Becoming Fully and Wholly a Self
A Philosophy of Free will
By: J. Marlando
There are two schools of thought when it comes to human free will—one tells us we absolutely have it and the other tells us we absolutely do not have it. A simple explanation of “free will” is that we choose and since we choose we are free.
I believe absolutely that each human being is gifted with free will…however there is a very long stretch of road between having it and actually using it. And this is where the confusions begin. Most certainly the suicide bomber believes that he and he alone is making the decision to strap explosives to his body and walk into a restaurant or some other busy place and blow himself and others to smithereens.
His decision to kill self and others is not using his free will whatsoever. First of all the basic common sense and decency factors are missing. Beyond this, however, the suicide bomber is making his Mad-Hatter-choice out of indoctrinations that he has been given since childhood. The truth for him has long been corrupted by doctrines, dogmas, ideologies and other concepts.
A problem is that every one of us has formed our worldview mostly out of our indoctrinations. Religions, for example, generally baptize their member’s children at very young ages. The church knows that indoctrinated children will probably fall in line and not only become a lifetime member but a devoted lifetime member. In effect, he or she has been “brainwashed” no less than the suicide bomber has only with more of the common sense and decency factors applied. The Ten Commandments, for example, are first and foremost common sense dictates. If you follow them you are not very apt to get yourself into trouble or into twisted circumstances.
We are also indoctrinated by our parents who probably have the greatest influence in our decision making. After all, when we are very young we are convinced that our parents’ world is the world. Thus, our truth evolves out of our experiences. For example, if we have been treated with love and affection we will see our world much differently than the child who has been neglected and treated unkindly. Ultimately, our basic values will form from our childhoods as will certain personality traits. What we choose—even as adults—can typically be traced back to our childhood pasts or, in other words, our earliest indoctrinations.
Our indoctrinations are augmented by our teachers in school and soon enough by the society and culture that we live in. And, every culture has its social engineering that “feeds” the human brain with its own ideologies. Hitler, for example, began indoctrinating children at age ten to be dedicated Nazis. Upon growing up they each thought that they were freely deciding to fight, kill, and/or die for their “beloved” Fuehrer. Here is the pledge that Hitler had every ten year old schoolboy take:
In the presence of the blood banner which represents our Fuehrer, I swear all my energies and my strength to the Savior of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life for him so help me God. One People, one Reich, one Fuehrer.
After repeating this many times in school nearly every one of the boys grew up to blindly do what they were told not excluding the gruesome torture and murders of Jews and all others that were not devoted to the same oath of allegiance that they were. Yet, each of them believed that they were making their own choices.
In regard to the above, the question arises were those indoctrinated Nazis at all responsible for their own atrocious acts? While the final decision to act is always left to the individual when indoctrinations are strong enough they can overcome the individual’s conscience and even intellectual moralities. Indeed, how many times in your own life have you felt you were making a mistake but went ahead and did the thing anyway making the error of convincing yourself that you were doing the wrong thing for the right reason?
This was no doubt the “justification” many Nazis gave themselves as they tortured and murdered their captives. Only the clinical psychopath, however, can torture and murder without normal feelings of empathy and remorse…certainly not every Nazi was a clinical psychopath and so their “will,” so to speak, was surrendered to the will of the Fuehrer and the nationalism they had been indoctrinated with. This, in their own minds, gave them permission to do the wrong thing(s) for what they believed to be the right reason. We will not take time to explore the egocentricity involved in the justification of doing the wrong thing for any reason but we will say that our indoctrinations can enslave us to any amount of misinformation.
In this regard and as a quick aside, it is well known that both Russia and the United State have done extensive research in individual and collective mind controlling experiments. Frightening but true!
The question is, how much of our lives do we spend being obedient to our indoctrinations as opposed to making “freely willed” choices that are unencumbered by preconceived notions, ideas and beliefs but based on our own conscientious decision making?
