Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Self-Determination as Inequality

This may be one of the more philosophical postings I've made on the blog, and that's alright. It was a thought keeping me awake, and it did come from my sleep deprived musings at 4 in the morning; so, hopefully it makes sense. I do apologize slightly for waxing poetic more than usual, but philosophical writing styles just lend themselves to a touch of that. 


It would seem to me, that the greatest injustice foisted upon humanity is our own existence. We have no say in the manner of our creation, yet we are expected to spend upwards of sixty years trapped within our own consciousness. It is not a decision to be made lightly, this question of existence, yet the person it impacts the most has no say on the matter.


To compound matters, we have no say as to the nature of our existence. It is bad enough that we do not chose to exist; yet nature mocks us further by determining the path of our lives. Self-determinists will argue that this is incorrect, but there are matters of which nature casts the deciding vote past our initial conception.

If one could chose the nature of their existence, no doubt the world would be a much different place. Racism would have been stamped out years ago, as newborns could chose to exist as the predominant race or the "well to do" race in their respective nations; rather than exist as one of the persecuted minority.

Poverty would be a thing of past, as newborns would chose to be born to well off families; rather than end up being born to a family that barely had the means to look after its current members, let alone a child. 

Homely people would cease to exist, as surely newborns would choose to be as comely as possible. No one under a certain height, a genetic disposition to a fast metabolism ensuring perfect weight, and the proper facial features to ensure that one is always considered breathtaking. Not to mention the destruction of sexual inadequacy; as all women would be endowed in a pleasing fashion with regards to their bust, as males would never again wonder whether or not they "measured up".

All of these factors determine your lot in life, or at least your enjoyment of life, yet they are factors that nature robs from us. How can one believe in self-determination when such fundamental choices are denied to us? 

For those who find themselves lacking in the genetic lottery, life will always be a reminder of what could have been. Why should person X look the way they do, and I look the way I do? Why should person Y be born to wealth and a modicum of power, while I have nothing and struggle for recognition? 

Why indeed.

Of course, one can look both ways at these problems. Sure, I was born with brown hair instead of blond, but person Z was born with a predisposition to early baldness. Or I may have been born with mismatched facial features, but person W was born with a large purple birthmark that covers half of their face.

I have it bad here, but others have it worse. But regardless of this realization, we will always look at the better and envy it more than we will look at the worse and be thankful. 

And this is because of the fundamental lack of choice in our existence. In a world full of rich and varied choices, we seek reason for why things are the way they are and not some other way instead. You didn't get the promotion because your co-worker put in extra hours to earn it; or your co-worker is related to the boss. Two different possibilities for the same problem, which suggests that somewhere and somehow a choice was made to affect the outcome. 

Such is the matter of our birth; infinite possibilities and combinations, yet we become who we are with no real input. Self-determinists will again argue that the choices we make in life will ultimately determine who we are, but this neglects that conditions that are forced upon us.

Say you were born with a hunchback. Imagine your early life as a hunchback; do you consider what school would have been like? Do you consider the possibility of losing friends your non-hunchback self made? Do you consider that you may have had no friends at all? Do you consider that you would not have joined the sports team, or drama club, or gotten involved in any sort of extra curricular activities? 

We may make choices, but our choices are first determined by the limits set upon us by nature. If we are excluded due to deformity, our choices are limited as well. If we are isolated, not only do our choices diminish, but our personalities are forged by those conditions and not the choices we make.

An excluded person, for whatever reason, may become a harder person. Much in the same way that had they been included, they may have become a much more social person. Yet, this was not a choice that they made. The choice to be exclude came from those who did the excluding; it was a decision that existed outside of the self that had profound impacts on the self.

How can we say we have self-determination, when so much of our lives are determined independently of our own choices? 

Or perhaps, that is the true nature of the universe. Humans do indeed possess a degree of determination, but not self-determination; rather, we have the ability to determine the lives of others but not ourselves. 

Parenting is perhaps the most profound example of this. When a person is found lacking of moral character, or human decency, how often are the parents blamed? If a person is considered selfish, or petty, or another moral stain it is often laid at the feet of the parents. Before we are truly conscious of the decisions that we make, our parents guide us and mold us. 

They lay a groundwork for the type of people we will become, and that foundation is one of choice. A parent who raises their children to be inclusive, for example, may raise a child who doesn't grow up to become the school bully. Whereas a child who doesn't receive this lesson, or one who receives no lessons at all and exists as Freud would say as "Creatures of the Id", would have a greater chance of acting out in a negative manner. 

Again, a choice not made by us, is fundamental in determining who we become. These basic foundations will be with us throughout our lives, as the case is strong that very few people ever actually achieve complete "change" at a fundamental level. These first steps set us down a path that we will continue to walk.

Consider the differences now when one thinks of the genetic lottery. A child born to poorer parents will face things that a richer child will not. This is not necessary "bad parenting", as a child born to poorer parents may or may not receive just as much love and comfort as their richer counterparts, but rather adversity. 

A poorer child may want for food; which in turn may cause their learning to suffer, which in turn diminishes possibilities outside of school. And all because they inherently drew a shorter straw than someone else upon their birth. 

How can you say that this person has self-determination? They cannot will food into their stomach that they can't afford; nor can they conjure career opportunities that they aren't considered experienced for due to a poorer educational experience. At no point did they choose to experience this, yet this was what life had given them through their sheer existence. 

Self-determination is a fallacy; but a useful one for those who seek to blame inequality, poverty, and other social ills on the people experiencing them. Self-determination argues that you are the master of your own fate and that you alone are to blame for your failures and to cheer for your successes. Ultimately, Self-determination is the perfect answer for inequality. 

But as we've established, the choices made by others in our lives affect our very choices by limiting them. Self-determination makes it sound as though our choices are limitless; I can move to British Columbia and become a lumberjack if I am unemployed here in Saskatchewan.

But if you do not have the money to get to British Columbia; or are afraid of chainsaws, your ability to followthrough on this choice is impossible. You cannot call a decision you cannot make in reality a choice; it is the illusion of choice, and it does not mean we have self-determination.

John Donne wrote that "no man is an island, entire of itself, rather each is a piece of the continent" and that is a very true statement when we consider the choices of others in our own lives. The choices of others affect our ability to choose, and it is high time that we accept this fact.

However, it is a harsh truth. To accept it means to accept that poverty and inequality are of our own making; and that we choose to allow it to continue. Harsh truths, however distasteful at first, are necessary as the first step towards recovery.

And it is through this that one can actually make a choice and finally be a mover in one's own life rather than an object: you can make the choice to act.

No comments: