Free will discussion with author John C. Wright

I have a Google alert for suicide that included this post from John C. Wright yesterday.

The Suicide of Thought (Part Eight)

PartEight:  The Matter of  Materialism

Please note that the endless and silly debate about determinism and reductionist materialism is nothing but the crudest possible form of science worship as I have here defined it: the materialist takes the intuitive axiom of scientific reasoning, that all bodies act without free will, and applies it to the thoughts and deeds of human beings, and comes to a conclusion that renders all law and punishment simply meaningless.

But the two methods of reasoning cannot apply to the subjects proper to the other.

No one thanks the sun for having the fidelity to hold the beloved Earth in orbit, never letting it slip out into cold interstellar darkness.  It is gravity, not fidelity, that is the cause identified. Efficient cause.

Likewise chastity in a young and pretty wife allured by a dangerous Don Juan is of no account if it is merely the outcome of brain chemical actions beyond her awareness or control.  It is fidelity, not chemistry, that is the cause identified. Final cause.

The reductionist materialist, of course, cuts off the branch on which he sits, just as all modern simpletons do.

If the words issuing from his mouth and the thought-symbols flickering through his brain are solely the operation of mechanical forces devoid of intent hence beyond human awareness or control, then his belief in materialism is not a philosophical belief, or indeed not a belief at all, but an epiphenomenon.

The belief cannot be debated because it is not a belief, merely a side effect of meaningless material motions. In such a case, a human would and could no more care about the electrical disturbances produced by the convolutions of his brain than a record in a phonograph would and could care about the sonic waves produced by grooves in the vinyl.  Those sonic waves are not, strictly speaking, words. Likewise those neural electrical brain-motions are not, strictly speaking, thoughts.

The materialists never actually use scientific reasoning in their debate upholding materialism. They use judicial reasoning only.

Note that, like all philosophical arguments, an assumption is made by all parties to the debate that stare decisis will be followed: if you answer that in one given hypothetical you would decide or believe one given conclusion, you are expected to decide or believe the same conclusion in a second hypothetical unless the cases can be distinguished.

But if materialism were true, only scientific reasoning would exist. There would be no method of judicial reasoning and no subject matter of judicial reasoning.

Indeed, I will be so bold as to state that judicial thinking is what we use for all ethical and moral questions, as well as such judgments as whether to let a boy date your daughter, whether to trust a man to be your partner in business, whether to cosign a loan, whether to wed a suitor, whether to vote for a candidate. All political decisions are based on judicial thinking.

The grinding tedium of debates with materialists is also explained by the source of their error. They are using judicial thinking to appeal as if to a juror ruling on the case they present. The juror is expected impartially to study the pertinent evidence and render a verdict.

Unfortunately, mentally crippled by modern education, the materialists are unable even to imagine that there is a distinction between scientific and judicial reasoning. For them, the word ‘reasoning’ means scientific reasoning only. Anything not scientific reasoning is merely meaningless opinion. The error cannot be pointed out to them. There is literally no category in their mind into to put the debate being debated, to identify the proper means of debate, much less to identify the intuitive axioms without which the debate cannot take place.

Hence no debate takes place. Both parties state their positions and grow frustrated because they cannot identify the intuitive axiom they do not share in common. As if Euclid were to debate congruent triangles with Lobachevski, but neither mentions Playfair’s axiom.

Now the same criticism of materialism applies to all the modern simpleton systems of philosophy here listed: from Hume to Marx, each philosopher is looking at human nature like a biologist or rancher looking at livestock. He attempts to discover facts about men, trying to use wissen or savoir (book learning) instead ofkennen or connaître (getting acquainted) to get acquainted. Hence, by the mere logic of the method of thought used, these simpletons eliminate themselves from the equation. The human livestock or the human machine at which they look with their scientific goggles is some object, a thing, unlike the philosopher doing the looking. And so the same logical trap always trips them up: their conclusions apply to all other men, but cannot apply to the philosopher himself.

Their pronouncements are always in the third person, never in the first person. It is never “My opinions are determined by nonhuman historical forces” or “My words are a meaningless word-game” but always “His opinions are by nonhuman historical forces” or “Their words are a meaningless word game.”

The attempt to produce a philosophy which has these two envied characteristics, simplicity and objectivity, produces no philosophy, but abolishes it.

I posted the following comment as a reply on his blog:

“I do not believe in free will.”
“Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.”
Albert Einstein, modern simpleton?

Another commenter, Mike B, replied as follows:

Outside of his area of considerable expertise, yes. The more specialized one is, the less likely to be particularly skilled outside of the specialty. In this case, poor Albert has contradicted himself fairly quickly: If we are causally bound, then there is no such thing as should.We would either are aware of things or not, for causes that we have nothing to do with and cannot ever overcome. For that matter, there would be no such things as our actions either, simply events that happen to involve the things we call “us.”

