This is the fourth in a series of Friday posts on this blog called Friday Thoughts, or #Foughts, an in depth discussion on a character or topic I have found particularly interesting, or has divided opinion. It is a question that people have pondered for centuries, and philosophers have theorised and sociologists have argued, but is it even possible to have free will?
As a Marketing student myself, I can confidently say that it is very difficult to make free choices in a world where advertising and media rules over how you receive information. If you decide to have a chocolate bar, is it because you just casually thought of that product in your mind, or is it because you saw an advert for it recently, or because you saw somebody eating a chocolate bar in the street and the seed started to grow in your mind?
Firstly, let’s establish the definition of free will. This in itself is a discussion. To put it simply, let’s say it is the ability to do what you wish of your own volition. To get up in a morning and go travelling; to do something spontaneously; to be who you want to be; to live the simple life without the constraints of work or money or physical limitations.
The Morals of Free Will
Are we bound by a single path that decides our fate for us, or do we have free will to be able to deviate from any paths, to write our own rules? If we are all universally free, will this harm our world? We all hold our own individual values and morals, and we have to live within the laws of society. Murderers follow their own morals, thinking that what they did was morally right to them or that they had a right to take the victim’s life. The question of morals is subjective. Thieving in the eyes of the law is an evil act, illegal, but what if an orphan boy steals food from a market because he is starving? You may agree that he should be incarcerated because he committed a crime and the stall owner would suffer from losing produce, but you may argue that he did the act for survival and so should not be deemed a criminal.
The Paradox of Free Will and Determined Life
We all have a choice of what we do in our lives (or think we do). In my previous #Foughts post I discussed the idea of parallel universes, and that everything we didn’t choose to do happens in a parallel universe. If it is true, then that answers the question: yes. We have free will. Because then we do everything, regardless of external influences, and we have many different endings to our lives in each of these universes. But perhaps this is a contradiction: if we have many parallel lives, then maybe we have no free will because every action we do is destined in each universe. Our fate(s) are already predicted, already laid out in different lives, whatever we ‘choose’ to do.
Philosophers and sociologists have debated the question of free will for decades, centuries: Karl Marx coined the term ‘capitalism’ which controlled people’s lives for the worst, forcing them into slave labour chained to the great machines that led the world into mass production; determinism claims that your life is already determined and whatever you choose to do, however you might try to escape it, you will reach your fate as it is laid out for you; libertarians argue that agents (bodies with minds) cause chain reactions by doing something that affects you, these actions being of their own free will that has a domino effect (or butterfly effect) on the rest of the world and yourself; and this links with reductionism which means that everything in your life, every decision you made, comes down to one original reason for it. So it seems that even if you think you make a decision from your own free will, there was a reason for it and so you did not make it from your own free will. If you chose to go to work in a different route than you usually did, you still had to go to work and if you hadn’t had time to go that route then you would have followed your usual route. If you are out and decide to try a brand new restaurant in town, even though you would usually go to a different food place, you did that because you were hungry and if you weren’t hungry, or you couldn’t afford it, you wouldn’t have gone to that restaurant.
There is a paradox of free will and determinism. Everything in the world is determined – the seasons, the sun rising and setting, the sky becoming grey and the rain falling – and so deciding on your free will is determined because everything is caused or affected by another thing, even your act of freedom will have an affect on something else and will be caused by something else or determined by something else. Something as simple as the weather will determine your actions. Also is the physical limitations on our bodies. We are controlled by our stomachs and our mental health and our physical abilities, which will all constrict our freedom in some way, even down to the fantasy of living in the wild picking berries. Your body needs more than vegatation to live, it needs to be kept clean, your digestion needs fibre and your muscles need protein, and you will need dry shelter and sleep.
A Controlling Society
Does free will come down to money? Often you have asked yourself, “what would I do if I didn’t need to work?” Or “what would I do if I won the lottery?” Many rich people have said that they wished they had never be rich, that they were happier when they had no money before. Yes, money makes life more accessible and easier, but does it make you free? Because isn’t freedom more to do with your inner self? Your spirit? Is freedom really about how you feel about your life and yourself? People have described themselves as rich when they are happy, when they have good friends around them and they feel positive in themselves, regardless of their bank account. The philosophy of Hedonism is living the ‘good’ life through pleasure. By doing what you love, what you enjoy, you will have a good life. This seems a simplistic way at looking at life, but it rings true in the age-old mantra “do what you love and you will never work a day in your life”.
