Freedom, Freewill, Alzheimer's and Grace
There is a contemplative scene in Easy Rider – Dennis Hopper's character doesn’t appreciate what his existence represents … George, Jack Nicholson's character, explains it to him a bit by the campfire … "they are scared of what you represent to them … what you represent to them is freedom … it is real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the market place…"
One of the first speeches I learned in school was Patrick Henry's "Give Me Liberty or Give me Death" Speech.
From BraveHeart,"They may take our lives, but they will never take our freedom."
From Gandhi, "They may torture my body, break my bones -- even kill me. Then they will have my dead body -- not my obedience."
It seems that "Freedom is not another word for nothing left to lose" as is suggest in the song "Me and Bobby McGee" though feeling like there is nothing left to lose perhaps leads to a sense of freedom and generates the impression of freedom in others as was alluded to in Easy Rider.
Maybe those that George from Easy Rider makes reference to, the ones that are "bought and sold in the marketplace" believe that freedom is only really possible once you have nothing left to lose, nothing that you care about … but that just doesn't quite ring true.
From Viktor Frankl's Man's Search For Meaning "Everything can be taken from a man or woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms, to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
Freedom then is understanding exactly what the essence of what there is to lose is, when everything else is stripped away, there remains whatever it is to be you.
For many years following first reading Viktor Frankl’s statement while I was an undergrad it rang true for me as an absolute. The foundation of his statement seems to be that Free Will is an absolute that is inherent and universal.
His perceptions were forged in the horrific environments of concentration camps during WW2. He observed and experienced what people were subjected to in the concentration camps and how they and he in turn handled themselves in the face of such utter and complete obliteration of their individuality at the hands of institutionalized criminal indifference but what his observations don't take into account are those things that are and can be done that truly destroy the essence of the individual - that chemically alter a person in such a way that freedom of attitude is no longer possible.
Accepting that perhaps Free Will is not absolute, inherent, and universal leads to the questions:
Is it truly a fact that one's ultimate attitude in any given situation is always a choice and is never something that can be taken away?
Are there beings who are truly not capable of choosing their own way such as those with Alzheimer’s or various forms of Dementia?
If we can accept that there are things/conditions/brain chemistry changes that alter/impact the human freedom of one’s attitude in any given situation such as the extremes of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, then is it reasonable to presume that everyone’s brain chemistry/bag of chemicals that makes them who they are is otherwise absolute and universal with exception of the extreme cases (Alzheimer’s and Dementia) that can’t be denied as real?
If we get to the agreement that 'freedom to choose' is not universal at some fundamentally indivisible level, what then is the foundation upon which understanding can truly be built?
Under what conditions do we refrain from holding an individual accountable for a choice of attitude that is otherwise presumably freely made?
Thinking more about the ramifications of Alzheimer’s and other forms of Dementia that people can become afflicted with as well as the various personality altering prescribed and un-prescribed chemical treatments that human beings have committed to, most likely, since before the dawn of recorded history:
There is a general presumption that all beings possess a freedom of will that is absolute and unwavering or in lieu of that presumption that there is some form of higher being guiding everything that happens, and it is the will of that being or beings that is unwaveringly unalterably free.
It would seem however that neither of these presumptions delves into what it is that makes up the sum total of a being. To be one thing and not another assumes that the boundaries between things in our sensory world are real and absolute as opposed to convenient finite articulations of the greater universal infinite one.
Specifically, within the discussion of free will, in order to determine if such a concept is not a finite contrivance and as such can be universally applied as unqualified truth, it is paramount to determine the boundaries of one’s free will. By this I mean that for free will to exist as an absolute it must stand alone - Independent of any agents introduced into the being or external environments imposed upon the being.
As noted previously, Victor Frankl, in “Man’s Search for Meaning” presumed that regardless of the external environmental constraints imposed upon a being, the freedom to choose how to be in that environment is absolute and cannot be taken away from the being.
I have observed, however, that the boundaries of a being are not so absolute. Both minor and major agitators and environmental variations can cause imbalances within the being that profoundly affect and impact the fundamental nature of the being. This impact is such that defining characteristics such as personality, world view, mood, and moral character of the individual changes, often to the extent that though the person upon visual inspection appears to be the same being, that is not at all the case.
There is the assumption that each of us knows who we are, what we think, how we think, and why we think what we do or in lieu of a foundation of self-reliance that we can at least maintain a reliance on the powers of some sort of higher being or force that is fully capable of such knowledge and understanding as a foundation upon which we exist for a time in this world an infinite soul within a finite body.
When it becomes clear, through scrutiny of the nature of being, that, who we are, is very much a byproduct of chemistry (both external and internal) that is continually in flux and everchanging, which results in the blurring of personal and collective previously perceived and understood boundaries between self and other, then self-reliance though generally contextually applicable and reliable is by no means absolute. Likewise, due to the scalable similarity of everything that is known to exist, there is limited reason to believe that a high power would have any greater certainty of absolute boundaries between what is and is not the higher power.
This line of thinking is not a means for absolution of individual responsibility but rather to encourage that maximum grace and understanding always be present to the fullest extent possible when dealing with, interacting with, and coexisting with other beings that may or may not be as self-reliant as we believe ourselves to be.
I hope we all have a Safe and Happy 4th of July with many more good years full of grace and gratitude to come.