I replied to Mike B as follows:

It seems to me that Einstein’s area of “considerable expertise” was his penchant for questioning authority and having highly creative insights about existence. Your claim that Einstein has contradicted himself relies on his use of the word “should.”

Really?

“Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that time and space do not exist in reality as most people perceive them to exist.”

This isn’t a quote of Einstein’s but it seems like something he might have thought or said. He theorized that humanity misunderstood the fundamental building blocks of our reality – time and space.

“Should” isn’t a tangible thing, certainly, but it is an understandable idea. If one wants to understand reality as it is versus as it seems, one should consider being open to new explanations about the existence we inhabit and evidence that supports or contradicts them. Living organisms on this tiny speck of dust hurtling through existence (including homo sapiens) do things, they take actions. We homo sapiens associate those doings, those actions, through language, with the organism that did them.

Surely one doesn’t need to believe in free will to make sense of pronouns or the word “should.”

Granted, you may be more insightful about the nature of reality and the human condition than Einstein was… you just haven’t demonstrated that to me yet. 🙂

John C. Wright chimed in at this point with this:

“Surely one doesn’t need to believe in free will to make sense of pronouns or the word “should.””

Actually, no. The word “should” by definition means that, of the several courses of action open, one better adheres to a given standard than the others, and therefore ought to be followed. If you are nailed into a crate on an airplane and something beyond your control throws you out the bomb bay doors, it is merely a nonsense statement for someone to say “You should not have done that!”

One can only use the word “should” when there is some possibility of other actions.

“Granted, you may be more insightful about the nature of reality and the human condition than Einstein was… you just haven’t demonstrated that to me yet”

If you are going to try an ad verecundiam argument, the expert you call as a witness is only an expert in his field. Einstein may know more about physics than a layman, but he surely knows no more than any other human about the human condition.

I replied to John C. Wright with this:

The definition of “should” that I was referring to is:

2
—used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency

And I take “propriety” to mean – the condition of being right, appropriate, or fitting.

Someone who believes that seeing contra-causal free will as an illusion as a means to maximize well-being may be compelled to try to cause other people to see their point of view. I think author and neuroscientist Sam Harris thinks like this. I suppose you think of him as a modern simpleton too.

Anyway, free will skeptics, like myself, continue to use ‘meaning-sounds’ that rely on (most of) humanity’s foundational belief in free choice or free will out of practicality. It’s hard for me to believe that you don’t get what I’m trying to communicate.

“One can only use the word “should” when there is some possibility of other actions.”

The Einstein quote I cited meets the criteria you’re proposing…

“Our actions should be based on the ever-present awareness that human beings in their thinking, feeling, and acting are not free but are just as causally bound as the stars in their motion.”

I think Einstein, like Harris, is saying that it is a mistake to view a person as an agent who authors his or her thoughts and intentions. He said “should” because he thought people misunderstand not human nature, but simply nature. Human beings are corporeal entities necessarily bound by (in his view) the natural laws associated with the area of expertise that you view as Einstein’s forte. There IS a possibility of “other action” i.e., thinking like he thought, in the future.

Yuval Noah Harari’s words popped into my head after I looked up what ad verecundiam means… “How long can we maintain the wall separating the department of biology from the departments of law and political science?”

We seem to inhabit one universe. There is only nature. It contains everything that is, and I see Einstein as someone who was incredibly insightful about understanding what is going on in reality.

As I opened my comment with: It seems to me that Einstein’s area of “considerable expertise” was his penchant for questioning authority and having highly creative insights about nature/existence.

So human beings and their nature are in scope in my view.

While I was typing that out, John C. Wright added these thoughts in reply as well:

Allow me to quote myself in reply to you, or, rather, to what is left of you:

“I doubt this is deliberate. No one utters pure, self-contradictory nonsense on purpose. Or, to be specific, the purpose is unrelated to the content of the words, as when a man is boasting or joking or saying something else where his words are not meant literally.

“For the modern, none of his words are actually uttered with the purpose of conveying the meaning of the words from one mind to another. The purpose is to count coup, to spread the peacock tail of vanity, to show intellectual superiority or moral supremacy, or to show loyalty to the postmodern creed, or, most often, to halt criticism, attack the questioner, hinder the reasoning process, and abolish human nature.”

After reading that, I got curious.  Spent a couple minutes using Google, and then wrote this in response to John C. Wright:

Just learning now that I have fallen for an atheist luminary’s lapse in logic, in your view.