Our actions are very much limited when it comes to money. In our society, we have a government which rules over us and control us with the laws they place, and they use money to keep society working towards production and consumption. In the UK, internet scams and fraud are the most common crimes committed. There is no way that the world will give up money, even for the sake of human freedom or harmony. Bitcoin is an online monetary value which can be used to pay for goods on the dark net, leaving no paper trail to the user and not needing to be regulated by banks. Does the government approve of this invention? Of course not, because without the need for banks, people would have freedom over their own money and, in part, their lives. The argument they have is that Bitcoin can be used to buy illegal drugs and weapons online which is fair, but the thought of losing so much control over society must have the big wigs trembling. Society has always had the illusion of freedom, the foundations of the American Dream, but there are people who believe that disappearing off the grid allows them to be free.
Those that have ditched their material life and gone to live a simpler one of foraging in the forest and living without the constraints of money, claim that free will is obtainable by following your heart. If you do as your heart desires then you will be free. Living the simple life is a fantasy many people have, but in reality how easy would it be? If you live off-grid in the wilderness, how would you keep warm? How would you get food? Could you really live alone without the help from other people? How would you know about the world with no internet and no TV? I am not saying it is impossible or hopeless, people have done it, but it is not as simple as ‘following your heart’ as you need money to do it in the first place.
How Your Life is Determined When You’re Born
It is very hard to discuss free will without society. From the start of your life, you were determined. You were determined by your parents, or your guardian, or perhaps being independent in a dysfunctional household, but that started giving you your personality and beliefs from an early age. You go to school and learn what the government thinks you should learn, from science and maths to religion and english, or you don’t go to school and maybe work at a young age or maybe you are homeschooled. You go through school, conditioned by the other children around you and learning only what you have been taught in your classrooms. If you don’t go to school, you learn from who taught you or from what you learnt, perhaps you worked on a farm instead of going to school because that life was determined for you. So you learned about animals and business but didn’t learn the world outside of your farm. You are taught how to conform with uniform codes and how you should think, and then you are taught to get good grades because that will determine you to higher education or a good job. You are taught this because you are taught that you have to have money to live, and you have to have a successful career to get a nice house and then get married and have children and retire with a nice pension. These are the rules of society that have been passed on since the origins of man, to stay in groups and procreate, and later that material objects and monetary value matters above all. You look down at homeless people and those who don’t follow these rules, drifters and ‘bums’ and ‘hippies’ because that is what you were taught.
At what point so far did you have free will? At what point were you not told what was expected of your life, determined by people who don’t know you all the way through? Those who don’t conform are a ‘bad influence’ and living a simple life in the woods marks you as a ‘weirdo’ and worse. Marketing has told you that you need to look good and where the same clothes as other people in your age group, and the sitcoms you grew up watching featured families and nice houses, and adverts push products in your face that you must have, you cannot live without, because having those boots would be life-affirming and that skin cream positively absolutely will defy the laws of nature and erase your age.
In conclusion, free will isn’t possible in its purest form because science and society and even your physical body has a say on what choices you make. If money didn’t exist, if laws didn’t exist, you would still choose what you do based on what you need or want, and those things are affected by external influences. It seems like a depressing thought, but just because you are limited by your external environment doesn’t mean that your future is in the hands of your external environment. You only have one life and you should do what you want to do with it, and there will be a way you can achieve it. But you may have to still do things you don’t want to do before you reach your goal, and that’s alright. Where you are in fifty years is not written on stone, it’s not determined by the world, you can choose who you want to be and where, but there are limitations to reaching it. This is not a staggering new truth, this is something we all understand. There are people who have done the impossible, who have achieved their dreams, but they were constrained in how they got there. Don’t be disillusioned, anything is possible!