Are you free?

The extent to which we have control over our lives is somewhat more limited than what we might perhaps first assume: Where, when and how we are born, how we are brought up, who our parents are, how our childhood pans out. All of these are clearly beyond our control, yet it would appear that the same non-existence of control holds for ourselves- Do we have free will? Do I have any control whatsoever over anything? Is talk of ‘I’ meaningless?

A hard materialist would say that free will is an illusion which we experience when conscious, perhaps because this illusion is in fact incredibly pragmatic-it enables us to feel in control of our lives, gives us a sense of responsibility, and allows us to hold others accountable for their actions. Nevertheless, an illusion is all it may be. First, if we are free, this must mean that there is some part of us which is not bound by the natural world, which can separate itself from the scientific laws and rise above them-something non-physical. There is no hard evidence for such a faculty (because of its nature). Second, the talk of ‘I’ is ambiguous. One might argue that ‘I’ can choose freely without being controlled by external factors, such as one’s environment, one’s memory, one’s state of mind (e.g. homicidal), yet what is the ‘I’, if anything at all, but the amalgamation of all these and more?

It could perhaps be said that free will is an illusion if the brain is responsible for our mental states (which evidence suggests it is), but that it is an illusion that we cannot do any with. A sense of morality would collapse, and society could no longer justifiably punish anyone because they were guilty. Freedom may be an illusion, but a necessary one.

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Radical skepticism

It might seem easier or less trouble or more polite to approach ideas, opinions, and belief systems with sensitivity. It may even seem right to do so. Yet logic is not discrete or caring. Logic is logic. Today’s society is obsessed with accepting other people’s opinions and letting them be. But simply letting people be will get us nowhere resulting in no kind of progression or evolution. Questioning and deliberating is necessary for progress to be made. Questioning is what gets us somewhere, rather than nowhere. Of course, some people ask questions, and some don’t, and some societies work like that, but if no questions were asked at all, then we wouldn’t get anywhere. That is what society today is partaking in-the withdrawal of questioning, the withdrawal of rigorous skepticism.

It is thought that approaching an idea mercilessly and wholly rationally is dangerous, but it is in fact the other way round. If we fail to attack an idea, we will fail to discover what the idea holds and the potential of it, which could lead to a damaging idea growing and developing. It is not dangerous to attack an idea, but it is dangerous both to leave an idea to grow without doubting it, and also to refuse an idea even in the face of proof (whatever that is).

Self-improvement as masturbation

The title is from Fight Club, and is pointing to inherent pointlessness of improving oneself, particularly in the context of a consumerist society. Moreover, it critiques the ideas of individuality in consumerism. Tyler Durden goes on to say ‘Now self-destruction…’ suggesting that self-destruction is the way forward. Rather than focusing on our own improvement through meaningless consumerism and so-called achievement, Tyler Durden seems to be suggesting that we should look outside of ourselves and sacrifice ourselves for the greater good of others. Of course there is the contrast between masturbation and sex-masturbation is lonely and fundamentally pointless, whereas sex is an act with another person. If we spend our time merely improving ourselves, we will become lonely and partaking in acts that are meaningless, yet if we turn away from this we can really live as we should, and we can begin to accept ourselves as we are, and embrace our dissatisfaction, rather than trying to quell it with self-improvement, which eventually does not change anything. It’s about removing that part of yourself which relies on the recognition of others, which only wants to impress others, and then pursuing what you want to do without the pressures of the opinions of other. It’s about destroying the self that society gives us, and creating something new from the ashes. The things thrown at us by society don’t make us better human beings, but they do make us feel like we are better human beings, thereby deluding us. From this we must break free.

Addiction and detachment

We are all prone to developing an addiction. In fact, it may be that we are all, in fact, addicted to something or other. It may be coffee, cigarettes, a TV programme, work, success, or hope among many others. Most addictions are really a problem, and an addiction only becomes worth fighting when it begins to cause oneself harm, as well as those around oneself. We may find that it is addiction that indeed gets us through the day, and that the next cup of tea or the next TV episode is what keeps us going when times seem tough. However, many have other commitments-the thought of supporting one’s family or helping others may also act as a driving force for acts and deeds.

Now and again, we should ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing and try to recognise if we are becoming dependent on things which are beginning to do us, and others, harm. Addiction, it seems, is natural, but can easily become dangerous. Perhaps a hint of detachment from the business of life-through meditation or contemplation-may enable us also to detach ourselves slightly from our addictions, as well as providing a good opportunity for reflection on one’s life up to this point and time to dwell on what we want to do with the time we have left.