Karl Smith has a post that’s relevant to a discussion we’ve been having here:
We can talk about the relative influence of genes, prenatal care, nutrition, early childhood education, lead, etc. However, I didn’t think they would dispute that your IQ is determined before what most people would think of as your moral agency. If so, can it reasonably be your fault that you are stupid?
As it happened I was also debating Bryan Caplan, who I thought and still think, would admit that one’s actual level of conscientiousness is probably genetically determined. And, further that this personality attribute underlies most of what the normal world would call “laziness.”
And so again, if one is sympathetic towards those born blind does it not follow that one should be sympathetic towards those born lazy?
The problem with this line of reasoning, of course, is that it is not possible for someone born blind to start seeing if only he or she tried hard enough but it is possible for someone born lazy to transcend it and work hard. The question is less can he or she but why would he or she?
Despite self-absorbed, uncaring parents and an environment hardly conducive to hard productive legitimate work, my dad through a combination of hard productive legitimate work and ability became the first in his family to graduate not just from law school but from college, high school, and even 8th grade. Similarly, my mom, despite improvident and, in all honesty, shiftless but loving parents, through a combination of hard work and ability became the first in her family not just to earn an advanced degree but the first to graduate from college, high school, and even 8th grade. Without any models for parenting they somehow managed become wonderful, loving parents—the best imaginable in my biased opinion. The only fault I could find with them is they gave me too much freedom. They weren’t just good parents. I think they’re heroes and such heroism isn’t innate: it requires you to transcend your limitations.
They worked hard but it was enormous good luck for me. I didn’t earn or deserve such wonderful parents.
We distinguish between physical handicaps and moral failures. Being born blind is a physical handicap. It’s a limitation. You can adjust for it, compensate for it, prevent it from holding you down, but you can’t avoid it.
Being born lazy may have physical underpinnings but we consider it a moral failure and, I think, rightly so because it can be avoided. It may take significantly more effort for someone born lazy (if such a thing exists) to be in fact industrious than it would someone without that physical limitation. Life is not fair.