Wednesday, February 04, 2015

freer free will

Free will is one of the many concepts that I started seeing differently after dismissing my faith-beliefs. Before, I treasured it as a central support of my perspective. It was the seldom analyzed glue that uneasily joined self-determined choices and physical causation. It consisted of the intentionally nonspecific boundary between the chooser and, well, everything else: their past, their surroundings, their companions, their instincts, their ideas, and even their own body matter. Through that unknown mechanism of separation, it established their pure autonomy over their final choices...

...and rationalized assigning them irresistible blame if those choices were in error. That wasn't a side-effect. It was essential for making an obsession with punishment seem more sensible. Without free will, choices could be traced to particular involuntary factors that affected the chooser; the quality of their choices could stem from how fortunate they were to experience a sufficiently good set of factors, such as a worthy, caring mentor. But with free will, each immoral choice was not an outcome needing correction but an independent evil deserving harsh punishment. It wasn't a sign of curable problems in the chooser's ethical judgment. It was a sign that evil itself had "infected" them. Their moral "purity" was suspect. They were willingly evil. And the range of acceptably aggressive responses to evil were well-known: attack, expulsion, avoidance—achieved by any means.

Moreover, this thorough obsession with individual punishment, enabled by individual free will, wasn't considered a contradiction to the concepts of mercy and grace. It was a teammate. Mercy and grace were so spectacular and imperative because the punishment of evil was so drastic. Obviously, a generous offer to substitute sincere faith in place of earned punishment isn't enticing without first conceding the existence and applicability of earned punishment! Systems of faith-beliefs can exploit this strategy to often appear positive regardless of the horrifying subtext. "Rejoice. Just by following these faith-beliefs, you too can obtain the favor of immensely powerful supernatural beings. (You didn't know that you needed to? Otherwise, by default you'd have faced their entirely appropriate fury about your disgusting, completely voluntary evilness.)"

I didn't fully appreciate the delicate conceptual relationships until I quit my faith-beliefs. From the other side, with my former assumptions dropped, I can see the shakiness of the whole. As previously mentioned, with more candor I realize that my ideas of free will were kept purposely vague and self-flattering. I thought that my status as a follower was primarily due to my deliberate choice of it in childhood. Yet that choice had been informed and encouraged for years beforehand. During that time I hadn't carefully pondered whether my parents' god was evidently good and worthy of sacrificial commitment. I had passively absorbed the ambient message that it certainly was. Then, I carried out the corresponding choice that had been laid out starkly in front of me.

To varying degrees, I repeated that strategy constantly while I was a follower. My ideas of good choices had already been fused to my ideas of supernatural, transcendent, generalized morality. In practice the exercise of my beloved free will had the characteristic tendency of relinquishing thorny choices. According to that measure, my choices were less free at exactly the same time that I had more faith in the accuracy of the notion of free will. I "freely" oversimplified actual ethical dilemmas by deferring to prefabricated rules, attitudes, and principles (i.e. preparing and consuming ethics pretzels). I was outsourcing.

I wasn't like an existentialist who attempts to embrace as many contextual details and consequences as they can prior to arriving at an "authentic" choice. I did almost the opposite: I hastily reapplied unquestioned precepts that came from someone else. In effect I copied someone else's choices as if I were cheating on a school quiz. My free will was tame. I was hampered from choosing for myself based on my own best efforts to understand and empathize. The goal of my analysis was focused on determining which option seemed more aligned with orthodox faith-beliefs, not which option seemed more ethical to me. I'd internalized the opinion that excessive unbounded choosing would've been a grievous, arrogant, rebellious misuse of free will.

On the other hand, I acknowledge that followers of faith-beliefs don't necessarily have a similar level of subservience. They may view their faith-beliefs as one source out of many. They may be relatively nonconformist and fussy about the morals they pluck out of their faith-beliefs. They may largely ignore or heavily adapt their faith-beliefs' morality altogether—especially if they mostly don't have faith in their faith-beliefs' accuracy anyway...in which case their faith-beliefs implicitly are inspirational cultural myths, not active faith-beliefs. Of course, their earnest disagreements on morality could eventually contribute to reconsidering whether to follow or to study their faith-beliefs at all.

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