Do you have the means to choose freely?

Do you have the means to choose freely?

Freedom should be considered not as an abstract concept on the general level but as an empirical choice of the individual at each moment of decision making. Freedom is a matter of means and end. We always seek freedom as an end but we make decisions in life that can constantly erode our freedom because we constantly diminish our means needed to remain free.

Essentially sapiens are neither good nor evil, neither greedy nor altruistic, but a contradiction. This constant contradiction forces a constant search for new solutions, which in turn create new contradictions. We can answer these contradictions in a regressive manner or in a progressive manner. Humans are like the dog chasing its tail. It cannot capture its tail but it can occasionally catch it but immediately loses it and must take up the chase once again. This is what Fromm means when he says we are a contradiction.

Regression to animal existence is one answer to the quest to transcend separateness. Wo/man can try to eliminate that which makes her human but also tortures her; s/he can discard reason and self-consciousness. [b]What is noteworthy here is that if everybody does it, it ain’t fiction; anything everyone does is reality, even if it is a virtual reality. For most people, reason and reality is nothing more than public consensus. “One never ‘loses one’s mind’ when nobody else’s mind differs from one’s own.”

Regression to our animal form of instinctual behavior happens when we replace our lost animal instincts with our own fully developed symbolic instincts; we can then program our self to uncritically follow these culturally formed instincts without further consideration.[/b]

“It is important for our problem to recognize that, aside from the extreme cases, each individual and each group of individuals can at a given time regress to the most irrational and destructive orientations and also progress toward the enlightened and progressive orientation.” Hitler’s Germany is an example of regression to the most irrational and destructive orientations.

This leads us to the nature of freedom in human possibilities. Fromm considers that the comprehension of freedom is impossible when we think of it as a group experience. To speak of freedom of man in general, rather than of the individual, we are lead into abstractions that make the problem insoluble.

What are the mechanics of freedom for the individual? I am a retired engineer and it is easier for me to think in such terms as mechanics, energy, momentum, force, and objects; I also think that we all have an ‘intuitive feel’ for the meaning of such parameters.

Mechanics is the science of force acting upon bodies. Newton furnished us with a means for comprehending the force of gravity and how that force of gravity controlled the motion of the planets and of the all bodies in the universe. QM (Quantum Mechanics) furnishes us with the means for comprehending the forces acting upon the objects within the world of the atom. It might be useful to apply some of this same knowledge when we examine the nature of freedom.

We have an intuitive ‘feel’ for the things that make up the science of mechanics. Such things as mass (weight), velocity, momentum, energy, and force are day-to-day stuff for us; these parameters make up our intuition of our world. For example, we like to drive SUVs because they have great mass and thus great momentum and thus when we hit a little car we, with our great momentum, will go unhurt while we barrel over the little guy.

Freedom is about human choice. The forces influencing choice are both conscious and unconscious. Our conscious forces include character and reason. Our unconscious forces include emotion and the feelings engendered by emotion.

But, whether the choice and subsequent action is controlled by conscious or unconscious forces, the fact remains: the choice results in action, which is dictated by reason or by irrational passions.

Spinoza, the founder of modern psychology, considers that the individual’s freedom is a matter of ‘adequate ideas’, which are based on the comprehension “and acceptance of reality and which determine actions securing the fullest development of the individual’s psychic and mental unfolding…When ruled by passions, man is in bondage; when by reason, he is free.”

Wo/man is constantly bombarded by egocentric and sociocentric forces that drive us to commit acts that are not in our self-interest. “The freedom of choice where determinism or indeterminism is involved is always the freedom to choose the better as against the worse—and better or worse always is understood in reference to the basic moral question of life—that between progressing or regressing, between love and hate, between independence and dependence. Freedom is nothing other than the capacity to follow the voice of reason, of health, of well-being, of conscience, against the voices of irrational passions.”

Me and Fromm think that “most people fail in the art of living not because they are inherently bad or so without will that they cannot live a better life; they fail because they do not wake up and see where they stand at the fork in the road and have to decide.”

Most people fail because they do not recognize the nature of momentum that accumulates with each decision we make in life. We constantly face the fork in the road to decision making and each decision builds a momentum toward bad momentum, good momentum, or better momentum. The character we build step by step through out our life creates the momentum favoring decisions that are bad or good.

Life is a chain of causality wherein we take the baby-steps that finally lead us to the point that we haven’t the momentum and force necessary to be free men and woman but have become robot-like when facing the decisions we must make.

Parents and teachers recognize that character is destiny. Each baby-step taken throughout our life places another bit of momentum toward a matrix of character traits that will make it possible for us to make free choices later in life or places us in circumstances whereby we haven’t the strength of momentum to be free from the determination into which our character traits have lead us.

What is character? Character is the network of habits that permeate all the intentional acts of an individual.

I am not using the word habit in the way we often do, as a technical ability existing apart from our wishes. These habits are an intimate and fundamental part of our selves. They are representations of our will. They rule our will, working in a coordinated way they dominate our way of acting. These habits are the results of repeated, intelligently controlled, actions.

Quotes from “The Heart of Man” by Erich Fromm

Questions for discussion

Freedom should be considered not as an abstract concept on the general level but as an empirical choice of the individual at each moment of decision making. Do you agree?

Freedom is a matter of means and end. Does this make sense to you?

Can you be free today to choose but not free to choose tomorrow?