The Stuff That Enslaves Us
So complex is the subject we’re addressing we can only cover a few of the more common symptoms that result from our earliest socialization. There are those, for example, who go through life feeling inadequate because, growing up, their parents were constantly saying how they never do anything right or simply neglected to applaud and encourage them for their small accomplishments.
We might believe that the dishes must be washed, dried and put away immediately after the dinner meal because our mothers said that is how it should and must be done. As a result we “enslave” ourselves to the ritual of doing nightly dishes.
We might be exceedingly neat or exceedingly sloppy because our parents never stopped harping about putting things away and keeping things in their place. After all, going through life refusing to mind can be ever as compulsive as minding. Indeed, there are adults that go through their entire lives either minding their parents from an unconscious or even a conscious drive or rebelling against them from the same psyche-entrapment.
We might even marry the wrong person because they are right in the eyes of our parents or build careers that please our parents more than ourselves.
It is not only our parents, however, that so often brainwash us. Our teachers and preachers instill their realities in us too and we can be enslaved by those realities all during our lives. The concepts of sin, for example, are all but exclusively mere mores created as a tool of manipulation of public and private life but given us as “God’s rule.” Certainly the fear of a punishing god has created a lot of extremely neurotic behaviors. As silly as it may be, there are a great many adults that feel guilt and shame because they were indoctrinated to believe that “God” watches them at all times. While this might be an extremely good way of manipulating the child’s behavior it can become a neurosis for the sensitive adult.
Does the most devoted Christian actually believe that he or she would be a Christian if he or she had been born in Islamic Afghanistan? Does the most devoted Muslim actually believe that he or she would be Muslin if born into a Hindu family in India? Does the Hindu really think that he or she would be Hindu had he or she had been born in Jerusalem to a Jewish family?
This is an underlying reason why religions begin indoctrination early—I remember living in Salt Lake City, Utah for a few years and becoming friends with “members of the church” who had never even explored other religions or concepts of spirituality. And when mentioning that they should do some research, the answer was almost consistently the same—God gave Joseph Smith the true religion so read the book of Mormon and then ask God to reveal to you if it is true or not. You’ll see!
In thinking about all this, I remember interviewing the world renowned surgeon, Dr. Bernie Siegel, who said: it isn’t God who judges you—God loves you! It is your parents, your teachers, your preachers who make up the rules that judge you.
Give only a few moments to thinking about the wisdom in what Dr. Siegel was teaching and I would bet that you have an “ah-ha” moment. I certainly did!
I know a couple of PhDs who act as if they know it all, but when one gets into a dialectic with them, it soon enough becomes apparent they are merely parroting their past professors. In fact, I know university professors who most basically know only what their professors taught them. A lot of atheism and other existential worldviews have evolved from this very dilemma. And of course the professor passes down his beliefs; his concepts and limited information to the student and most students absorb the information and begin repeating it as if it were correct and absolute.
Remember the brain, our storehouse for learned knowledge has no idea what is true or untrue. It is receptive to lies, deceptions and misinformation of all kinds. Indeed, if you tell your brain enough times that you’re brilliant or stupid, happy or unhappy, sweet or sour it will soon enough believe you and substantiate the “truth” of it by releasing corresponding chemicals.
Okay, hopefully you have a grip on what I’ve been attempting to say. It is not only outside influences that enslave us it is also the self-created realities we create within. Repeat to yourself “I am unhappy today” or say to yourself, “I am happy today” and see what happens. We’ll talk about that next.
Doing Ourselves In
We cannot place all the blame for our mental enslavements on our parents, our religions or our cultures. We develop our own absurd beliefs along our way. Quite often those believes end up being (serious) obsessive-compulsive disorders.
I always thought that my mom was about the cleanest person on the planet—she’d wash her hands fifty times a day. Now cleans hands is surely a healthy practice but my mom was compulsive and she was, in effect, a victim of her own ritual of soap and water washing.
