Personal Journeys with Gramma

Life adventures, inspiration and insight; shared in articles, advice, personal chats and pictures.

Free Will Isn’t, Is It?


What’s free in this world?  Promotional stuff?  Clean water?  Clean air?  Maybe the fact that nothing seems to be without some kind of cost is a good thing.  Reality check.  We’re trying to learn to imagine consequences first.  After all, people used to laugh and say, “You can’t pollute air or an ocean!  It’s too big!”  Wrong.  Of course we could.  We did.  But I’m not writing about pollution.  We know how that worked out for us.

The Oxford American Dictionary says “free” means “…unrestricted, not controlled by rules.”  We call America “the land of the free.”  Of course we’re not—not entirely.  We have lots and lots of rules and lots and lots of people to enforce them.  If you think about it, we may have more rules that aren’t written down than those that fill pages of legal-speak.  Those rules everyone enforces—rules such as “Don’t obviously enjoy bumping into people in a crowd or you’re a pervert.”  Go ahead.  Try saying “thank you” instead of “excuse me” the next time you bump into someone.  You’ve broken a social rule and you may suffer for it.  Ouch!

Some argue that our free will is the divider between humans and animals.  I’m not comfortable with hard borders, but we know free will is important to being human.  How can you celebrate being good if you never had a chance to choose goodness over evil?  No choice—no triumph.  You just followed the rut.  You could be a robot.  So why are we so anxious to exert control over other people—to make their choices for them even if those choices don’t affect us?

Why?  Why?  Why?  People agonize over events they dislike.  If there’s a Divine Presence, why was this allowed to happen?

  • Some cite a plan.  Could be.  Perhaps we don’t fully understand what “plan” can mean on a very large scale, because events such as genocides seem incomprehensible as anything positive.
  • Some cite free will.  Some believe our lives have meaning because we have choices—no choices, no meaning.  All that we admire most in people—courage, sacrifice, altruistic uses for intelligence or resources, healthy love—all these are choices.  Other choices are selfishness, greed, cruelty, cowardice, hate.  When someone says, “I couldn’t help it,” I’m skeptical.  You probably could.  You didn’t want to.

Human beings choose their circumstances from a greater variety of choices than other species seem to consider.  We say we invent laws to promote a healthy, successful society.  Now and then, we’re lying.  The greater society doesn’t benefit.  Now and then we invent rules so we can feel Divine and force other people to do what we want them to do and not-do what we would prefer to avoid—because we can and it’s comforting to feel like we have a corner on rightness.  If the Divine doesn’t dictate and we do, what kind of deity are we trying to be?  Free will can be used to commit horrific acts.

Why is there air?  Why is there water?  Why is there diversity among people and beliefs?  Since science is observation, perhaps we can use science to look around to see not what we think ought to be but what is.  Science now tells us our species was meant to cooperate.  Perhaps the highest cost of free will lies inside our selves.  We have to be responsible.

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