How free are we? In many ways, we’re dependent on systems and relationships – commitments and necessities that might effectively curtail our ability to choose as freely as we’d like. But, in the West, we also have a great deal of freedom to make choices that dramatically shape the world around us. It’s perhaps the essence of democracy, and of market economies.
We might reason that, as beings so conditioned by environment, we’re not as free as we’d think: that, methods of thinking passed down by others and choices determined by systems beyond our control, freedom’s an illusion. That there’s maybe only one logical “choice” based on our situation and the paths offered. As if we’re just going through the motions of freedom.
Maybe it’s true to some extent? Our lives being dependent on collective infrastructures, we perhaps can’t or shouldn’t act in ways that undermine them. And, our being and understanding having been so shaped by the ideas surrounding us, we’re perhaps not quite free to think in ways not already determined by such systems. We are, perhaps, products of our environments (Notes One).
Then there’s the uncertainty over whether our choices even matter. In a world of billions or country of millions, do we make any kind of difference? If this is “how things are”, do we have much choice but to go along with it? Faced with powerful social or commercial enterprises, can a person or group realistically hope to see their choices have discernible impacts?
And, if that’s the case – if established systems are woven tightly around us on such a scale as to make individual action look ineffective – is it more logical to go with the flow? To accept the notional choices we’re offered, predictably interact with systems as they’re presented to us, and make our decisions so we, personally, get ahead. It seems a limited conception of freedom.
What, then, do we bring to life? Do our hopes, intentions and feelings about all we engage in “matter” if such principles are being drowned out by modern practicalities? Are some things worth fighting for, even if it seems an uphill battle? (Notes Two)
These are all questions of personal agency and belief – our response to life being all that we’re putting out into the world. As actors within complex social realities, we’re surely influencing one another through the standards we accept and choices we’re engaging with? We’re perhaps these points of consciousness where corrections could be made (Notes Three).
Whether we recognise our power or trust its significance – that it matters, and we can and do make many differences – seems such an important thing to grapple with. In countless small ways, everything we do and say must add up and ripple into the world; so, whether we’re aware of it or not, we’re all constantly building up and maintaining shared realities.
We might approach the nature of our freedom and responsibility any number of ways, but it could well be one of life’s most essential questions.
Notes and References:
Note 1: What we know to pass on
Note 1: Working through mind & society
Note 1: Who should we trust?
Note 2: What we bring to life
Note 2: Can we reinvigorate how we’re living?
Note 2: Tuning out from environment
Note 2: Values on which we stand firm?
Note 2: How important is real life?
Note 3: Ideas that tie things together
Note 3: Points of sale as powerful moments
Note 3: Making adjustments
Note 3: And, how much can we care?