As well as this…

“At age 42, Wright converted from atheism to Christianity, citing a profound religious experience with visions of the “Virgin Mary, her son, and His Father, not to mention various other spirits and ghosts over a period of several days”, and stating that prayers he made were answered.[8] In 2008, he converted to the Roman Catholic Church, of which he approvingly said: “If Vulcans had a church, they’d be Catholics.”[9]”

This is you?
I’m grateful that you took the time to respond to me.
I stumbled upon your online journal as a result of a Google alert I have set up for “suicide.” I work in the suicide awareness and prevention field. Your title caught my eye, and got my click. (no “choice” whatsoever!) It’s clear to me that you’ve forgotten more about writing than I know. I’d be grateful for any links to other pieces you’ve already written that best explain your argument for the existence of contra-causal free will. No need for you to re-explain yourself to me here.
Best,
Francesco

John C. Wright replied with the following responses inline.  John’s writing is in bold.  My writing is not bolded.

The definition I gave and the one you gave map on to each other. Again, there is no obligation, propriety, or expediency for objects which are determined by outside forces. These words only apply to decisions. Decisions only exist when there is more than one choice leading to more than one outcome.

“Free will skeptics don’t claim that people don’t have intentions or make decisions and choices. Rather we claim that there is no nexus of control within you that is consciously causing you to think what you think or what you want. ”

I see. And night skeptics don’t claim that it is dark at night. Rather we claim that there is no light at night.

The words “no nexus of control” and the words “don’t have intentions or make decisions and choices” mean the exact same thing.

You use an example of an reaction in thought that is carefully selected to sound non-deliberate. But from this, the general conclusion that no deliberate thoughts exist does not follow. From the premise “one thought is not deliberate” we cannot reach the conclusion “therefore no thoughts are deliberate.”

The statement “Every thought, intention and action that you have or take is caused by prior events that you did not control. Your will is caused, it’s not “free.”” is either true or false.

If it is true, then it applies to you. If it applies to you, then none of the words you are thinking or saying mean anything or make any sense, any more than a record player thinks or means the vibrations created when its needle passes along a record groove. In which case the words are not meant.

If not true, then again the words are not meant.

In both cases, the statement contradicts itself. I need not argue with you: you have already argued with, and defeated, yourself.

“I have been living “as if free will is false” for about a year.”

Yours is sounds suspiciously like a psychological rather than a philosophical problem.

“Free will skeptics, like myself and Sam, continue to use ‘meaning-sounds’ that rely on (most of) humanity’s foundational belief in free choice or free will out of practicality.”

Actually, no. You are not using meaning sounds. You are not making sense at all, and you know it.

If you were sincere, and sincerely believed that I make no decisions, have no free will, and cannot of my own free will agree to any arguments you make, why make any arguments?

The very act of trying to talk me into deciding to believe you proves that you do not believe your doctrine that humans make no decisions.

I replied as follows.  My responses are in bold.  John C. Wright’s are not bolded.

“The definition I gave and the one you gave map on to each other. Again, there is no obligation, propriety, or expediency for objects which are determined by outside forces.”

Thinking that there are “outside forces” within the Universe is a red flag of misunderstanding. I urge you to seek to understand, not to be understood.

“A human being is part of a whole, called by us the ‘Universe’ — a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts, and feelings, as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” AE

We, including the sounds we make, the disagreements we have… etc. etc… are the universe unfolding according to the laws of physics. There’s no room in that equation for uncaused choices (i.e., free will) We are existence figuring itself out… and in Einstein’s view. You are falling for a compelling illusion. Einstein apparently would have lumped you in with most people as delusional. And despite your obvious talents in stringing together these symbols, at the end of the day, you are claiming to have more insight into the universe than the guy who “figured out” that humanity misunderstood/stands time, space and gravity. (Worth noting, I don’t think consciousness is necessarily an epiphenomenon given my belief that contra-causal free will is an illusion of the imagined self.)

“These words only apply to decisions. Decisions only exist when there is more than one choice leading to more than one outcome.”

You want an expert… okay… how about Thalia Wheatley?

“Choice is simply a fanciful shorthand for biological processes we do not yet apprehend. When we have communicated that — when references to choice occupy the same rhetorical space as the four humors — we will be poised to realize public policy in harmony with a scientific understanding of the mind.” TW

Thalia thinks your thinking represents a poor explanation about reality.

“The words “no nexus of control” and the words “don’t have intentions or make decisions and choices” mean the exact same thing.

Words don’t have inherent meanings. They’re empty boxes inside of empty boxes that we put ideas in. Here again, I’m next to incredulous that you’re not understanding where I’m coming from. I use the words that you use despite believing that they are little fairy tales like Thalia thinks. i.e., that John C. Wright has a magical power to control how the universe is going to unfold based upon his “decisions”. Einstein and Thalia think that you delude yourself into thinking that you could do otherwise… in any/every given moment. Presently, I still agree with them. I’m open to considering other ideas though.

“You use an example of an reaction in thought that is carefully selected to sound non-deliberate. But from this, the general conclusion that no deliberate thoughts exist does not follow. From the premise “one thought is not deliberate” we cannot reach the conclusion “therefore no thoughts are deliberate.””

