Thursday, August 30, 2007

interlude ~ about choices

Thursday, August 30, 2007
~EDIT: it occurs to me that this discussion, which man has conducted with himself for centuries, about free will and determinism, really hinges upon one's thought (and hence, personality), patterns, as well as one's philosophical point-of-view. The issue of free will, how much choice we have, and how much of our existence relies on the pre-destinated ... it's an issue which Thornton Wilder attempted to tackle in one of his most famous works.

So whether you take a more catholic philosophical perspective, or a calvinist one, will really influence your opinion with respect to the notion that humans have free will versus whether we exist in an entirely predetermined realm. Remember, also, that if you subscribe to the notion of kharma, then you implicitly subscribe to the notion of choice. Kharma makes no sense when superimposed upon predeterminism. Consider the notion that free will and determinism can co-exist: click here ... and here~


I have given Dante a break, just for this one post, to write about choice. Luxie wrote a post about choices ... and the notion of happiness as a choice. Susan also recently wrote a post about choice ~ the choice of love ~ using the story of Eurydice and Orpheus. Given my current reading material - Dante - I am swimming in thoughts about free will, intellect, and choice. And what it all means to life and living.

Susan's post, in particular, led me to ask, do we choose love or does love choose us? The discovery that many, many people believe themselves impotent to a mighty force called love ~ met with my surprise. The notion of choice seems so clear and obvious to me. How can we have intellect and reason, and not have choice? Do we only consider it a choice, when the alternatives seem pleasant and agreeable to our eyes, and hearts?



I have trouble conceiving of love as something which compels us to act. Can we really call this love? Perhaps we should name that sensation desperation. Desperation at the realization that we cannot impose our will ~ our desires ~ upon the will of the universe? Do we fail to see a choice as a choice, simply because the alternatives presented us seem less than optimal, or downright repugnant? Would we rather tell ourselves we have no choice, because we loathe the pain of letting go (which, in some cases may present itself as one of the alternatives)? The notion that we have no choice seems somewhat hedonistic, from my perspective. Whomever said anything about living pain free? Or making pain-free choices?

The most painful choice one makes, I think, involves choosing against making a choice ~ I call it the cowardly escape. I wrote a poem, more than a year ago, in which I reflected upon a relationship I had with a destructive man many years ago. I had given my feelings for this man so much power ... I felt like this ...

it caught her and ravaged her ...
the same way a leg hold trap
ravages a wolf's unsuspecting leg.
her young, tender soul
could not escape its grip.

I think we give carnal/corporeal love too much power. And, when seized by the feeling, we fail to consider the full ramifications of doing so. I allowed myself to feel for this man, despite knowing and feeling he was no good for me. I recall the juncture, in fact, at which I felt myself making the choice. It felt like taking a drug ... and I felt the same sensation of I have no choice ... in fact, what makes me think it wasn't love is that I do have love now, and its nothing like that ... and that the destructive thing of the past, that thing felt more like relief from withdrawal ~ i.e getting that next hit of one's drug of choice ~ than the warm embrace of love.


The creator has set things in motion ~ we happen to be those things in motion. Free will means we choose ~ who enters our lives, who stays, for how long, and to whom we cleave. For all of us. However ... the alternatives presented us may not seem optimal to us ... and so we tell ourselves we have no choice ... when in fact, we do. Regardless if we like to options laid out before us ... we do, indeed, have a choice. We find the notion that we have no choice ... easier to stomach. Both for us ... and for the object of our affection. Why? I suppose then, we can delude ourselves into believing we should not bear any responsibility for the choice - explicit or implicit - we made. For, if someone or some force indeed compels us to act, then, we cannot really assume responsibility for our own acts, can we?

So ... do we choose love? Or does love choose us? If indeed, we have no choice then the notion of fidelity really seems illusory. I mean, how can we reconcile this powerful, compelling force we have here labelled love with the notion of faithfullness and fidelity? If we, indeed, have no choice, how do we differ from that pack of rabbits or dogs, who act purely on instinct? If they could speak, they would tell us they had no choice, that they were only acting as nature intended. Wouldn't they?

