Saturday, August 13, 2016

Free Will, Restrictions, Ethics, and Misdeed

Free will only works if you can opt in, opt out of something. In our lives there are many different things over which we can exercise our free will, and some things in which our free will may be curtailed for various reasons, good or bad, of our own choosing and not of our own choosing. (And even in events that are beyond the scope of our free will, we often have some opportunity to decide how we want to respond these matters.) Free will only works if “yes” and “no” are both treated as viable possibilities, with their own sets of different responsibilities, consequences, and contexts.

Before we get started further on discussion of these matters, please take a moment an consider whether or not you are the intended audience for this discussion. 

When a person ends up with another person who claims that in order to demonstrate how sexually liberated she is, she must have sex with him. It’s not liberation when someone is using the idea of “liberation” as a means to push her into an activity she doesn’t want to do. It’s not liberation when she’s not free to say no and to have another person accept and respect that “no” as a valid and valued response. Furthermore, it’s a very dirty tactic to prevent any actual liberation that it pretends to champion at the moment. For a person to say "no" and thereby limit, restrict, something like one’s own sexual activity is an action expressive of one’s own personal free will every bit as much as saying "yes" is.

In another example, if a person wears a hijab because she’s forced to by law or social more, she’s not liberated. Also, if a woman is forced not to wear a hijab by law or social more even if that law or social more claims to be doing so in order to liberate her despite the fact that she wants to or needs to wear a hijab, she is again in a state which curtails her personal liberties. A “No, I will not wear a hijab” and a “Yes, I will wear a hijab” are both liberating answers, depending on the context, and depending on the personal choices of the person who’s head that piece of cloth is (or isn't) covering. Both answers are liberating, and both answers must be free to be expressed in order for both answers to be liberating. Both “yes” and “no” must be respected in order for free will to be expressed.

I offer a matter of my own life as an example to further illustrate these ideas, but this is by no means intended to be a post about me. I live under a long list of restrictions. (I would like to clarify that I absolutely do not expect nor suggest that any of you to live or do as I do in regards to restrictions—what I do is on me to do and is my Work. This is a result of decisions, relationships, and interactions I have made in my own life. This isn’t your Work. That’s ok. Indeed, in this advanced matter, I would strongly caution most folks against doing what I do.) I do it because I must do it--it is Work given to me by the gods to do. (In my case, it is a matter vaguely comparable to being drafted, I am required to do things, but one could in theory “dodge the draft.” I'm not a draft-dodger and I would consider the act of dodging the draft on my part to be deeply inappropriate, especially considering the needs of the matters-at-hand. Accepting a draft is a better thing for me to do with ramifications for me and beyond me. But that's me, that's a personal matter, and these are my choices and opinions, and my relationships with my deities.) And, I live under these restrictions because I want to do it. These restrictions aid me in my differentiation. Differentiation, and more specifically my differentiation, is necessary for my Work and is necessary for me to be a complete and whole individual person.

When someone looks at my restrictions, and tells me I’m not free and that in order to be free I must give up my restrictions, I have to give the person who says this the old fish-eye. For freedom to mean anything, I must be free to accept my gods-given restrictions-on-my-freedom, and I have to have my “no” to some human activities in human interactions accepted. If I cannot willingly accept the deities’ restrictions on my freedom and feel free to exercise these restrictions in my human life, then I was never really free to begin with. For another human to interfere with this is also to interfere with my differentiation, and my wholeness as a person with my own volition, my needs, my relationships with the deities, and my Work: this human interference and a misguided first impression of what “oppression” is, is where actual oppression plays out. It is here in human interactions and misjudgments, not in my restrictions, that I have the greatest risk of being actually, really oppressed.

If a person tells me that I cannot be free to have dietary restrictions, or to have my head covered, or to honor many other restrictions, then how am I free? That person just curtailed the freedom I have to accept my restrictions. That person is not a god and has no right or rank to interfere with my restrictions, or my freedom, or the freedoms I have which are achieved through restrictions. That person’s wrong conclusion on what it is for me to be free, and that person’s forcing of that erroneous conclusion on to me, is oppression. Even if he thinks it’s freedom, even if he thinks he has the best intentions in mind for telling me that I’m oppressed for adhering to restrictions, he’s the one who is acting in a manner oppressive to me and my situation and interfering with my own personhood and autonomy.

