Thursday 11 August 2016

Freedom is not in choosing, it is in seeing the irrelevance of choice - from William Arkle

We have a certain amount of freedom of choice, but we are in a situation where we do not necessarily gain what we want by using this freedom. Rather do we profit best by sensing which are the sweet apples and which are the sour apples, and accepting the fact that we have no control over what is in the baskets.

At the moment our idea of freedom is the ability to make ourselves miserable and ill by eating all the apples in the first basket we choose. We don't like people to think we have made a mistake, and we feel that to possess and to consume a larger number of apples than other people is a measure of our success and intrinsic worth.

But freedom is far more subtle than that, for it involves the ability to choose that which is most fitting for the nature we possess and the situation in which we find ourselves.

Since we typically hardly concern ourselves with what we are, or what the significance of the universe is, it is not surprising that our concept of freedom is nothing more than a tribulation to us, and a mockery of our potential responsibility and aspiration. So not only is it virtually impossible for us to have freedom of motivation, or as people call it 'free will', but neither is there any particular point in possessing it, since it will not bring us to what we really want, but only bring us to what we think we want, or what we think we should want.

The little motivation we have should all be concentrated on the very light touch necessary to manipulate the helm of our ship.

We must realise that our job here is to learn to sail our ship well; then, and only then, to make a journey in it. We do not control the wind or the water and it does little good to pretend to be a type of boat which we are not. We must take a good look at our ship and our sails for they are already there. We must study the wind and the sea and learn to use them to move about safely and efficiently. We must ask and seek to know what lands are at hand, and we must decide which are the most favourable to the capability of our craft and the direction of the wind and state of the sea and visibility. We must record of how much food we can take and how well we can sail. By the time we have done all this, there will be no 'choice'!

To make a journey in a craft which we cannot handle to a destination we are not in a position to reach, just for the sake of feeling we have made a free choice, is a form of insanity which we are all inclined to indulge in, but which has no place in the scheme of things. The sooner we understand this the better, and it will save us the time and energy we waste in talking about freedom; for what we are really doing is trying to avoid the experience and understanding which is beyond the verbal level and beyond the level of prestige and self satisfaction.

This is the poetic and intuitive consciousness which enables us to begin to have a true knowledge of what is. After we have achieved this consciousness, the idea of freedom of choice or freedom of motivation no longer concerns us, because we will be too busy living our true nature.

What freedom of choice really means - how we should understand the matter - is as the ability we must develop to sense the whole of the situation in which we are involved, both in our own nature and in the world around us, and then to take the best course available.

Then we will recognise that real freedom is not in choosing, it is in seeing the irrelevance of choice.

Edited from the end of the chapter 'Conditioning Factors', in A Geography of Consciousness by William Arkle (1974)

We cannot be free unless we have "the ability to choose that which is most fitting for the nature we possess and the situation in which we find ourselves." This includes the matter of what I term living from our True Self - because a very big problem for modern people is that they cannot be free because they do not know themselves - they merely know a constellation of false selves which are partly adopted (eg. for increasing efficiency at work, the 'hardening' used to cope with an alien and hostile environment) and partly imposed (by the mass media, including advertising; and propaganda from many sources including the arts and entertainment). 

If a typical modern person tries to be 'free' , he will typically be freeing, trying to develop, some kind of created and constructed fake-identity - which is likely to do more harm than good. Hence the failure of 'self-realisation' movements in modern secular culture. 

For example, in a culture where everybody is not just a fake but a whole constellation of contradictory fakes, self-realisation typically leads to nothing higher or better than a life of impulsive, short-termism and self-indulgence - such as sexual promiscuity, increased drug and alcohol usage, declining personal hygiene, sponging and tantrums. 

As nearly always, the difficulty of improving our selves and our condition involves at least tow, more-or-less simultaneous, moves: find our true selves and discover the truth of our essential situation (which is a matter of transforming our basic assumptions and explanations). 

But only if both these can be done, can we know what we ought to do in our lives. Lacking such knowledge, we will not do what we ought; but with such knowledge then there are not multiple lifestyle 'options', there is only the 'choice' of walking our destined, optimal, best path - or not.  


Gagdad Bob said...

Concealed in this post is the esoteric meaning of predestination: that we are only truly free to the extent that we choose what we are and what is. Only a free being can comprehend predestination, and man is uniquely predestined to be free to realize the destiny that precedes him.

Bruce Charlton said...

@GB - I don't agree that there is 'predestination' in terms of salvation versus (self-) damnation - this 'destiny' refers to life-path, the (necessary, most-useful) experiences of mortal life which may contribute to spiritual progression.

Gagdad Bob said...

I'm with you. It's just that the whole relationship between freedom and necessity is fraught with paradox.

George said...

This is the essence of Taoism. I was reading Tolstoy yesterday and came across a passage where he says the only freedom we have us to go with the truth, or fight it but be dragged along by it anyways ( by which I suppose he means by fighting truth you don't cancel it, you r experience is still determined by it, but negatively)

Bruce Charlton said...

@George - The trouble with Taoism is - at *root* - it either seems to imply that human, incarnate mortal life is nothing more than a mistake; or else it is (in the modern Western understanding) merely a kind of higher hedonism - lifestyle advice on how to be happy and avoid suffering.

George said...

Bruce, that is definitely how Taoism is seen in the West, as at best a "technique" for a successful life. And it is indeed inherently prone to such abuses - Samurai also saw it that way. But at its core I think Taoism is quite close to Christianity but I agree with you it is insufficient. I am sure you know Eugene Rose was quite a fan, and his biographer wrote a book tracing the affinities with Christianity.