Like it or not, we all expect fidelity in our "carnal love" relationships. We see ourselves, perhaps, as having no choice, but somehow attribute the capacity of choice to the object of our affection, from whom we expect fidelity. Do you doubt this? Then, dear reader, ponder, how you would feel if your partner loved another and you found out about it ... and then, when confronted replied, 'I had no choice.' Despite our attempts at shirking the responsibilities of living, we still must account. And when it comes to love, that undoubtedly means fidelity. and, when said fidelity gets challenged, we grow quite angry, despondent, sorrow-filled, and enraged.

So .... at the risk of nauseating repetition, I ask again. Do we choose love, or does love choose us? Out of my experiences, my heart tells me, YES. I CHOOSE. AND I MUST LIVE WITH THOSE CHOICES. Still, that's a difficult and painful reality to grasp. Our finitude, in the darkest of hours, however, prevents us from fully seeing that choices always lies in our grasp. Our vision does not reach that far. Particularly when anguish presents itself as one of the options ~ as the only alternative to what we perceive as love. We, perhaps, tell ourselves we have no choice because we fear the anguish. Its easier to think of that way. Its easier to live with that way.

As for love ~ its so mighty and mysterious, residing on the sacred convergence of the biochemical and the spiritual. I wonder if we really know the face of love. In some respects, I think we don't ~ for many of us see love as a tool for our own happiness. And not a path to some higher meaning.

For those of you who have not read Dante, you may not see his heavy influence in this post. For those that have ... forgive me. I have, perhaps, failed to give him the rest I promised at the beginning of this post. Still, he's there. Just like the face of choice. Saving the one you love most from taking his own life makes one painfully aware of the fact that choice ALWAYS lies within our grasp.

I've decided, also, that much of the dismal state of the world has a direct relation to the illusion we've concocted that we have no choice. That's why I see this as so important.

I, for one, tire of hearing that cop-out: 'But, I had no choice.'

19 comments:

Enemy of the Republic said...

Here is how I see it:

1. Love chooses us.
2. We do not have to act upon IT'S choice.
3. Carnal/temporal love is a strong power with little discipline.
4. We cannot reign in carnal love nor more than we can stop hurricanes, but that doesn't stop us from trying.
5. The best example of carnal love gone wrong is Canto 5 of The Inferno.
6. The best example of primal love is the entire Paradiso.
7. When you get right down to it, we think we have more choice in life than we actually do. That is why we must always seek out the blue pill.

Enemy of the Republic said...

Or is it the red pill? I need to watch that movie again.

the.red.mantissa said...

Interesting ~ that qualifier of your No. 2 ... I can get with that. In fact, perhaps with that, you've expressed the anguish of that metaphorical leg-hold-trap. Still, a choice lies with us. We do not have to submit to love's choices. But, we'd rather not see that part. Because the alternative feels like the worst withdrawal sickness one could possibly feel. Still, to release oneself from bondage may hurt first before it feels better. Do you believe ... honestly believe ... when a heroine addict tells you the s/he shoots up b/c s/he had no choice? That's how I see it.

The part of love that lies beyond our control ~ that the converging bio and spiritual chemistry that simply occurs when certain elements meet. BUT ~ does it? Does it really lie beyond our control?

Ah ~ I feel inclined to look hard and long at this question, for I believe we see our choices as limited b/c we fail to see the enormous (and sometimes monstrous) power of the mind. We can will ourselves not to feel physical pain ... we can will ourselves to die, even. We can even influence the healing powers of our physical bodies ... all with the power of the mind.

The power of the mind lies beyond human imagination. Many a health care professional will tell you this, after bearing witness to astounding things for which his science can provide no explanation. That's if he is honest and humble enough to admit it. And, so ... for me, the book on that one remains opened. For, if I close the book, for certain I shall never see the words and phrases which it contains.

And yes, such chemistry seems hard to harness ... ah ~ but we build dikes and levees and walls to stem the tide of floods, don't we? Many can speak to the value of such reinforcements, particularly in wake of Katrina. And what happens when, in hubris or neglect or both, we fail to attend to the strength of said reinforcements. We each, I suppose, must build our own levees, to keep the flood of temptations from defiling and drowning us, while allowing the good stuff to "flow" in and through us. That's tough, with our limited vision, our ego, and the constant drumming of desire beating in our hearts and heads.