Free will skeptics make no claim that homo sapiens don’t deliberate. We have no problem making distinctions between voluntary and involuntary actions. We don’t deny the existence of consciousness. We just deny that we have control over what pops into that consciousness, or to when we will “decide” that a decision is made. We think most people are so attached to their imagined sense of themselves, to their egos, that they shudder to consider that they’re not in control of their lives. They shudder to think of the role that chance plays in how their life is going to turn out. i.e. whether or not they’re going to be as famous a writer as Sam Harris or not… 😉

“If it is true, then it applies to you. If it applies to you, then none of the words you are thinking or saying mean anything or make any sense”

The claim that “meaning” can’t exist if contra-causal free will doesn’t exist makes no sense to me. You’re going to have to connect the dots for me. 1+1=2 whether or not you believe it does. Your knowledge of that reality tells us something about the “decisions” you’re going to make in your life. As does a belief in free will… i.e. someone who is particularly egocentric who is outclassed in idea propagation (writing down and selling ideas) by someone (you know who!) whom he thinks is a simpleton… was bound to write precisely what you wrote when you scored your tiny little sales victory over him.

“In both cases, the statement contradicts itself. I need not argue with you: you have already argued with, and defeated, yourself.”

I bet you were captain of the debate team, right? 😉

“If you were sincere, and sincerely believed that I make no decisions, have no free will, and cannot of my own free will agree to any arguments you make, why make any arguments?”

I am sincere, and I make arguments, because they matter. We are the cosmos arguing with itself… you’re telling me you’re in charge of your life, and I’m trying to help you get over your”self” and that we are one. Our interaction lies in the cause and effect chain that is the universe unfolding. Tiny parts of the universe becoming “sentient” and mini-creators and storytelling imaginers does not contradict the idea that the story coming from you about humanity and free will is… a fiction. Fictions clearly matter, duh. Everything matters! I think it matters that you and most of humanity are dualists.

“The very act of trying to talk me into deciding to believe you proves that you do not believe your doctrine that humans make no decisions.”

Not in many people’s view it doesn’t. What an organism is going to do is “determined” by that organism’s brain before the organism is aware of that event. There is a growing pile of evidence showing this, read what Thalia has written! YOU don’t consciously make decisions…in the sense that you think. The organism known as John C. Wright does. Again, if YOU would just get over/let go of… yourSELF, you might better understand the view of human nature that resonates with simpletons like Al, Sam, Thalia and me.

Why is it so hard for you to fathom that homo sapiens — big-brained, meaning-making, myth-believing creatures — may have created the fiction called “free will”?

I’ll grant that I’m a poor parrot of Sam Harris, but the view of reality and of humanity that I share with him isn’t nonsensical to me.

I appreciate you sending me the link that you provided in your subsequent response.

I happened to read this post: The Same Inescapable Topic Yet Again, and its entire discussion thread. I suppose your issue/impasse with Dr. A is the same as it is/would have been with Einstein.

John C. Wright’s subsequent reply:

You have defined your terms nonsensically, and everything else you say on the topic is likewise nonsense because of that bad decision. The term free will does not mean “breaks the law of cause and effect” — if anything has or could break the law of cause and effect, all physical sciences are in vain. The term is a legal, not a scientific term, and refers to what humans do in their minds which is not instinct, reflex, unreflective, nondeliberate.

“The claim that “meaning” can’t exist if contra-causal free will doesn’t exist makes no sense to me. ”

Your the sounds you call words have no meaning if a mind possessed of free will did not use that free will to select those words to convey meaning from one mind to another. You are claiming that the noises that sound like words but are not issuing from your mouth are in fact merely sounds, on the grounds that the brain beyond works, now and forever, on autopilot, with no one at the wheel making decisions.

If you possess no more free will than a record player, then a conversation with you is as impossible as a conversation with a record player.

I notice continuing to try to persuade me, as if the act of persuasion were possible. But, logically, if I am a record player just like you, then my thoughts are merely a groove in the album also, and cannot be changed by any act of mine.

My subsequent reply after I found this YouTube video of John C. Wright describing how and why he became a Christian after calling himself an atheist for years, apparently.:

I never claimed that you were a record player or like a record player. You are a living organism that is interacting with the environment around you. You don’t have unchangeable grooves that are being played by the cosmos. The stuff between your ears is quite malleable while you’re still breathing.

Furthermore my goal wasn’t persuasion, it was understanding, i.e., trying to understand what motivates you to believe what you believe. You would have me and your readers believe that what motivates you is reason. After a night of sleep and a little more poking around online I found some words that you wrote that have given me the understanding I sought.

