Friday, October 26, 2007


So, earlier this summer, I'd been having these gentle exchanges -- more like the gentle butting together of skulls -- with my mother concerning free will vs. predestination. We seemed to be at either extreme. Her take on it is that your entire life is mapped out for you before you're even born. We're just riding a strong current, where the best we can do is try to dog paddle our rafts along to try to minimize harm to ourselves and to others. Ultimately, however, any sort of control that isn't completely laughable is out of our hands. I told her this seemed to be a convenient way to absolve oneself of regret or accountability over having made bad decisions, and of the responsibility of making thoughtful choices.

My take on it: The things that happen to people don't ultimately define the course of their lives. Things can be triggers -- enormous triggers, sometimes -- but we can respond to them in any number of ways, even if some ways seem slight or more obvious than others. It's what you choose to do with things that fall in your path that has the greatest effect on your outcome. Sartre wrote that we're cursed with freedom. When you face it head-on, it can leave you with anything from butterflies in the pit of your belly to the sort of dread that makes you wish you hadn't gotten out from beneath the covers that morning. However, without freedom we'd be no better than things. We'd be the car waiting for the splat from the pigeon overhead.

I stumbled upon something today -- some author trying to sound profound. He put a bit of a spin on the whole Schoolhouse Rocks quip that ''knowledge is power'' by saying that knowledge isn't power -- it's freedom. Miles Davis, in fact, beat him to that particular punch a long time ago by saying that ''Knowledge is freedom; ignorance is slavery''. The thing is that although I really get what they're getting at, it seems that they're both missing the really important step in all of this. I mean, you can fill your head with anything, knowing information that only a handful of others know -- but it's all ultimately just so much useless junk unless you turn it into a tool. Mere knowledge feeds freedom, sure, but unless you use it to take action, it's just an accumulation of words and images sitting in your head. If you don't know what to do with it, you might as well not have it.

This afternoon's rambling session of Free Will 101 brought to you by the letter ''M''.

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