What Free Will?
The following could be called my personal/political doctrine in infant form. Any who know me are well aware of my beliefs in the effects of institutions upon consciousness. It’s a very materialistic (re: Marxist) idea. I believe in free will to the extent that an individual’s personal decision bears a direct effect on their future, and that there is no unavoidable, predetermined fate. However, the way a person perceives, thinks, and acts is determined by environmental factors: family, religion, government, culture, etc. In short, individual ideology is a product of environment. As for labels go, this philosophy could be dubbed institutional determinism; but don’t get too caught up on labels. The following is my thoughts on this matter. It begins with a short poem I wrote.
We’re all products of our environments.
Slaves to the systems we inhabit.
Owned by our good and bad habits,
what we have to have and what we can’t stand having.
Burdened by the Bible and inspired by a song,
longing for the promise land and being scared by hell.
Made suitable for society, we’re mere civilized savages.
We’re never truly free. All sentient beings are conditioned by their environments. The ideas and modes of thinking that define our ideologies are ineluctably beat, battered, and cooked by the institutional structures that surround us. By institutions I mean a whole host of actors, namely schools, governments, and families; however, the list is by no means restricted to these three. These institutions are responsible for what we think, how we think it, and what we do about it. The way we act at home, in public, and in private are resultant actions of our ideologies. Nothing we think is ever entirely unique. We may add to or take from, but we never really come up with anything essentially our own. Sounds scary, doesn’t it?
Well, it isn’t all bad. Without well structured institutions to mold a person’s mind we would be left with something probably closer to the state of nature – not a desirable condition. Ideas about civil rights and liberties, social propriety, the rule of law, and all sorts of positive ideas would be eclipsed by basic human needs and wanton desires. We’re taught good habits, like buckling our seat-belt, looking both ways before crossing the street, and not spitting in public. Our ideas about the “good” and “bad” and the acceptable and unforgivable are handed down in the form of parental discipline and lecture hand-outs. We’re told that sharing is good and casual fornication is bad; we’re conditioned to think that opening the door for a woman is chivalrous and cutting someone off is rude. In short, we’re made into civilized savages beings.
On the adverse contrary, there are myriad of odious components to the way institutions affect our ideology. In short, it seems that societies with bad institutional structure breed poor human beings. Take for example pre-abolition America. The idea that slavery is an acceptable treatment of property a human being is a glaring example of how institutions can propagate and inculcate perverse ideas. There are also more insidious ways that ideologies can be affected. Take for instance Machismoism. The notion that men are not only physical superior (an indisputable, and non-sexist fact in my opinion) but also intellectually superior. Of course societies that teach male superiority can still function effectively and look, on the surface, as a highly developed, modernized system. But what are the ramifications of such ideas? How is the female ideology affected? I can’t imagine that a female living amongst male chauvinists will be very assertive or confident, especially around her male compatriots. As for males, an idea that they’re “always right” certainly impairs rational thinking and leads, I would think inevitably, to sexists attitudes and behaviors. So, we can also be made into poorly behaved animals.
What about changes in ideology? Who pioneers the movement towards ideological shifts in thought? Is it accomplished by “great people” of history, or is it simply the accumulation of larger social movements? To this, I can’t say nor do I really want to dwell on it – not now anyway. Suffice it to say that our ideas about equality and the way we treat women (and the way women treat men) are resultant ideas given to us by the systems we inhabit.
With writing this I acknowledge that my ideas are not wholly unique (maybe not unique whatsoever) and are mere reflections of what has been taught to me, primarily through my upbringing, university education, and reading – how materialistic, right? Furthermore, I seem to be alluding to some impersonal standard of desirability or “goodness” in my critique of what is favorable and deplorable of one’s ideology. Where does this standard come from? Is it from some idea of natural, inalienable rights? Or is that just an idea given to me by the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights? At this point, I have no definitive answer. I will, however, leave you with this interesting quote by Pascal used by Marxist philosopher Louis Althusser.
“Act as if you believe, pray, kneel
down, and you shall believe”