I pretty much grew up in the streets of a poor neighborhood on the north-west side of Chicago. I did a lot of head banging as a young man, that is when my head wasn’t the one being banged. I eventually got into theater and quickly fell madly in love with Shakespeare. This interest motivated me to put myself through University, where I excelled at all things academic. I did, however, find the sterile safety of the academic environment to be lacking the tactile touch of the streets on many occasions. The masturbatory, rhetorical chest thumping exhibited by academics arguing with each other over esoteric concepts of mind-numbing banality was and still is my greatest complaint about academia. At some point, it is time to hit someone in the mouth and fight, or simply shut the fuck up about an issue. Discussions on freewill almost always illicit this response from me, so I’ll try to stop blabbing before that happens with this post.
I was just skimming over Sam Harris’ short book ,”Freewill”, which I actually understand, or think I do at least. I agree with Sam Harris in that I, too, feel there really is no such thing as “freewill.” When I think about “me” as an entity, I wonder about how much of “me” was freely chosen by me to be me, if anything at all. I was born in the sixties in Chicago to poor white parents who sent me to Catholic schools. They provided food, clothing, and a Catholic education, but beside those things, they were true sociopaths who’s hatred for my very existence never ceases to astound me. I most certainly had nothing to do with any of these factors and had absolutely no control over them. However, I sure as hell can tell you, they DEFINE the major portion of who I am and how I see the world and my place in it. There are choices I make in how to live with who I am and better myself, but the choice of choices I have in this matter were never mine to choose.
I speak English. Not because I chose to at any point ever in my existence, but because that’s the language people around me speak and that’s the language I learned. Sure, I could learn another and stubbornly will myself to speak nothing but it, but what the fuck for? As well, I was born with all of my limbs and all of my chromosomes intact. These are facts that STRONGLY affect my sense of self, the choices I can or can not make freely about certain things, and they have NOTHING what-so-ever to do with anything I freely chose for myself, ever. I’m a white male. Not by choice but by chance. If anyone tells you being a white male in America, even a very poor one, doesn’t have built-in perks, they need to fuck themselves hard with a metal object. It matters. It effects my freewill and my choice of choices. I was raised Catholic. And while I’ve come to not believe in the Catholic dogma, I’m still Catholic the way I’m still Irish and Bohemian. It doesn’t wash off, and it can’t be willed away. Most importantly, it has nothing to do with anything I did or decide to do at all. Nothing. And yet, it’s me. Like all the other shit that’s me that I had NOTHING to do with. There is NO freedom in that at all. If I’ve a brain tumor which affects my behavior, I’ve no freewill in it. If I’ve a traumatized neurotransmitter system in my brain due to repeated tosses down stair-wells while growing up, I’ve no freewill in it. If my brain is wired to think my shit doesn’t stink and I’ve tons of power and freewill and that’s why I’m great, I also have no freewill in that. It doesn’t exist.
A white, male baby who is born with all of his limbs and chromosomes intact into a conservative Christian, wealthy upper middle class family, who grows up to be a wealthy white, male Christian conservative and all round good chap, did not choose to be white, male, wealthy, Christian conservative, or to have all of his limbs and chromosomes at birth. He had a choice of choices laid out for him far different from mine, and further even yet than had he been born in Pakistan to a deeply religious Muslim family. By far, and I mean VERY far, Christians are Christians because they were born to Christian parents and raised that way. Muslims born to Muslim parents in Pakistan are Muslim because they were raised to be and they live in a Muslim society. People convert, but I assure you, the majority of conservative Christians in America are not former Muslims once living in Pakistan, as the majority of Muslims living in Pakistan were not once Christians living in America. I’ve never read anything written by a Muslim claiming to be the perfect rhetorical argument proving that God exists and he is, indeed, the Christian god. Only Christians write such things. It’s because of where they were raised and by whom that they hold such beliefs. Muslims hold their specific beliefs for these very same reasons.
When such defining core elements of ourselves as those I mentioned above are in no way decided by or chosen by us in any way at all, how much freedom of will do we truly have? We want freewill. We want control. We want to feel WE have control of the ride we’re on. In some things we may have limited control, but what those things are, are limited greatly by the things we have no control over at all. And it is here that I stop. The academics wouldn’t. But that, I feel, is because they lack the tactile sense of how easy it is to prove just how powerless they are over their environment. They can control the written word, but not a fist in the mouth that jars out 6 teeth and dislocates the jaw so badly talking with a lisp becomes the new norm. All it would take is for the right nut-case to get pissed off enough one day to do it. Won’t be me though. I haven’t enough freewill left to do it.