The carnal seems to me, like fire ... or water. Essential for life to flourish and grow. But deadly when mis-applied or dispensed in the wrong proportions.

I thought of that passage in Inferno. The twisted part of their fate lies in the fact that, in their eternal damnation they cleave to one another ~ but, can neither of them enjoy the presence of the other, for whom they so longed in corporeal life, because damnation forces each soul to remain locked in its own guilt and torment. And the presence of each only serves to reinforce the guilt of the other. Once again, the element of choice plays a role here. Albeit, a low-key one.

Primal love ~ indeed. The very fact that Dante survived/endured that harrowing journey through hell seems to me, a great example of primal love, also. For, Virgil's guidance occurred at the urging of Beatrice.

The theme of choice pervades Dante, I think. Particularly the parts of Inferno where he stresses the notion that tormented souls who find themselves there have made a choice which led them on that course.

Red pill. But ... I think of that show I saw, Andromeda ... where the crew goes through a portal to an alternate universe, one in which one's thoughts and feelings create one's realities. Also, another movie - called The Sphere, I think - had a similar concept: one's fears, when pondered in one's mind - became real for the entire crew.

That's how I see existence. It's what we make it. If we think of ourselves as creatures in bondage ... then we become that. If we think of life as a despairing pouch of filth and misery, then we believe its a Hell from which we must escape. However then I think we create or further the despair from which we run, in much the same way Satan further entombs himself in his eternal spot, in the cold centre of Hell.

Choice ~ that's the sticky concept. By choice, I don't mean power over the future. I simply mean, capacity to contemplate one's actions, and the origin of said actions. And act accordingly. I don't see choice as a power, per se ... but more as a sort of vision.

I did think the blue pill, red pill thing. Its been a while since I've seen the movie. I gotta watch it again. But ... for some reason, something's changed for me and its affected how I see .... everything. Like, giving into despair seems to equal saying I took the red pill and so I am passive to the despair and ugliness of the universe.

I opt for a pill of no colour. I opt for the oral fleet, instead ... a medicine which will purge me of all that's waste and rot inside me. noam sayin'?

foam said...

ah, enemy said it already.

i think love chooses you. and it is YOUR choice to act upon it or not. but that doesn't mean that that particular love goes away when you decide not to act upon it.

the.red.mantissa said...

Ah ~ sure it does! Anyone who has kicked a drug habit will tell you that! Our reality = what we make it. If its pining away for one who's departed, then I suppose that means love does not leave us.

We make our truth by perceiving. And that includes by perceiving our feelings. Those things we fixate on we simply feed ... give more power over us.

the.red.mantissa said...

I suppose, what it boils down to, is how we perceive our feelings. The vast majority of people see feelings as concrete and insurmountable objects which we cannot escape. Hence the familiar, oft-over-used i couldn't help it.

I don't see feelings that way. Love can, and has, vanished in an instant for me, based upon my perceptions of a situation and how it affected me, feelings included. That's it ~ threat perceived, abuse received, betrayal served ~ NO MORE LOVE. My mind now rules my existence ... not my heart.

That's not to say that refuting "love's choice" involves a pain free process ... far from it ... it certainly does not ... any more than giving up one's drug of choice feels pain free.

Its all in how we see ourselves in this universe. about our concept of existence. If we believe we cannot overcome our feelings, then that becomes our truth.

So, each of us, in some sense, is correct. For ourselves. Because that's how our intellect chooses to see things.

As for those who have died, while we still loved them ... at some point the mind must instruct the heart to get over it, already. Or continue wallowing in desire for an entity which has moved on. Sorry if that sounds cold ~ but ... I have been there. It hurt until I decided I'd played the part of the hurting one long enough. y'know?

I no longer wish for a long evening under the moonlight with my sister, so I can ask her all the things I never got to, before she died. I no longer wish to hold my youngest son, the way I used to when he was a tiny thing. Why? Wishing doesn't make it so. It only draws us away from what's real ... what's present to us.

I suppose I've felt passive for long enough ... and, one day asked myself: 'So, Roxanne, how's that workin' for ya?' The answer? 'It's not.'

Plain and simple.