I’ve tried for years to analyze her compulsion. Indeed, over the years, I learned that she had had a very difficult childhood—a childhood of stark poverty and, in addition, she was raped and brutalized at age eleven. I am all but sure this had something to do with her compulsion. After all, what is the symbolism of baptism but “washing away” somebody’s “sins”?
We have all sorts of compulsive behaviors like, stair counting, like knocking on wood, like drinking booze but…also drinking too much water; drinking too much water is a fairly common dilemma for psychiatric patients who are known to drink so much per day that they end up with brain edema or, in other words, with a swelling of the brain.
There are those that exercise so much that it becomes detrimental to their health and those who can’t stop doodling or just continuously draws circles. Human rituals go marching on!
I am certainly guilty of ritualizing my life. I wake up in the morning, make coffee, go to my computer, check email and start writing. I get extremely cranky and upset if something interferes with that schedule. And so, yes, I am absolutely enslaved by my morning ritual…and I know it. I just feel I cannot be as productive or creative when anything alters my routine.
Everyone has these kinds of false beliefs in their lives. I know a lady who gets upset if anything…anything is moved in her house after she has placed it. She has a picture-perfect home but no one ever feels comfortable in it. There’s simply a feeling of constantly walking on eggs. Who knows where her compulsion arrives from but absolute neatness is, if you will, her obsessive-compulsive-disorder.
I remember when I was a kid that I got trapped in never stepping on a crack in the sidewalk—remember the old superstition—step on a crack break your mother’s back? This ritual of stepping over or going around cracks in the walkway only lasted for a few weeks or months (I don’t recall) but some habitual rituals last people for lifetimes becoming serious neurotic behaviors.
It is not only our own rituals we give reality to but ideologies and concepts. Racism and sexism are certainly two ignorance conceptual projections that countless people deem real and justifiably valid. However, both racism and sexism is a cultural indoctrination built upon by our own compounding but unfounded prejudices.
You will recall that we spoke of Hitler indoctrinating German children. Well, here in the United States, the Ku Klux Klan began indoctrinating their children with hate, biases and Klan concepts from the very start of their earliest socialization. The Klan was of course responsible for a great deal of destructive actions over more than a century not eluding most virtually countless beatings and lynchings. Those lynchings incidentally that often drew crowds of approving onlookers with most, no doubt, claiming to be “good Christians.”
The point is that we human beings are often sucked into a belief or a cause that is obviously against natural morality and ethics. That is, people get caught up in the group mentality to the point that one’s own values are lost to the crowd, club, political party, association or gang. In other words people tend to follow the leader which is the cornerstone for mobocracies of every kind and has been since the advent of so-called civilization.
This is proven time and time again in prisons where guards have total control over prisoners; a sadism evolves and if not a sadism, a misuse of power. (A great study of this is in a book by Philip Zimbardo with title, “The Lucifer Effect.” I highly suggest it as a must-read for anyone interested in these subjects).
The point for this writing, however, is simply how we get swallowed up in someone else’s game and become brain washed by the demagoguery of leadership.
We get “swallowed up” in our own games as well. For a common example, we may see the symptoms of some rare or life threatening illness on television or in the newspaper and so we dwell on the information until we begin “feeling” the symptoms and create a false reality for ourselves. And look how easy it is for most of people to become “nervous wrecks” when applying for a job and asking for a bank loan. What we do is trick ourselves in believing our life somehow depends on the decision of the stranger so by the time we are to meet the woman or man in power, we find all kinds of reasons not to show up…or we show up so humble and meek that we give an absolutely absurd presentation of ourselves. (I am not saying this is true of everyone but it is true of enough people to mention here).
All I am attempting to say is that we get brain washed by others and brain washed by ourselves and in the process we lose a sense of self. And this observation brings us to perhaps the biggest theft of selfness there is.
We are raised to hide ourselves behind our best personas. Parents are constantly telling their children how to “act” for teacher, for friends, for relatives and for all other significant others. And so we begin creating facades for ourselves most often doing our best to “act” as we think people see us and how we want to be seen by others. The topic of the next section!
