Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The illusion of choice

This is not a post about the current U.S. political situation.

And I've addressed this topic (sort of) before with this post on regrets.

But someone on one of the lists I read mentioned the novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" by Milan Kundera the other day. I love this book and the movie (one of the rare book/movie combos that I've appreciated). It made me smile that anyone was discussing this work on the internet. I haven't discussed the book for years - since college.

Anyway, the poster was talking about the return to Prague - that the characters couldn't handle living without friend and family. They couldn't handle the freedom of their lives outside Soviet Czechoslovakia. I am grossly over-simplifying what happens. The poster's premise was that freedom is sometimes too difficult for us to deal with (and I agree that sometimes freedom is a scary thing).

I think the novel is about more than that. I think that it discusses how we develop our sense of self - what makes us "tick", who we love, what choices we make.

As I get older, I have more sympathy for a post modern perspective on life. That in fact, we don't have a great deal of choice in what we do or where we end up. Modernism is the idea that everything was developing up until the culmination of this time. Modernism encourages the social construct that a person can "pull them up with their bootstraps", etc. That if I work eighty hours a week, I'll get somewhere - that if I raise my kids "right" they will turn out a certain way.

I'm not suggesting the radical notion that a person has no control over their thoughts or actions. I'm just suggesting that for the majority of us, we were born into a specific set of circumstances. We were born with a specific set of genes. Some predispose us to intelligence, reason, linguistic skill. Others predispose us to high cholesterol, heart disease, mental illness, alcoholism, etc. And that's just the genes. Social interaction, family life - country of origin all play into a person's abilities and where they will end up in life.

I didn't choose to be born to a large family that was mormon - or to be American or to have blue eyes. I'm just suggesting that many choices are already made for us, even from the moment we're born. My eighth grade social studies teacher warned us that "Soon, doors will start to close".

And to some extent, he was right.

I hate to sound negative, because I believe there can always be new beginnings. Change is always possible - but sometimes it comes at a price. Sometimes we really don't have the freedom that we think we have.

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