Do We Really Have Free Will?

Maybe we really have free will or maybe we like to pretend we do. Saying we have free will makes us feel better. On one hand we can believe we are responsible for our futures and that we can create the world we want to see. That idea in of itself is liberating and freeing. On another hand when someone does something horrific in our communities, such as driving under the influence and killing others in that act, we can blame them. They had the choice to drink or not and then they also chose of their own free will to get behind the wheel which resulted in the death/s of others. Free will lets us box the world up into perfectly packaged right and wrong. There is a beauty to the idea of free will for sure. However, the world rarely if ever is so clean cut on right and wrong.

Free will in turn is either non-existent or only a very minimal aspect to what is really going on, and for many people especially US citizens that grew up in a world over saturated with the notion of freedom and free will you don’t want to believe it’s made up. If it’s not true, then you have to question why the idea is perpetuated and then you have to face the idea that to govern large masses of people it’s easier when they believe they have a choice in their life than to rule them as a dictatorship which could lead to faster upheaval. But let’s step back for a minute to the idea that free will may not be the only thing going on.

Saying someone has 100% free will and choice in their life is neglecting to take into consideration the numerous environmental factors that play a role in all our lives. Let’s look at nature; when a flood happens or any type of natural disaster occurs that suppress your free will. You can suddenly be killed, you can come back to find that your home and all your possessions are gone, all due to no act of your own. You might say well you chose to live in an area where natural disasters are more likely to occur, that was where free will comes into play, but again other factors play a role. In reality you might live there because it is the only housing you can afford to live in; the perfect case study to this can be witnessed in the Hurricane Katrina aftermath when people began to realize the societal factors at play.

Societal factors play a much larger role in our lives than we realize. We know that men and women are equally able to go into math and science fields, it’s not a matter of intelligence or lack there of, but a matter of societal forces that from a young age have unconsciously pushed gendered roles onto us. And maybe free will is what allows us to break out of these stereotypes, but I’d argue that breaking away from societal norms and the status quo can be very challenging if not life threatening. This begins to bleed into the idea of coercion, and once coercion is inserted people aren’t given a real choice. Coercion is when you are forced to do something, “the action or practice of persuading someone to do something by using force or threats” (1). When you do something of your own free will it is “because you want to do something rather than because somebody has told or forced you to do it” (2).  When we think of force we tend to think in terms of violence of being forced to do something or else you will be beaten or killed, but force can also be seen in terms of a softer violence, of pressuring someone to do something or else they’ll be ostracized from society. If people really had the free will to live their lives the way they wanted to do we really believe that racism, sexism, and homophobia would exist? In many ways we are subtly coerced into living in the societal status quo, for good or bad. And maybe you’re just fine with the societal status quo, and that’s fine; just don’t pretend that you and everyone around you has free will. 

~M

  1. https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/coercion    
  2. https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/free-will