Are we in charge of our own lives?

Why is there so much violent death, destruction, cruelty, callousness, incompetence and idiocy – almost everywhere any of us care to consider?

European countries have stopped fighting each other but no one, at present, seems capable of sorting out our financial affairs. These are, admittedly, bound up with those of America and the rest of the world – but surely some politician, or adviser, or independent academic, would have discovered what’s wrong by now. Why is the situation not starting to improve instead of apparently spiralling into further chaos? In some places politicians have been replaced by technocrats, yet few expect them to be more successful than elected leaders. I guess it likely that this trend will continue; perhaps at some point in the distant future countries and continents will be run by computers rather than people. However we will still need the software writers. Possibly the problems are the result of human failings, especially greed and lust – the desire for power, wealth and sexual gratification. Few of us are naive enough not to know that corruption and cronyism are everywhere, with the only variable the matter of degree.

Now can I ask readers of this to suspend their strongest belief for a few moments. This is the belief that they are in charge of their lives; that they can think, say and do what they like. Let us, just for a short while, imagine that we and everyone else had no free will. This would mean that everything any of us did, would be governed entirely by a combination of the circumstances in which we found ourselves together with what had individually made each of us. That is, the mixture of our personal make-up at the moment of our birth – plus every experience of our lives from then until that point in time. If this was so, what difference would there be to the turmoil in the world, the apparent insolvability of the European crisis and the personal problems in our own lives? How do you consider they might differ from the actual state of affairs that exist? I would like to ask you to think hard about this.

The conclusion that at least some of you may come to, is that the world, Europe in particular and our own lives personally would be exactly the same. There would be no discernible difference. Those of you who think this have arrived at the correct answer. The reason for this is that what I have asked you to consider, for a minute, as a fantasy, is – in fact – as things are. Humans, like all other forms of life, do not have free will. As it would take a little longer than this short article to explain why this is so, and suggest the reasons why most of us find this difficult to accept, you may decide to read my book ‘You Cannot Change the Way You Are’ (details below).

You may now ask me, what would the situation be today if humans had free will? That is if some omnipotent power had singled out our forebears, when they were a proto-human species – say two million years ago (the time the history books tell us that the Old Stone Age began), and invested them with personal self-determination by some supernatural means. It would be presumptuous of me to say I know the answer to that question, however I am quite happy with the deduction I have given myself. Those potential ancestors would have never left the stone age – so none of us would be here. If those primitive ape/human animals had free will, they would have killed each other.

Yet there is another side to humanity. There is love and friendship, compassion and kindness, apparent altruism, appreciation of beauty, accumulation of knowledge and very many other good things including some – perhaps not all – observations of religion. But all these have evolved, especially over the last two million years. We have them precisely because we have no free will.

Article By Michael Greening

‘You Cannot Change the Way You Are’ is available as a paperback from most booksellers, including Amazon, Waterstones & D H Smith or from Amazon as an e-book (Kindle format)

More details on my website:

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