very well pre-determined, such as genetics making us predictable, and the natural selection of the surviving species; however, I believe we as individuals have a certain amount of freedom in the choices we make in our lives. The world is constantly changing and shifting and each of those changes very well could not have been pre-determined upon observing the earth at an earlier state. During prehistoric times, there would be no way of knowing humans would have generated this far by just looking at our earliest ancestors. Unlike what determinism suggests, the world can’t always be so predictable.



Sources:

“Feral Children”. Psychology Encyclopedia. 2015. Web. psychology.jrank.org/pages/243/feral-children.html

Herbert, Gary B. A Philosophical History of Rights. Piscataway: Transaction Publishers. 2003. pg. 30. Print

Huxley, Aldous. Brave New World. New York City: Harper Perennial Modern Classics. (Reprint Edition) 2006. pg. 232. Print

Linder. Douglas O. “Who is Clarence Darrow?” University of Missouri-K.C. 1997. Web. 19 Oct 2015. http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/DARESY.HTM

McMahan, Elysia, “The Horrific Story of ‘Genie’: the Feral Child Who Suffered at the Hands of Her Sadistic Father”. First to Know. 6 Nov 2014. Web. 19 Oct 2015. firsttoknow.com/the-feral-child-who-suffered-at-the-hands-of-her-sadistic-father/

Read, Adam. “Christopher McCandless Bio”. Christopher McCandless. 2011. Web. 19 Oct 2015. www.christophermccandless.info/bio.html

Skinner, B.F. BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc. 2015. Web. 19 Oct 2015. www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/b/bfskinne378139.html

Skinner, B.F. Walden Two. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company. 1948. pg. 95. Print.

“The Prince and the Pauper”. Cliffnotes.com. 2015. Web. 20 Oct 2015. www.cliffnotes.com/literature/p/the-prince-and-the-pauper/book-summary

Thiroux, P. Jacques and Krasemann, Keith W. Ethics: Theory and Practice. New York City: Pearson. 2011. pg. 91-105. Print.

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2 thoughts on “Could our Past, Present, and Future be Pre-determined?

  1. I love this question. I think of it as, if it happens, it’s the only thing that could have happened. I can’t unhappen, it can’t have happened another way- because it didn’t. As soon as it happens, it becomes fate. Before it happens it’s all possibilities.

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