Free Will

The late Christopher Hitchens probably described best what free will is. To paraphrase him: free will is not the ability to simply do what you want when you want to do it. It isn’t because that kind of action, fulfilling your desires, arises out of your nature. To do what you want when you want to do it is no different than the animals. It is a mistake to think that because we can think, and thus rationalize our way out of self-accusation, and the animals use instinct that our acting in that way makes what we do any different. No, free will is when a person understands with their reason what they should do, even if what they realize is then in opposition to their nature, denying their desires. Free will is when you do what may be harmful or counterproductive to yourself or your personal monuments because you know it to be the right thing to do.

Free will is important in the struggle to become. It is what compels us to seek to be better. It is the balance by which guilt enters in, not the guilt of verdict, but that of self-embarrassment. Through free will we are unhappy with who we have been. It is by free will  that we can overcome the pride that wells up in us when others have indeed been the agent of change and not ourselves. Through free will we recognize the need to improve ourselves when such a need is pointed out to us, not complaining that our faults have been laid bare, though asking if the accusations are indeed true. Perhaps it compels us to ask ourselves why we could not see the need before?

Through free will we forgive ourselves and seek to go on within the act of becoming. Through free will we question whether we can go on. We seek to uncover the things within us that have stopped us. That will stop us. Through free will we both create and destroy our own happiness. Through free will we understand time, recognizing the value of putting off what pleases us today for a greater benefit tomorrow. And abstraction is rendered before us as the great tool that enables us to see what other people are going through. By it we can feel the pain of those who are oppressed in ways we may never be, the anguish of those who are caught up in arguments we are fortunate enough not to have to entertain.

Free will is the action of our spirits, whatever those may be. For if it is the act of the flesh, then it is to the flesh that the benefit comes. If it is the act of the mysterious, then the benefit is to the mysterious, but to the flesh as well. In this way it is like forever growing up, forever putting aside childhood for the things of maturity. Not that we leave everything behind as if we embrace some kind of sterile version of ourselves. Few of us would willingly go back to actually being a child. Many of us gratefully acknowledge how valuable some of the characteristics of childhood are to us, even in the later stages of our lives. By continually asking ourselves what is right and what is best we allow this and that into our reassembly. We experiment both with things held dear and with things simply held to the point of habituation. We begin to be able to tell the difference, and to know how to do something about it.

 

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