Monday, August 12, 2013

Freedom! and the Frantic Drab


To act or not to act is a bewildering boundary. To navigate it competently, inquiry into the nature of free will, that hoary topic, is mandatory. It is tiring to put the question, more so to dwell on it; to this day it remains stubbornly unresolved, a futilely visited Gordian’s Knot, our blindest spot. How often, if at all, we are capable of free choice – choice we consciously experience as deliberate – may be beyond our powers of perception and deduction.  What follows is a cursory and playful toying with this topic.

 First, we make note of the obvious reality of awareness. But we should then immediately acknowledge that our day-to-day awareness is limited, even where our own selves are concerned. Thus, even if we are disposed to insist that we own our bodies (whatever that assertion means), it does not take much effort of thought to realise that this supposed ownership bestows neither full awareness nor full control of what our bodies actually do (behind our backs).

Second, let’s accept that the dualistic mind-body split (an idea that permits a conceptual ‘ownership’ of the body by something not-body which is then the true ‘I’ by implication) is intellectual casuistry that does not accurately reflect reality, even if it reflects our (language-generated) perception of reality.

It follows that when, on those rare occasions, we are aware of having made a deliberate choice, we can neither know nor prove beyond doubt that it was wholly deliberate, fully the outcome of ‘self-control’, and not, say, the surface sensation of some inner process beyond conscious awareness.

Proof of free will must, therefore, lie beyond the reach of our perception and science.

Given these two conditions, faith is surely inescapable. In fact, faith lurks in the shadows of all our systems of thought and science like the mad lady of gothic literature, banished to the attic yet secretly in control of events. And this control is not the consequence of free will. How ironic is that, ladies and gentlemen?

My particular faith says that we indeed make deliberate choices, that we do exercise free will, but that this happens rarely. Its rarity is a direct consequence of what I have come to call the Frantic Drab. We have no time to spend Quality Time with ourselves, are thus strangers to ourselves, are also in automatic lockstep with a culture of endless baubles, and lack the personal psychological and emotional development to properly reflect on our actions and make wise or mature choices.

Enjoy it while it lasts.