Free Will is an illusion. Does that now mean we are helpless when it comes to self-improvement, the pursuit of virtue, wisdom, long-term thinking, creating a better world? Not in the least…
The ultimate freedom is knowing that you cannot ‘find yourself’—that there is no ‘chosen path’; that there is no ultimate meaning that you must discover or else your life will go to waste. At first this discovery will be daunting, disabling; but once overcome, it is the greatest liberation. If it could speak to you it would say ‘You are in control; the responsibility is yours: take it or leave it.’
That we are the undeniably and inescapably currently the product of not our own will, but of our environment and upbringing and beliefs and nutrition status and so forth, does not mean we can do nothing; we can apply whatever notion of Free Will we have right now—whether it is scientifically a ’thing’ or not, matters not—and resolve to do so in the future, by setting rules, and making serious changes. We can author ourselves, albeit it only a small proportion; but small is better than nothing, and that means everything.
Life happens to you as much as it happens for you. Those who deny the latter fail to come up with anything better; their hopeless philosophy puts them comfortably in the hands of fortune—and fortune, like nature, doesn’t play fair game.
Perhaps the denialists will change their tune if they read the way I understand it: Life happens to us—always has and always will; nested inside this, however, is whatever we have done to influence it; it matters not that this influence is minuscule, but that it is achieved at all, because whatever of our fate we can wrestle from fortune, the better of we can (potentially) be; and so, with this humbling knowledge, why not make changes today that will by definition affect how life happens to us in the future? Why not do what we can to reduce Dame Fortune—who knows nothing about fairness, morality, science, humanity, compassion, or anything us humans consider ‘Good’—to the lowest of the lowest ranks? We can do this, and we should do this, and we must do this.
We can also choose not to—we can shy away from responsibility and live by the hopeless philosophy of the denialists—and therefore give over to fortune whatever bit of our future we have acquired through thousands of years of war, struggle, toil and sacrifice, of blood, sweat and tears, of hope, faith and goodwill. Is this what we want? ‘Nay’, you say. But who amongst the naysayers are doing anything about it? Not many—because doing so requires sacrificing the immediate present for the unknowable future.
Pleasure, comfort, mindlessness, sleep, happiness: immediate concerns intoxicate us with a poison that makes the future unimportant, foggy, and far from our reach; they turn us from masters of the present to slaves, thus, if we are to secure anything of a better future we must escape the chains nature has wrapped around our ankles and run as far and as fast away as we can—or, better yet, wrap nature itself in the very chains with which it disabled us for so long.