A Skeptic's Guide to the Universe: On the existence of free will, individual autonomy and belief systems
By Charlotte B. Cerminaro
Two days ago, several segments of police and surveillance videos were released to the general public. The video captured some of the extremely violent, breathtakingly unlawful behavior of which human beings are capable. Perhaps the most disturbing fact surrounding the events captured in these videos is that the horrific actions were solely perpetrated by law enforcement officers. The unabashed brutality was inflicted on a man with no criminal record, who displayed no aggressive or unlawful behavior; his death, three days later, was a direct result of their actions. Most of the officers involved have been charged with second degree murder, among other crimes.
Questions about possible motivations and their previous history of using excessive force, have so far gone unanswered. There is one chilling possibility that hasn't really been explored: They did these things because they knew they could.
Imagine the presence of a powerful entity, one that has non-human attributes and inimical intentions. The entity is an embodiment of a recycled, but highly condensed ideology. It is unimaginably pervasive, and unthinkable in its subtlety. It gained and maintains control largely without violence, with the ability to shape people's thoughts to create the desired behaviors and beliefs. There is nothing it won't use to seduce people into the concept–wealth, fame, sensual allure, worldly power, even "protection" against other ideologies. Its enticing message is played by nearly every media source–beginning in early childhood, continuing through adulthood and into senescence.
This ideology is recognized almost universally by its emphasis on the "collective", rather than the individual. The term "society" is commonly used, which represents an abstraction and not a reality. A population is comprised of individuals; the rights of one individual are also the rights of every individual. Once the concept of the "individual" is completely devalued and eliminated, people are reduced to their lowest common denominator; the homogenized term "society" is applied loosely but uniformly.
In reality, this marks a turning point where the law, and its enforcement, becomes overwritten and excessively rigid. The dynamic construct of "society" is then infantalized–presumed ignorant and violent. Justice is applied without nuance, common sense, or mercy. Words are no longer for communication, but a means of control. Political ideology is preached with all the fervor of the most extreme religious totalitarianism. Even the arts and entertainment become tools of propaganda. Those who resist are threatened–by the bullies, the cowardly, and by the "true believers".
Born and raised in the Soviet Union, Ayn Rand and Aleksander Solzeneitsyn both wrote detailed accounts of the rise of collectivism, and its inevitable path to socialist totalitarianism. Their observations of the early changes that took place well before 1917 were a clear foreshadowing of an encroaching storm, one that has been catastrophically repeated many times in the last century. History has recorded the pattern of events leading up to, and following the downfall of numerous regimes: from German socialism in the 1930's to Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge in 1970's Cambodia and countless others.
Both writers made cautionary statements about the wave of extreme legalism in the US starting in the late 1960's. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and John F. Kennedy both famously and repeatedly warned of the dangers to the Republic that our newly-acquired military and technological power would bring if they continued on their present course, unchallenged. President Wilson actually called it the "Military Industrial Complex" and foresaw a possible future in which this power could easily overshadow the freedom of its own citizens. They both referred to the "fine line" between protecting freedom and using coercion, with the latter already being justified as a means to the former.
The famous words of warning from these two intelligent, well-educated presidents, and the course of events since these words were spoken, raises questions about the exercise of free will in an atmosphere of restricted freedom. Free will and freedom are mutually exclusive, but we can see that within an artificial construct and with limited freedom, many individuals can lose sight of the autonomy and free will that is still in their possession. If these two assets are the only variables in an ongoing struggle for freedom, and if they are our sole means of affecting change in this struggle, then all of us really are walking a "fine line".
Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician and recording artist. In her free time she enjoys writing and regularly contributes to Enter Stage Right and she attained a Bachelor's Degree in Molecular Biology.