The Ultimate Illusion

By | October 1, 2011

We were born with free will, and we make choices in our lives to direct our destinies. These are the premises upon which the Western way of life is based. We thrive on options, whether they be political, religious, or culinary. When we don’t have them, “Give me the freedom to choose,” becomes our battle cry.

Imagine that what you just read is an illusion—that we are not born with free will, and that our choices amount to no more than changing costumes. By most people’s definition of what makes us human, we have just stepped down the evolutionary ladder and become animals.

But what evidence do we have that we are any different than a Wolf, who is born to run and hunt with the pack, and nothing more. After all, every human once lived that way—hunting and gathering and running with the clan. It is only very recently in our species’ history that we did anything otherwise.

When Wolves live in packs, they dwell in balance with all life. There are not too many or too few of them, and they change only what fits with the rest of life. When some of them abandoned the pack and became Dogs, they lost much of their sleekness and cunning. Tugging at chains and leashes, they cried “Give me the freedom to choose,” and they were given sticks to chase instead of Deer.

Was it much different for us when we abandoned our clan ways? The pack was the life of a Wolf, the clan was the life of a human. There lay comfort, caring, and sense of purpose. The clan and the pack came first, for without them there was barely the chance of survival, much less any use of life or sense of belonging.

With the breakdown of the clan, the individual became predominant. Preferences and prejudices turned into life pursuits. Peace with each other in balance with nature—or some semblance thereof—needed to be legislated and moralized. Even though we became as deformed and dysfunctional as are many breeds of Dogs—and as fat and lazy—we kept insisting on our right to choose such a destiny.

I submit that free will is suicide. The freedom of choice we are designed for is not whether we have ice cream or cheesecake for desert, but rather how we can serve our people, our clan. Yes, the option to indulge in one of 29 flavors of ice cream gives comfort of a sort, but is it the deep, soul-satisfying satisfaction that comes from using our skills and talents to provide for our people? And where do our self-absorbed choices get us but sick and alone?

To the clan, you and I are vitally important. We are each uniquely contributing organs within a living organism. At the same time, we are expendable—organs sacrificed for the wellbeing of the organism. A hand will survive quite well without a finger, but not the other way around. Perhaps our ultimate challenge is to find a way to incorporate clan consciousness into our lives before our species’ suicidal trudge takes this planet with it.


4 Comments

Rose on October 13, 2011 at 5:55 pm.

Is it “free will is suicide,” or that exercising free will only for the benefit of the individual is suicide?

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Tamarack on November 19, 2011 at 10:18 am.

Hey Rose,

Think of free will as a gun, which does not kill until it is shot. Any exercise of free will is a suicidal act because the natural self, as an organ functioning synchronously with other organs, transforms into an independently functioning organ. No longer supported by the renegade organ, the other organs, falter and bring about the demise of the organism.

Tamarack

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Nan on October 11, 2011 at 9:42 am.

Reminds me of an article I read recently on consumerism. It said I have the choice of buying any of a large number of vehicles with a variety of features, colors, shapes and sizes, which makes me feel empowered. What I don’t have, however, is the choice of affordable, efficient public transit.

My mentor used to say perception is everything. She said sometimes we cannot change the situation, but free will gives us the ability to choose how we think about it, feel about it, respond to it. Free will is what allows us to play the hand we’re dealt. The problem, she said, is how we use free will. Do we use it for our needs, or for our wants?

While I agree with you that the way we use our freedom of choice can be suicidal, I disagree that free will in and of itself is either suicide or an illusion. I think free will is a gift we misuse. It is a powerful tool, like Fire, which must be used respectfully, with beneficial intent and mindful awareness. The Dog may not have choices now, but his Wolf ancestors exercised free will when they chose domestication. They may have forgotten that “every form of refuge has its price” (line from an old Eagles song), but they did choose. Humans exercised free will when we abandoned clan ways, and we exercise it now when we return to the circle.

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Tamarack on November 5, 2011 at 5:02 pm.

Hi Nan,

Free will is a hard concept to let go of–people tell me they feel so little when they try to envision is as just another belief–one more opiate for the masses. I’ll use your examples to illustrate free will’s illusory nature.

–You state that we can use free will for our needs or our wants. I would consider choosing wants to be suicidal rather than an exercise in free will. Satisfying our wants is resulting in disease, famine, war, and ultimately an uninhabitable planet.

–Fire must be used respectfully, you say. Is there a choice here? To do otherwise would again seem to be a move toward extermination.

–Wolves exercised free will when they chose to domesticate themselves. Think of Wolves as protein vacuums who take the path of least resistance to fill their bellies. Filling them from a gut pile outside a camp is merely responding to their genetic programming–there is no choice involved. Neither is there when they lay around with full bellies, which is something all predators do. With a ready food supply, there is no more reason to get up and hunt, and you’re on your way to becoming a Dog.

–We Humans exercised free will when we abandoned clan ways, and we are doing so now in returning. I see the abandonment of our original instructions as self annihilation rather than freedom of choice, and all indicators appear to support that. We likely took up farming for the same reason Wolves took to our hunt leavings: it was the easiest way to fill our bellies at the time. Again, no choice, just genetic programming. Our seeming choice to return to clan ways is no more than going on automatic pilot. Private vehicle versus public transit; am I exerising free will when I have the choice? If the second option were anything more than a modified form of the first, perhaps I would be.

My theory is that we created the concept of free will to help us feel empowered once we realized that in modern-era societies we are little more than sheep. Advertising, religious dogma, and political doublespeak keep the illusion alive. Additionally, the concept of free will is used as a control mechanism. I am more likely to obey a superior if I see it as a choice between good and bad or heaven and hell. I am more likely to be content with my lot as a wage slave if I have the option of cappuccino or latte. Democracy may be the ultimate “free will ” sleight-of-hand: it gives us the right to choose our master.

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