Aunty Belle said...

Darlin' youse touched the core of it--responsibility.

Lots a times folks prefer to think they had "no choice" b/c that is their escape hatch--iffin' they had no choise, they's not responsible fer the outcome....t'aint so, though.

As fer control, discipline--these is the thangs what makes it posssible to make the healthy choice. When ya' hears I had no choice, I thinks, "ya mean ya had no self-discipline."

Looky, we's adults here, so let's make a memo that we all know ya' could turn out the lights wif' one of a few hundred or so specimens and be happy fer an hour or so...chemistry? Yeah...spiritual energy? Perhaps....but is that it??? Gag.

No no no....there's gotta be more than chemistry fer the thang to be "love". Iffin' it doan hold up under pressure of "real life" and they ain't no respect fer the good of the other....RUN!!

They's a real old fashioned bromide: avoid the near occasion of sinc. This speaks to the truth we all need ter admit--it is easier to
stay away from the places whar' we's tempted than it is to undergo the temptation.

PRIDE says "I can handle it" or, "Just this one more time"....an' immdediately after we knowed we's only kiddin' ourlseves--avoid those spots whar' temptation is strong.

Last thought: All our unwise choices end up hurtin' innocent people too--not jes' the undisciplined. Ain't no such a thang as a "victim-less" misbehavin'. When we does wrong, those we love pay the price. Dante knew it.

the.red.mantissa said...

AB ~ bravo! about control ~ YES - discipline! oh, you said it ... and it needed sayin! we're so undisciplined, as a society, as a culture, that we forget ... forget we have control over ourselves! that's why the creator gave us intellect, for heaven's sake!

i'm inclined to gag, too .. when i think of myself as passive to something called chemistry. the thing we call love doesn't just develop across a crowded room, or an internet chat. any more than a seed becomes a full-sized tomato plant, burdened with fruit, overnight. we nurture or kill it ... depending on our actions/choices.

i'm liking that bromide, too ~ stay away from temptation. simple, but pride makes it harder for us than it has to be, i think. i can say that as one who's sort of been there. why go looking for things that are bad for us and those we love? and yet, we often do. how strange ... and silly.

and, yes, when we make stupid choices, others pay for it, indeed that's true. that's why, IMHO, there's so much turmoil and crap going on all around the world. because we turn a blind eye to our own ripple effect. its about respect, ain't it?

and also, about realizing that we ARE NOT our emotions.

K9 said...

red just a fly by. im excited about your writing. i have that dante clip art book too.

wanna see a good movie? rent jean cocteau's "orpheus"...KILLER! death is a lady. and her minion? very slick hep cat. even all these years later.

er, someone told me i was "too serious"
they dont know all YA"LL!! grrherhaha

have a great holiday. hi enemy. hey foamy. hi aunty.

the.red.mantissa said...

hey she ~ nice to see ya flyin by. me too, about the writing. i think this may be the weekend i might have the attention span to watch an entire movie ... grrrrherherherhaha. maybe. you have a gr8 weekend to, pup.

Paul said...

To me the choice concept has two levels.

On the theoretical level, I don't think there's any proving choice vs. determinism for the essential reason that we can never go back in time for a do-over to see if we really could have behaved differently. And feeling that you have a choice doesn't prove the existence of choice - the moments in which we feel we have a choice could themselves be determined!

At a practical level, the more self awareness we have the more we can feel and act like we have choice. So that interests me a lot, and doing what we can to become more self aware strikes me as worthwhile - regardless of whether or not we're predetermined to do that!

Lady Prism said...

uuuuuuh'...wow!..First my awesome wow to the way you wrote this here!..If I were still teaching high school I would have printed this here and made a whole discussion revolve around this..I bow to you!

I like what Foamy and Enemy said..that love chooses us...Foamy even expounds that if we do not act on this it doesn't mean it would go away. I have experienced this.