Behind the Mask
While there are exceptions to everything of course but I believe that males who have strong personas are far more plentiful than females. In other words, women, in general, are far more honest in presentation than are men. Men, for example, may act brutish to hide their own inferiority or may hide behind intellectual pretenses for the same reason. A great many wife beaters, for example, are expressing anger (even hate) for their own femininity just as some of the most egotistical persons are actually only covering up their lack of confidence and sure footedness.
In regard to this, I had a friend who was the “poster boy” for unfounded ego and fulfilled Jung’s description of the Social Strong Man, as said, to a “T.”
Jung describes the social strong man for us: “The social ‘strong man’ is in his private life is often a mere child where his own states of feeling are concerned; his discipline in public (which he demands quite particularly of others) goes miserably to pieces in private. His ‘happiness in his work’ assumes a woeful countenance at home; his ‘spotless’ public morality looks strange indeed behind the mask—we will not mention deeds, but only fantasies and the wives of such men would have a pretty tale to tell. As to his selfless altruism, his children have decided views about that.
Most basically we are giving a prime example of the artificial personality with many people having specific but different personalities for friends, for business and for work. This is a major problem for countless married couples. Before marriage both were “presenting” themselves as being charming, receptive and giving but soon enough after the marriage the complexities of the real personality begin to be revealed and this is why we so often hear people say such things as, “I just feel like I’m married to a stranger” or ‘I just don’t know my Jane (or Jack) the way I thought I did.”
There are of course some folks who create for themselves such personas of, say, goodness, holiness, brilliance, humbleness, unbending masculinity, frilly femininity and so forth that they actual lose their real selves altogether. As Jung offers, they begin believing that they are the persona they have created for the world to see; they have become the mask they wear and in the process lost sight of their true self’s altogether.
This brings us to the end of our very long journey to discuss the aspect of free will and self-ness.
As long as any of us remain unaware of how the dictates of our indoctrination keep us from being wholly and fully ourselves, as long as we neglect to question the knowledge that has been given us or what might be mere responses to cultural or religious brain-washing, we can never exercise…free will. The reason is clear—there can be nothing free about an encumbered will.
The question, I suppose, comes down to this: How can we get rid of the baggage of our pasts and free ourselves from the encumbrances given us by others or constructed by ourselves?
Free Will and the Self
We can never be free as long as we live in concepts. The greatest examples of this—because they are such common maladies of our upbringing—are racism and sexism. At bottom line, we are indoctrinated not to trust and to fear all those who are different than we are, who is a “them” as opposed to being an “us.”
We are also “trained” to bow before the totems of our cultures as if they were the ideals of the universe; the truth and the way so to speak. Every religion presents itself as being the religion just as every mob claims righteousness. We tend to accept good and evil based upon the mores of our societies but human behaviors that were considered disgraceful and sinful only a few decades ago are now seen as normal and natural. Not too long ago homosexuality was condemned. For example in all industrial countries homosexuals were ostracized by their communities and even imprisoned for their sexuality. Today the homosexual is accepted as another norm. Both are mere concepts of course—homosexuality, after all, has not changed since prehistoric times but how we conceive the homosexual has. There is no way of getting around it: religious/socio conceptions have caused more pain and suffering than anything else. There was a time religious/socio concepts condemned the poor lady who became pregnant out of wedlock, she was made an outcast sometimes even by her own family and nearly always by her church and community. Today we think nothing about people cohabiting or a single female becoming pregnant out of so-called wed-lock. Again, the change is not anything historical. The change is how we conceive human action. The nonsense of hymen worship has all but disappeared in especially the Western world. However, even in our own times a young woman who cannot prove her virginity in a few backward places can still be stoned to death. How a thing is conceived is what it becomes.