You were (and I would bet still are if forced to make a guess) scared to death of death, in spite of your claim to the contrary. The effect that your fear has had on you, in short, seems to have been to cast aside reason and believe, without compelling evidence, that “you”, your ego, your sense of self, the essence that is John C. Wright… that your soul will continue to live and think and have a life after your body dies. The reasons you have provided for believing this are based on faith, not reason. The meaning that you have ascribed to certain events in your life (a hope/wish/prayer that something would happen and that event subsequently happening) isn’t a result of a “choice” you made brother, rather it is the result of a brain state of a frightened organism grappling with the inevitability of the death of its body and the likely silencing of the voice in its head that it identifies as itself.

John C. Wright’s subsequent reply:

“You were (and I would bet still are if forced to make a guess) scared to death of death, in spite of your claim to the contrary. ”

Well, it is certainly convenient enough for you to believe that . It allows you to escape from all fashion of awkward questions.

Do you have any evidence to contradict the testamony of the eyewitness? Was there someone in the room known to you and unknown to me who saw my demeanor and conclided it was the demeanor of a frightened man, but one who would lie about it later?

In effect, your response to my pointing out the obvious logical self contradiction of your neurotic belief system is to lash out against your questioner, accuse him of hallucinations or dishonesty or both, and thus stopper your ears against further questions.

Are you sure we should begin long distance psychoanalysis of each other, boy? The suicidal asperger who seeks escape of all human responsibility will not emerge the better.

My subsequent reply:

Your refusal to admit that your story might not match what happened/is happening is where you fall down brother John, and where you differ from me. I’m sure of nothing. You are. You fail to be incredulous with yourself. You believe in you. Your self. In the story you tell yourself. Part of that story includes writing words like “suicidal asperger” about someone you don’t know from Adam. I’m doing the same to you, you might claim? I’m not. I have no clue who you are. But I have read words that you have written. And the picture I have of you in my head is that of a believer. Unequivocally… your communication is only as effective as the response it elicits.

You are looking at that response spilled out on the page… brother.

I have no clue whether or not “God” exists. Your “problem” is that you KNOW there is a God… now.

You are a believer in your own story.

You have faith in your own imagination.

You know things.

I know nothing.

John C. Wright’s subsequent reply (emphasis mine):

“Your refusal to admit that your story might not match what happened/is happening is where you fall down brother John, and where you differ from me.”

For the modern man, certainly is their sole sin, and uncertainty their sole boast. You regard personal insult as a perfectly normal and laudable reply when you encounter someone outside your worldview, but when someone returns back to you the selfsame insult you utter (you called me an insane liar, and I returned the compliment) you react with petulant, childish fury and an incoherent stream of opprobrium. This shows tne (sic) weakness of your position, and its hypocrisy.

If you were actually a skeptic, you would not leap to conclusions about what happened in the mind of a stranger you do not know during an event where you were not present. If you were actually a determinist, you would not blame me for anything I say or do, since blame only can be fixed on acts under the actor’s control. If you were actually mentally stable, you would show more self command in your speach. (sic) If you were actually a man and not a boy, no matter your age, you would act like a man, and comport yourself with some dignity.

Come now. Snap out of it. If you insult, expect insult in return. If you hang around witb (sic) people who tell you calling a man a liar is not an insult, find better friends.

My subsequent reply where I discuss select quotes of John C. Wright from the aforementioned video:

“I was agreeing with the Christians about things like abortion and infidelity and adultery and homosexuality and other questions of what I’m going to teach my kids what is right and wrong.”

I’m not much for “praying” brother John, but I so desperately hope… I wish… very sincerely, out of a genuine interest for the well-being of your children, that they are not compelled to want to romantically love and be physically intimate with people that possess the same sexual organs that they possess. Your beliefs about the “moral wrongness” of people with the same sex organs loving each other in any way they desire to do so are the source of inestimable amounts of fear-based cruelty and hate against homosexual people. I’m not alone in seeing this belief of yours as hateful versus loving, brother John.

“Because I realized you couldn’t phil- philosophically deduce yourself to God because God wouldn’t set up a system that was so difficult to achieve knowledge of him. I decided to experiment and and and pray. And so what I said is: Dear God, I know you don’t exist. I know philosophically, and I know with with as much certainty as a man who knows twice two is four that you cannot possibly exist. But if I’m wrong, because as a philosopher you have to, you know, recognize that you might be mistaken about your conclusions. But if I’m wrong, I dare you, I challenge you to show yourself to me. I demand it in fact, because if you don’t, either you don’t exist, which is what I suspect, or you do exist and you don’t care if I’m damned, in which case you’re not benevolent in which case your hardly a God at all.
Well… God not only answers prayers, he has a sense of humor, because I had a heart attack, and was sent to the hospital.. two two days after I prayed that prayer. In the hospital I had a vision of the Virgin Mary, and several other visions, which I’m not at liberty to speak about in any detail. And my heart attack was cured by prayer. And I also had a religious experience about a week later, that was different from the original visions. And I was drenched with a superfluity of evidence, an abundance of evidence. I had been an atheist because I saw no evidence that God existed. Then I saw that there was evidence, so I changed my mind. I had to change my mind upon my integrity as a philosopher.”

