A Special New York Times Editorial
Tibor R. Machan
The following is a New York Times editorial that will never be written by the editors there:
“We here at The New York Times want to announce a new policy. This is that we will no longer criticize anyone, nor praise anyone. We will, in other words, hold no one responsible for his or her conduct.
“We institute this policy in light of the columns published recently in our pages arguing that human beings have no free will, that they cannot choose their own conduct. If this is so, as we believe it is—we haven’t published anyone arguing the opposite thesis, as you may have noticed—there can be no choice about what people do. Neither Saddam Hussein, nor George W. Bush, nor Nancy Pelosi nor indeed anyone at all has anything to do with his or her conduct or, as social scientists prefer to call it, behavior.
“It all just happens because it must. As one of the experts made clear whom we mentioned in the discussion we published, namely Mark Hallett—a researcher with the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke—'Free will does exist, but it’s a perception, not a power or a driving force. People experience free will. They have the sense they are free.' As he added, 'The more you scrutinize it, the more you realize you don’t have it.' Which is to say, to be up front about it, free will does not exist at all—it’s an illusion, according Mr. Hallett.
“Accordingly, over the entire history of this newspaper the editors have quite mistakenly blamed many of America’s and indeed the world’s political figures for wrongs they thought have been committed, some of them rather grave ones, such as Hitler’s and Stalin’s—although we have been easier on the second than on the first and we have continued this bias with how we have singled out General Pinochet for criticism but have given other dictators, mostly on the Left, a virtual pass—others less severe, as when we criticized politicians or our own adversaries. And the praise we have heaped upon those we liked was also pointless—they just did as they had to. In every case of blaming or praising, we have been misguided. Of course, we could not be blamed for this either—we just did what we had to do. Everything is exactly as it must be—the world is but a daisy-chain of hard-wired, deterministic forces driving everything relentlessly to proceed as it will. All of our own reporting and analysis throughout the history of the newspaper has come about as a result of impersonal forces, so we cannot be held responsible for any errors that have found themselves into our pages. Nor for the so called achievements for which we have received prizes!
“The very idea of independent journalistic judgment must henceforth be rejected since journalists who have no free minds cannot be held responsible for what they produce, any more than scientists can be required to be objective rather than biased. Nor, of course, are racists ever to be blamed for their prejudices—they cannot help themselves either. Come to think of it, all those who consider what we believe wrong are also blameless—they, too, just think what the impersonal forces of nature force them to think.
“In short, it is really, as Doris Day used to sing, just 'Que sera, sera,' after all. As your columnist said professor Benjamin Libet reported back in the 1970s—although, again, he couldn’t help himself when he did this—when we act, we do so independently of our own minds, so what we do is all just happening to us. We actually do nothing.
“So, again come to think of it, we cannot really say what we will do in the future as we write our editorials—it’ll all just happen, as will everything else in the universe.
“Sad part of it is that even as we appear to write these lines, we aren’t doing it. It is all just unfolding as the impersonal forces of nature and we are but puppets in it all. Still, in so far as we might by some chance have any hand in things, we would like to make clear that in virtue of our conviction that human beings have no free will, we are going to try very hard to abstain from holding anyone responsible for anything, including ourselves.”