In this post, I want to take a brief look at one of the oldest philosophical questions: Do we humans enjoy free will or are we subject to what the ancients referred to as Fate? The West has long believed that free will prevails. Although confusion is growing– as this post will reveal – by and large both Western philosophical thought and the Christian religion have upheld the notion of humankind’s inherent right to self-determination. The philosophers do not believe in any limiting supernatural forces and, in the case of the religious, God can only judge.
Here are a few thoughts on this issue inspired by James Hillman’s book, The Soul’s Code. Hillman is a big believer in the power of the unconscious mind, and part of what I regard as a disturbing shift towards mysticism in the West.
Hillman claims we repress – in the psychological sense – something he refers to as the “acorn” of fate. The acorn is, in Hillman’s view, a daemon (inspiring force) of personal destiny we all carry around with us. Each of us was born with one. Our personal daemon “remembers” the image of our lives, and helps us achieve our “calling.” The life image and the calling were determined before we were born, hence the need to remember.
So, do we, as Hillman claims, stifle our own personal preordained fate? Or is there another way of looking at this? Could it be that the inner force we repress is more mundane? Is it possible that we are actually repressing our own personal will?
To our timid socialized ears, Fate and inner-destiny sound far more socially acceptable than will. “I do this at the urging of my inner daemon,” sounds gentler, less blunt, more polite even, than “I do this because this is what I will.” (With the latter, you risk charges of Fascism!) However, might not this daemon be mere subterfuge, a way of acting wilfully without (we hope) incurring the disapproving wrath of those around us? Moreover, perhaps we seek to circumvent our own disapproval of wilful behaviour.
When you get down to basics, what difference is there between being “pushed” or “guided” by inner urges from one’s daemon and simply seeking to impose one’s will upon one’s life? In the end, it is all coming from you. The explanation of mechanism differs, yet surely, the resulting behaviour is the same. The whole daemon set up smacks of political correctness, smokescreen, and insincerity. It is plain old human will, and not some mystical daemon, that is at work.
Hillman says, “Repression, the key to personality structure in all therapy schools, is not of the past but of the acorn and the past mistakes we have made in our relation with it.” One could just as easily say that one has repressed one’s will, one’s true desires, and furthermore, then repressed the resulting agony of not having done what one truly wished.
According to psychology, repression means actively excluding (distressing ideas or memories) from the field of conscious awareness. Perhaps espousing the idea of a daemon is will’s way of presenting itself in a better light (will definitely being in disgrace at the socialist moment) and thus sneaking round the repression. The smokescreen I mentioned earlier. The strategy has the second benefit of allowing us to avoid looking wilful in the eyes of others. We can appear humble or perhaps passive instead. We ask our daemon for guidance. If we are religious, we go further and request not just hints from the divinely ordained life plan we carry within us, but actual divine intervention.
As more than one philosopher of the will has pointed out, will is really at the bottom of these two supposedly humble and passive behaviours:
First, if we humbly ask our daemon for guidance we are practicing self-deception in order to side step our own disapproval of wilful behaviour, while trying to trick others in the hope of avoiding their disapproval as well. The aim of seeking the daemon’s advice is to turn unacceptable will into more-acceptable fate or destiny, the alleged guidance really being what we had in mind all the time. Witness those who toss coins to make a decision and then have to go for “two out of three.”
Second, if we petition for divine intercession we are trying to get round the fact that will is not omnipotent. The imaginative plan here is to hire on supernatural gunslingers who can accomplish what we will, but cannot pull off alone! In the process, we are demonstrating a profound disbelief in the divine plan. After all, if the divine powers are running the show, what business have we asking for what we have not so far received? That the local Lutherans grasp this last point is revealed by a maxim I spotted on their church’s signboard: “Asking God for what you want is a sin.”
The situation motivating all of this maneuvering is the current aversion to overtly wilful behaviour. Like their socialist brethren, Lutherans stand foursquare against will – unless it is God’s will, that is. I suppose God’s will is superior to that of the individual because only the Church can claim to know what God’s will is. This is useful for a body that needs to assert its moral authority as it bends individual worshippers to its will.
How odd: no matter which way we turn, we keep bumping into some person’s or some body of persons’ will! This keeps happening even though we Westerners are, as a socialist civilization, officially against will.
Let me point out that when I use the word “will” I am not referring to Nietzsche‘s narrow concept of “the will to power.” I mean by “will,” that which in any situation we truly want to have happen. Sadly, many repressed citizens of Western socialist democracies have absolutely no idea what they truly want to have happen.
Instead of consulting our acorns of Fate, or praying for divine intercession, we must liberate our will recognizing as we do so that it is limited and comes with a burden of personal responsibility.