Your assertion that I called you a liar is patently false. I shared with you a fact. After I heard you tell the story above on YouTube, I was full of doubt that you make reasonable sense about reality. I am claiming that it is reasonable to doubt that you know what you are talking about regarding why you had a heart attack.

I would imagine that your cardiologist explained to you how heart disease works. Your genetic biology, how much food you eat and what kinds, how much exercise you partake in… all of these things are factors in what cause the pump that moves blood within you to clog up, not your thought demands of the creator of the universe.

Your claim can’t even gain admittance to the room where the parsimony test is being given in this case brother John.

The fact that you believe you having a heart attack two days after you demanded that the creator of the universe show you a sign of his existence, isn’t compelling evidence that God exists, in my view. Rather it is evidence that you are a person who is obsessively egotistical or self-centered. I do claim that you seem to think like an egomaniac.

This is not an insult as I see it. Here again, I hear you speak, and it is the word that pops into my head.
I do not blame you or judge you for being how you are or for your beliefs.

I do not believe you have a choice.

I love you as a brother of humanity that you are to me, in spite of the fact that I think your beliefs about homosexuality are hateful.

I love you as a brother of humanity that you are to me, in spite of the fact of how egotistical I think it is for someone to think that he has a personal relationship with the creator of the universe.

There is no fury within me brother John…just love, curiosity and compassion. Your words provide more evidence of how prone you are to misperceiving reality.

“If you insult, expect insult in return.”

As before, you’re not doing yourself any favors in becoming a Christian thought leader with this gem brother John. Plus, I refute the claim that I insulted you by doubting that you know what you’re talking about regarding why you had a heart attack. It is reasonable to doubt such a preposterous claim… especially when the claimant is not at liberty to speak about the evidence in any detail.

Worth adding, I’m grateful to hear you admit that you’re not free!

=D

Giving misguided feedback about “choices” to someone at thesuicideproject.org in 2009

During the summer of 2009 I came across the post below at thesuicideproject.org

screen-shot-2016-10-11-at-5-17-19-pm

I posted the comment below in response:

Dear Jessica,

I’m sorry that you are going through a rough time. Your supposition about the presence of any “listeners” is off the mark actually. This site is fairly well trafficked. There are a lot of people out here that feel as you do, and there are a lot of people out here who care and want to help. I’m one of the latter.

The reason that I mentioned that there are many others struggling with problems similar to yours is to point out that there are many people who have had the problems you are having who have figured out effective and sustainable ways to deal with them. This is good news, I think, because you can learn how to do this too, if you are open to it.

One highly effective way to deal with depression, according to many clinical studies, is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy called rational emotive behavioral therapy. Here’s a one sentence description of REBT’s basic premise that I just copied from Wikipedia: “One of the fundamental premises of REBT is that humans, in most cases, do not merely get upset by unfortunate adversities, but also through how they construct their views of reality through their language, evaluative beliefs, meanings and philosophies about the world, themselves and others.”

For example, you seem to be primarily depressed by the fact that a girl that you love is not loving you back how you would like her to. Falling in love with someone who doesn’t love you back in the same way is a very common thing, I believe, and feeling sad or upset about it is a natural reaction. I think. However, going to the point of harming yourself physically and contemplating ending your own life as a result seems to be an extreme reaction to me, as I’m sure it does to many others. You write about wanting and needing love from others, and it’s clear that you would like to have a particular kind of love from this girl.

I think it’s important to realize that everyone, including this girl, has the freedom to love who she wants, how she wants. It’s equally important to realize that someone choosing not to love you how you would like them to love you is not about YOU, that’s about her and what SHE wants. Even if she loved you for a while, she has the right to choose to not love you in the same way now or in the future. I imagine that you have created a number of dis-empowering beliefs about yourself and life as a result of the rejection you received from this girl. I’m guessing that you might be thinking that you’re not worthy of someone elses love or maybe that you will not find someone to love you the way that you want to be loved. What’s important to get is that YOU are the one creating those beliefs. YOU are choosing to think that way (assuming that that’s what you’re thinking.)

What you wrote about your sister points to the same kind of problem in thinking I believe: “my sister moved out for a time which also contributed with the cutting. she also made me feel worthless.” Isn’t it more accurate to say that you chose cutting yourself as a way to deal with the pain you felt when your sister moved out? And regarding feeling worthless as a result of things your sister may have said to you – consider looking at it this way – YOU CHOOSE to label yourself as worthless based on what your sister said or did. That is YOUR choice to think and/or feel that you are worthless. My point is that you can choose to think otherwise, and thinking otherwise could lead you to feel differently about yourself and your life.