A person is not truly free if you force him to give up his restrictions (for whatever reason he has them) on his own freedoms and behaviors—restrictions like food prohibitions, restrictions on types of clothing; restrictions on activities like sex, swimming, or touching corpses, or killing spiders, or cheese making, or dancing naked on the sun-baked hood of a ’67 Chevy Impala, or working on Sundays, or almost anything else that can be expressed in a verb; or restrictions based on codes of ethics, behavioral standards, personal behavioral standards, group behavioral standards, concepts of sin (misdeed, transgression), and concepts of purity and/or impurity. Free will only works when we realize that there are different structures in which freedom can be expressed, restricted, or both.

This plays into matters of matters of codes of ethics. A person is free to express herself under a code of ethics, and thereby restrict her own behavior, and operate under her preferred mode of self-discipline. If a person is a polytheist, and adheres to a polytheistic religion that has a code of ethics and/or ideas of what constitutes misdeed (sin, transgression), and/or restrictions of some sort, she is opting into a system by which she expresses her freedom through the willful restriction of that freedom in accordance to her own personal ethics, as well as those of her religion, her religious community, her relationships and agreements between her and her deities, the relationships and agreements set up in her religious community with her deities, and her relationships with her ancestors. Her adherence to these restrictions is not a restriction on your free will, even if you may feel uncomfortable in  your personal response to her restrictions. (This is a matter I have covered before.)

These are matters of someone’s own personal autonomy, differentiation, and individuation. These are matters of someone’s own personhood*; they are not “doing” their restrictions “to you,” this is simply a matter of their own differentiation, their own free will, and how they live within the context of their relationships. It’s not about you.

[*“Personal sovereignty” is a popular buzz-phrase in many of our communities, but I avoid the phrase because “sovereignty” often implies a political system, and/or rulership, and/or rank, and/or authority, and/or power, and/or royalty, and/or the independence of a nation or a group of people. I am not making a value-judgement here on rank, or authority, or power structures, or royalty, or politics, it is simply a matter of "does the term 'sovereignty' fit well here." There are better terms which are more accurately expressive of this idea of the right of an individual person to be an individual person, the right to that person’s own personhood, that right to differentiation and individuation, and of bodily autonomy, hence I use “personhood” here to be more expressive, in a general way, of these ideas.]

When another person claims that adhering to restrictions, or behavioral codes, or concepts of purity or impurity, or concepts of sin / misdeed, is “oppression,” I think back to the example of a woman being told what she must do with her own private decisions in order to be “liberated."
This is usually done by someone who:
A) Doesn’t understand her restrictions,
B) Doesn't understand the concept of restriction,
C) Doesn't understand the concept of personal boundaries, autonomy, and differentiation
D) Doesn’t understand that one person’s restrictions are not being imposed on another,
E) Is trying to manipulate her, whether intentionally or unintentionally
F) Doesn’t understand that sometimes some forms of liberation are expressed through willing restriction,
G) Has not done the kind of personal introspection necessary to be conscious that s/he doesn't understand these things. and,
H) Is the kind of jerk who can't take "no" for an answer.
Maybe the person can't take no for an answer because s/he has some unexamined personal issues or s/he feels someone else's "no" is a personal attack or a blow to her/his ego--it's understandable, and yet it is a foul thing to manipulate someone into a yes just to save one's own discomfort. Maybe the person who can't take "no" for an answer has some deep-rooted unexamined fears in regards to restriction, freedom, and the interplay between the two--these fear are real, and they require careful, conscious attention, and healing. Regardless of one's own personal challenges, it's inappropriate not to respect someone else's boundaries, restrictions, and answers of "no". If you really support others' personhoods and autonomy, make sure you respect their restrictions, points of differentiation, boundaries, and answers of "no."

It is not a support of freedom to bully someone into giving up restrictions, ethics, codes of ethics, concepts of misdeed, and concepts of purity or impurity, through your own unexamined fears of “not being liberated" and through your own discomforts and conscious or unconscious attitudes on liberation.

Image Credit: Fuzzy pink "love cuffs" photo by "Nosferatu," used under CC-GNU License.

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