I recently found myself pondering what an ideal penguin society would look like. They don’t have free will, but does freedom matter anyhow? What else could they want to be free, but will?
Imagine a group of penguins. Does it matter if they have free will to decide wether they live under oppression (in a zoo) or not? If they were to found a democratic penguin republic, would it matter if they had free will to decide if their democracy is better than a dictatorship?
As you’ve certainly learned from your penguin history book, forms of government that weren’t democracies have a bad track record in terms of providing utility to the governed society. The penguins declare utility their goal. They don’t know a better one.
For our penguin democracy to reach that goal, they need to prevent the strongest (most powerful) individuals from opressing others by stealing their food — to protect the freedom of the weak individuals. They also need to prevent groups of weak penguins to drive the stronger ones from their (more comfortable) caves — to protect the freedom of the stronger individuals.
Someone will have to decide on rules and policies that guide the group to maximum utility. The only way to ensure that is to let every individual participate in the decision, so her interests are represented. A policy that maximises utility over the individuals also maximises utility for society, so the theory goes.
Since direct penguin democracy is impractical, there will have to be elected representatives. But they don’t have free will and are subject to countless cognitive biases. So our penguins will have to place firm restrictions on the representatives to minimize the effect of these biases. To do that, the penguins prohibit lobbyism, ban all kinds of payments towards representatives (during and after their legislative period) and make each penguin only electable once.
In making new laws, the representatives take into account that their people also don’t have free will and often act on biases or intuition. With their policies, they try to nudge their people into making the best decisions for themselves and for the group. They also instate basic redistribution of fish to account for hunting luck.
Our penguin democracy — with freedom at its heart — flourishes. Even without free will.