You wrote a lot about love in your post and I think that the love you may be lacking may be an unconditional love for yourself. Cutting yourself and worse, ending your own life is an unloving thing to do to yourself. I don’t mean to say that you don’t have valid reasons to think what you do which lead you to feel how you feel right now – i.e. the abuse from your mother and issues with your family and friends. What’s important to get here is that just because something is VALID doesn’t mean that it has to be that way or that it is necessarily the TRUTH.

You are in charge of what you think and what you think is going to determine how you feel. Some people have more ‘negative input’ or troubling or challenging circumstances in life to deal with – that’s the way life is. What I’m offering for you to consider is that you are in charge of creating your own self-image and view of the world, regardless of the environment you’re in.

One book that I read during a difficult time in my life is called Feeling Good by David D. Burns. It explains in great detail how to go about altering how you feel by altering how you think about the things that happen in your life.

I hope what I’ve written here offers you some hope that things can go differently for you in the future. I know they can, but it’s up to you to believe that they can. Believing that something else is possible is what makes something else possible.

I’m here to help. Please feel free to contact me at incredulity at gmail dot com. I wish you the best.

Sincerely,
Francesco Bellafante

I stand by my recommendation about cognitive behavioral therapy and Dr. Burns’ book Feeling Good, but I’ve updated my response to Jessica below in light of how I think about “choices” and “free will” now, over seven years later.

I think it’s important to realize that everyone, including this girl, can love whomever she wants to love, however she wants to love them. It’s equally important to realize that someone not loving you how you would like them to love you is not about you, rather that’s about her and what she wants. Even if she loved you for awhile, she might not love you in the same way in the future. I imagine that you have created a number of dis-empowering beliefs about yourself and life as a result of this rejection. I’m guessing that you might be thinking that you’re not worthy of someone else’s love or maybe that you will not find someone to love you the way that you want to be loved.  If you are thinking this way, it’s important to understand that your thoughts are subject to change over time.  Question and challenge your thinking.  If something you’re thinking makes you feel badly, consider that you’re capable of thinking something else.

What you wrote about your sister points to the same kind of problem in thinking I believe: “my sister moved out for a time which also contributed with the cutting. she also made me feel worthless.” Isn’t it more accurate to say that you were compelled to cut yourself as a way to deal with the pain you felt when your sister moved out?  And regarding feeling worthless as a result of things your sister may have said to you – consider looking at it this way – you’re compelled to label yourself as worthless based on what your sister said or did.  You don’t choose your thoughts before they occur to you; no one does.  Thoughts and intentions simply arise in consciousness.  I suggest trying to question or challenge disempowering thoughts like these when they occur to you.  You have the power to continue to think and to think something else… to think something that doesn’t make you feel worthless.  You are not your thoughts.  You’re not even the author of your thoughts.  You are witness to your thoughts, and remember that your thoughts don’t necessarily represent the truth.

You wrote a lot about love in your post and I think that the love you may be lacking may be an unconditional love for yourself. Cutting yourself and worse, ending your own life is an unloving thing to do to yourself. I don’t mean to say that you don’t have valid reasons to think what you do which lead you to feel how you feel right now – i.e. the abuse from your mother and issues with your family and friends. What’s important to get here is that just because something is valid doesn’t mean that it has to be that way or that it is necessarily the truth.  Granted, some people have more “negative input” or troubling and challenging circumstances in life to deal with than other people – that’s the way life is. What I’m offering for you to consider is that you play a crucial role in creating your own self-image and view of the world, regardless of the environment you’re in.

One book that I read during a difficult time in my life is called Feeling Good by David D. Burns. It explains in great detail how to go about altering how you feel by working to alter how you think about the things that happen in your life.

I hope what I’ve written here offers you some hope that things can go differently for you in the future. I know they can, but it’s up to you to believe that they can. Believing that something else is possible is what makes something else possible.

Suicide attempt reason reveal 18 1/2 years later | frank talk about suicide | episode 7 preview

I was named after my paternal grandfather who died in a mysterious explosion at the fireworks factory where he worked two days after Christmas in 1951. My father to be was 13 years old. Within a year, he was earning $15 a week to help support his mother and two younger sisters delivering newspapers and working in a drugstore as a stock boy and soda jerk.

He was bringing home $400 a month, in today’s dollars, to help support his family.

He was 14 years old.

Music:

Father
by Estes Shane Whalen

Open letter to VP Biden from one Auk to another | frank talk about suicide | episode 6

Dear Mr. Vice President:

We’ve been crossing paths since I was 12 years old, but the first time we spoke to one another was just last year.

The first time I saw you in person was in line for a movie at the former Concord Mall theater on 202 near Naamans Road.  It was the spring of ‘83 and Coppola’s The Outsiders had just opened in theaters.  I was 12 years old, my brother Mark and Beau were 14, and Hunter was 13.  Mark and I were in line right behind you, Dr. Biden, Beau and Hunter.  You guys ended up getting the last four tickets for The Outsiders, and even though we were underage, the woman at the box office let us buy tickets for the R rated comedy, Joysticks, which was not nearly as good a film, believe me.