I will be back. I am in the middle ( I sat here to read you in order to divert the ache I feel..he did something very wrong) of a physical discussion about love and choices and responsibility and hurt and relationships. My 17 year old son needs to be dealt with..and this topic here is exactly the essence of what it is all about...

see you again..

ps: I finally figured how this rss ( duh' to me I know..) works like..so now that I have a feed of your blog I won't miss a post.

the.red.mantissa said...

one can diminish anything that exists within one's Self ... the concept of love exists as a dynamic between two individuals ~ it can never exists, then, unless one chooses it to ... i.e. we make the choice through our responses to the situation.

i never asked whether or not the choice seemed easy or difficult or uncomfortable ... just whether its possible!

whether or not one's desires completely vanish seem really quite inconsequential to the whole notion of capacity to make a choice. one chooses for ... or against. the more one focuses on the object of a "forbidden" desire, the more one feeds said desire. the word discipline comes to mind.

people have demonstrated they can zen themselves enough to walk barefoot on hot coals ... surely, then, they can resist carnal/temporal love urges!

i find it laughable the way so many humans will buy into almost any cop-out story, just to make excuses for themselves.

the.red.mantissa said...

why get married or choose a monogamous relationship, if indeed, one has so little control over one's love urges? it makes little sense!

the fact that we all expect monogamy implies that we innately conceive of love as a choice individuals make, not a force which imposes itself upon individuals.

the.red.mantissa said...

nice to see ya luxie ~ aren't they fun at that age? this, too, shall pass. really.

Behind Blue Eyes said...

Everyone is different, experiences reality in a different way. Jung speaks of the thinking type, the feeling type, the intuitive type and the sensory type for example. Each of their ways of experiencing reality are valid. Each type of person may experience the other type as being weak. The intuitive type may feel impatience for others who don't grasp things as quickly as they do. They get annoyed by those who are bogged down in details. The thinking type may be annoyed by someone who is irrational or someone who lets details escape them or who doesn't to appear practical to them etc...

You could say that every person has a weakness too. Going back to these types, the weakness of the thinking person would be to disregard emotions. Emotions tell you as much about your world as anything else: they are a sense that you have so to speak though We feel uncomfortable with them because they are so subjective and can become quite confusing and if one lets them decide for them, the results can be disastrous. But being out of touch with your emotions can be disastrous as well. On the world stage, think of George Bush. And of course the weakness of the feeling type person is that they are driven by their emotions and do not use their judgement. They can be irrational in other words.

As you can see, I am not an absolutist at all. I guess what I am saying is that we all have something to learn from one another and that we will never quite understand each other. Our responsibilty lies in growing as individuals and overcoming our weaknesses and this is something that we have a choice about. However, while we are doing it we are going to make many mistakes and it is a difficult thing to do and many of us will never entirely succeed. The honor comes from trying.

the.red.mantissa said...

Precisely a thought I had, when I mentioned that how one sees this issue will hinge on thought and personality patterns. People with borderline and histrionic tendencies will tend to take the thought route that relieves themselves of any responsibility ... since they psychologically have great trouble assuming self-responsibility ~ they truly believe (because of the way they perceive) they have no choice.

And their often less-than-optimal life event outcomes reflect the dysfunction in that mode of thinking. Its quite a perserverant (sp?) phenomenon, actually. And these thinking/personality patterns, quite refractory. That said, the fact that its so, doesn't make it the optimal mode of thinking and responding to one's surroundings.

Jung ~ the personality theory of which you spoke rates individuals on these four "pole" of personality ~ which each have some degree of each of these ... rare the person who has exclusively on of these features of personality, rather than the others. I have taken the test at different points in my life and the results differed vastly ~ telling me these theories describe merely a snapshot of the individual psyche.

So, we do, in fact, possess the capacity to choose, at varying levels of ability. Those with borderline tendencies will firmly reject this notion ... there are many borderline personalities in society.

So, the fact that most people resist the notion that choice lies within their grasp only serves to further what I learned growing up, and then in my time as a psych nurse ~ the vast majority of society is so messed up, it has no awareness its messed up.

the.red.mantissa said...

indeed, the honour comes from trying ... to life live actively, responsively, as opposed to passively. Perhaps that what St. Francis tried to convey in his Serenity Prayer ~ wisdom to know the difference.

the.red.mantissa said...

george bush is just plain stupid and egocentric. that's his problem. he feels only for his ego. that's quite plain. and he possesses absolutely no intuition or vision. he's obtuse ... so obtuse.