Our free will isn’t ultimate nor is it unaffected by outside influences, but the one and only thing we truly own is ourselves. Our body, our mind, our soul, our Self, this is ours. We are owed our rights to basic resources, food, shelter, etcetera, and we’re owed freedom to live our lives as we please so long as we aren’t harming others— but the only thing we’re guaranteed is our right to ourselves. This is what free will is. It’s manipulated by our circumstances and contexts but it’s ours, and will always be ours.
This is responsibility. No matter what we absorb or how we’re changed by our environment, we are responsible for our actions. This is the greyness of morality. The actions of a starving mother stealing from a rich company are responsible, far more responsible than a white man saying a racial slur. One is an action of theft and one is ‘just words’, but one punches up out of necessity and one punches down out of selfishness and a faux understanding of free will and free speech.
Why is the mother stealing? Her children are dying because of a capitalist and colonialist system that profits off of the subjugation of the poor, and her family has a fundamental right to adequate food. Why is the white man saying racial slurs? He believes he’s entitled to say anything he wants regardless of the consequences his actions will bring upon himself and the people around him. They are symptoms of the same illness, but we can recognize necessity versus entitlement. We are entitled to food and shelter, not entitled to expressing ourselves in harmful ways immune from social repercussions. A pedophile doesn’t have the right to exercise his free will to abuse children, no one who’s selfish desires harm others is entitled to those actions.
Rich will hoard wealth, landlords will take the shirt off your back, corporations will destroy our earth, predators will manipulate, I do believe in evil. I believe free will for selfish means outside of necessity is evil, and those who fight for the right to be selfish to the point of harm are evil. We have a responsibility to not punch down, to not oppress, not abuse.
I have control over my life even when it’s out of control. I don’t use racial slurs, not because I’ll be criticized, but because I don’t have any desire to use them or to subject marginalized people to the trauma of hearing them. People get defensive when their selfishness is pointed out and feel their liberties are threatened when in truth, they’re experiencing the social consequences of refusing to educate themselves.
Free will means the ability to learn, but also the ability to actively use what you learn to make choices. We’re traumatized, neglected, and we have toxic behaviours and patterns, but we have to do better. We have to heal. We can choose to facilitate abuse or we can choose the opposite.
This is what personal responsibility means. Are you using your free will to hurt others and be selfish or are you using it to learn and heal? Straight people will use homophobic slurs because they think it’s funny and they think they have a fundamental right to use them. Middle class people will criticize social welfare programs because they don’t understand the complexities of poverty. Mass property owners will pretend they’re not a major cause of housing insecurity. They will use their free will selfishly and ignorantly. They have been given numerous opportunities to learn and change, as we all are given, and they have still chosen oppression.
We are affected by the world that has raised us but we are responsible for who we are and what we do, and if we want to keep creating a world that beats us down at every turn.
A child who is abused by their parents can choose to heal and raise their own children healthily and happily, or choose stagnation and repeat the cycle that hurt them, in turn abusing their own children.
It’s time to recognize our toxic or hindering mentalities. It’s time to open our minds back up to being wrong. It’s time to heal. This is responsibility. This is free will.
Be proud of surviving and look forward to growing.