Anchor for this item posted by Bernard Tremblay at Friday, March 15, 2002; Friday, March 15, 2002

_A Sliver of Freedom_
It's hard to raise the question of determinism in a way that doesn't let it seem academic and abstract and apart from daily concerns. And yet it's actually the fabric of those very daily concerns that makes the matter not only relevant but pressing, as pressing as the concerns themselves. The too often dreadful and deadening humdrum that is life in modernity, a blizzard of decisions and distinctions and choices that reduces to a mechanically utilitarian servitude ... it seems entirely obvious that the person hasn't a moment for authentic self-expression, and so determinism suggests itself as a sufficient explanation. Perhaps well educated and developed rats we are, and running in wheels of elaborate sophistication, but at the end of the day the rat running a wheel is just that and nothing more.
There is a substantial basis for such a view, easily enough to confirm the pessimist and even enough to compell the optimist. The exit point, the crack in which there lies the potential sliver of freedom, lies not in the denial of those deterministic aspects and processes, but in the realization that they do not exhaust the actuality of our experience as conscious human beings. The signal moments of real option, the opportunities for true and authentic expression are just those moments within which we feel the lurch of dissonance, when the logic of the situation sputters for an instant and we are at sea, cast adrift if only for the fraction of time it takes for our habitual rhetoric to pop a slogan into the slot.
It is in the forlorn moment when we are thrown back onto whatever sustains us, and if only the most mercenary drives inform our beings, then the mercenary calling will be manifest in the following moment. The deterministic here plays out causally, but only mediated through our agency. The situation in which I find myself has come about through a history that is a perhaps endless and infinite regress, and the role I've played, like the degree to which I have contributed, may not be clear. But the richness of the moment is a vivid encapsulation of that past. If I revolve an ambiguity as though the matter were trivial, then that's the extent to which I will see my authentic self in the world I will be inhabiting. Or if I slyly rationalize some subterfuge, then in that tactics result I'll find the fruits of that inspiration. But if I find myself despairing at my unfreedom, it's likely the case that I'm in fact disputing the demands of nature itself ... as though proclaiming a primordial right to eat my cake and have it, as well. It is only too conceivable that protestations of unfreedom are little more than passive-agressive attempts to slip out of responsibilities, as though this will somehow moderate consequences. Unfortunately, in a naive and disingenuous attempt at avoiding guilt, we give rise to a future that is empoverished. That future will not find us less free or more determined, but neither will it be one that enables and fosters happiness, comfort and deep relaxation.
Rather than constantly finessing the sort of crude motives that we would loathe in others, motives we dare not acknowledge in ourselves, we can in the humdrum cascade of daily tasks and duties, inform our situationally constrained actions with tendencies and predispostions of a wholesome and benevolent sort. "Mighty oaks from little acorns grow"; the moment seldom requires more from us than the planting of an acorn. It is unlikely that we will be often called upon to expose ourselves as heroes dedicated to the emancipation of all sentient beings. Liberated from the myth of unfreedom, we can enjoy a simple ease that supports a humble appreciation of our freedom in the moment, however slight it might be.