It’s September in the U. S., which means the Presidential election season has really, really, really begun. As messy, frustrating, clumsy, and petty as it can be, I remain a fan of democracy, being the only form of government predicated on the belief in the existence of freewill. Ironic, in a way, that democracy was born in Athens, which also happened to be the Western birthplace of reason and science. Ironic also because democracy got another look some 2000 or so years later during the Enlightenment when the West got very interested in science all over again.
Ironic because science, particularly the revolution that was Newtonian physics, is the discovery of an unfree world. The physical world’s unerring predictability requires that the apple is not free to fall up instead of down, that the sun will rise exactly when it should, that gravity will hold us to the earth with the same constant pressure, that water will always boil at exactly 100° centigrade. That nothing in the physical world is free led to amazing inventions like the steam engine, the radio, and the computer - all of which we human beings were free to invent or not invent.
Human beings are funny this way. We spend a lot time convincing ourselves we are not free. We say, “If I get this rejection letter, then I will be unhappy for two days, as sure as the earth rotates around the sun.” And just like that, we have locked our freewill into the cell of a thought, and lo! We are unhappy, though not because of the rejection letter, but because we have convinced ourselves we are not free.
Which is perhaps why democracy got its reboot during the Enlightenment. We loved all this science and reason, but they can make our lives feel like the unwinding of some vast clock. For all our desire to trap ourselves in a biological or psychological prison, if someone asks for our freewill, we are remarkably stubborn about handing it over. Perhaps that’s because we feel its unnamable value, or perhaps it is because if we did hand it over we would have to do so by choice, which means we still have it, which means we’re stuck with it for the rest of our living days. Might as well use it.
Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!