Then during high school at Archmere, at football games with Hunter and tennis matches with Beau, and various other events, I saw you more times than I can recount.

Then in early 2012, when the football team that Hunter and I played on together that lost to Laurel 7-2 in the state championship game was inducted into the Archmere Athletics hall of fame, I saw Beau for the last time when you both showed up at the Patio that night.  I took delight in the fact that with not a single spare seat in the house that night, you took a seat on the stairs, and that was no big deal.  I chatted briefly with Hunter that night, but I’m sad to say that I didn’t say hi to Beau.  But I do recall the last time I saw and spoke with him.  I’m not sure what year it was, but I was driving through Philly when I saw Beau walking alone on the sidewalk, and he saw me see him.  So I pulled over, put my hazards on, jumped out of my truck and ran back to have a quick chat.  I don’t remember what we talked about really, but I do remember being lit up by the chance encounter…  because… well, Beau was Beau.

Anyway, it was last year when I personally met you for the first time when I offered you my condolences at Beau’s wake.

A couple months later I sent an email to Hunter that I want to share part of with you now:

The obvious horrible circumstances aside, I was grateful to have had the chance to spend the few moments that we spent together at Beau’s wake; it meant a lot to me to see you and to personally express my condolences to you and your family.  I also want to let you know how touched I was, blown away really, by your amazing tribute to your brother at the funeral.  The entire ceremony was such a beautiful tribute and celebration of Beau and his life.  I was so grateful to be able to see it, not to mention to know that people that may not have known Beau could see and hear you and everyone else that spoke, so that they could understand what kind of son, father, brother, friend and public servant… what kind of person your brother was.  I also wanted to take a moment to share something else with you.  Beau’s wake was the first time that I ever spoke with your father, and as I was getting close to the front of the receiving line, I debated taking a couple extra moments to thank him for his decades of service to the people of Delaware and this country, but I decided against it in the interest of time.  I wanted to thank him for living such an inspiring life and for dedicating himself to public service and for being a living example of the difference that one person can help make, for others.

So, thank you.

Just this past summer, with the help of Hunter, I got this letter in front of your scheduling assistant.

Dear Mr. Vice President:

Nine years after I graduated from Archmere Academy I nearly died by suicide when I was 27 years old.  Eighteen years after my suicidal crisis I am grateful to be a Philadelphia chapter board member of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), the leading nonprofit at the center of the fight to reduce the mortality of suicide in this country.  Our mission is to save lives and bring hope to those affected by suicide.

In a couple of weeks hundreds of AFSP volunteers will visit Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers to advocate for increased federal funding for evidence-based suicide prevention programs.  The AFSP has an ambitious goal and a practical plan to reduce the U.S. suicide rate by 20% by 2025.  I am writing to ask you to please consider meeting with the leadership of the AFSP before you leave office.  Robert Gebbia, our CEO, Dr. Christine Moutier, our Chief Medical Officer, and John Madigan, our Vice President of Public Policy would greatly appreciate the opportunity to brief you on our strategy to save the lives of thousands of Americans.  If your schedule permits, a brief meeting with you on June 14th would undoubtedly energize our growing group of thoughtful, committed citizens dedicated to reducing suicide.

We are convinced that our movement is approaching a tipping point in garnering the political will necessary to halt the rising U.S. suicide rate.  Your help in raising awareness about this preventable cause of death will hasten the arrival of the day when suicide is no longer one of the top ten causes of death in this country.  Thank you for your time and consideration, and thank you for being a living example of the positive difference that one person can make in the lives of others.

Sincerely,
Francesco Bellafante
Archmere Academy Class of 1989

The date we were hoping to arrange the meeting for was June 14th, which turned out to be two days after the worst mass-shooting in our nation’s history.  Timing is everything, but there is still time to make this meeting happen before you leave office, if your schedule permits.

Your work with the #CancerMoonshot is inspiring.  Tragically, but not surprisingly the suicide rate for cancer patients is about double the national average.  Worse yet, a study has found the suicide rate to be 13 times higher for patients during the first three months after their diagnosis.

The leadership of the AFSP and I are grateful for all that you, Dr. Biden and the Obamas have already done for the suicide awareness and prevention cause,  but the days when the father of two of my teammates from high school is the Vice President of the United States are quickly drawing to a close.

I promised myself when you and the President were elected that I would get myself in a position to leverage my personal connection to you for the benefit of this cause before you left office.  So, from one Archmere Auk to another, I’m asking you to please consider meeting with these extraordinary leaders from the national non-profit at the center of this winnable fight to stop suicide.

Sincerely,

Francesco Bellafante
American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
Board of Directors, Greater Philadelphia Chapter