And so to free ourselves we must acquire the desire and so the will to stand outside our beliefs and concepts and simply question them; to seek where they originated and why; to decide for ourselves what we accept as being true and morally and ethically right. We need to always look past the uniform and the label in the quest to discriminate the truth. After all, our own parents were no doubt indoctrinated, even deeply, themselves passing down the virus of their own concepts to ourselves. Nevertheless, there is typically a very long distance between how a thing is conceived to be true and the actual truth itself; the vital difference between reality and actuality.
In many ways all this is as simple of refusing to be initiated into the existing order. While there is nothing inherently wrong with following the yellow line, we need to be aware of the reasons why we are on that line in the first place.
When pre-conceptions rule our choice making we are being robotized by concepts, following blindly, so to speak, as opposed to acting on our own volition.
The truth is that our all cultures desire its citizens to follow as opposed to think. Since the first so-called civilized community began, the “good citizen” has been he and she who obeyed. There was a brief time when our American forefathers first created a people’s government that this rule didn’t apply. Nevertheless, in a very short time, “freedom of the individual” went by the wayside and the follower became the ideal citizen just as ideal citizens had been categorized throughout the centuries by the lords of authority of all lands.
Individual freedom begins with deconstructing one’s own concepts; those imposed by self and those imposed by others. This is a first step to becoming wholly and fully oneself. That same individual must decide to free him or herself from the opinions and concepts of others; to judge not or to respond to bein judged. Yet, to be vulnerably receptive to that which is!
In the far reaches of all that has been said here we are reminded of Plato’s slaves enchained in a cave.
Those chained in Plato’s cave can only see shadow of people and things passing by outside. Eventually the slaves begin to accept the shadows as reality itself while ignoring the source of the shadows. This is a most perfect metaphor for all those who remained “chained” to the doctrines, dogmas and concepts of his (or her) indoctrinations.
The doctrines, dogmas and concepts not only refer to what others have given us as truths but of those enslaving concepts we have conjured ourselves. This includes judging ourselves based on a world of others. This does not mean that conforming is enslavement in and of itself. Conforming can be a matter of free will if one conforms in the realization of relinquishing self to the purposes and motives of others. But to relinquish one’s own freedom to the group in a moment of irrational or mindless passion is to surrender one’s self as the sheep does to the shepherd.
Many people wear the mask of freedom of course—this is prevalent in the dress and attitudes of gang members and with those who defy common courtesies but the rebel is never truly free as he is forever enslaved by the rebellion itself. This is also true however for the professor who becomes the gowns he wears, the policemen who becomes his badge or the judge that becomes his label; the prison guard who becomes his authority, the rich man who becomes his wealth and the impoverished man who becomes his poverty. All are slave to concepts and, if you will, dwell in Plato’s cave.
The truly free human being is he who is open like the artist who performs or paints without restriction. Most (real) artists do this until self-consciousness creeps in. When self-consciousness enters, freedom of expression exits since the artist is suddenly attempting to live up to expectations and so forth. The free person necessarily lives outside of expectation and anticipation from self and/or others, however.
Free will can only be exercised outside of self-consciousness. And, indeed, being or becoming fully and wholly a self begins with living, thinking and being outside of self-consciousness since self-consciousness strives to be presentational; to please, to impress to gain accolades and applause.
Only when we live outside of concepts, freed from doctrines, dogmas and ideologies can we be truly free and therefore be wholly ourselves untethered and unencumbered. When we are untethered and unencumbered by concepts free will is made possible.
This has been an attempt to cover in a short space what no doubt could and should take a book or even a volume of books to cover in detail. I hope that I have at least made the point that we can never be fully ourselves as long as we live in concepts. There is a book which will help the reader understand more clearly what I have attempted to say in the article written by Eckhart Tolle, “The Power of Now.” It’s a beautifully and elegantly written book and will give you tremendous insight into…yourself and your world
In the meantime just remember the world is not personal but rather it is you that personalizes it.
The most difficult challenge of all is to actually deconstruct the concepts that have been given you and thus (truly) becoming...free to choose.