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Reflections on the meaning of life and other puzzles, part 3: The intersection of free will, momentum and external forces

By Charlotte Cerminaro
web posted August 6, 2018

The vast array of choices available to consumers nowadays is not lost on me when I go down the dairy aisle to get milk. This is only the tip of the iceberg and it’s not just food and drink; online shopping is a way of life for people in all demographic groups. However, the choices available to us at the click of a mouse are more complicated than what we’re going to eat, more ethically problematic than searching through Amazon. In addition, there are a myriad of things which are no longer choices for us, basic rights taken away through political stealth, or as a consequence of the very lifestyle presented to us.

One of the most obvious choices we have now, so obvious it’s even called ‘pro-choice’, is abortion. Committing infanticide is a legal right as long as the child is unborn, yet our first amendment rights are no longer guaranteed or protected. Much of our speech is now openly censored, religious language is actually called “hate speech”, and arbitrary decisions and punitive measures are taken if it is determined that a member of a ‘protected group’ has been slighted or offended, even by well-intentioned words.

On another note, we apparently have a much larger pool of potential legitimate marriage partners. Since marriage is no longer defined as “one man and one woman” and gay marriage is now a legal right, the door has been opened to a veritable Pandora’s Box of fetishism, perversion and moral relativism. At the same time, we are under a level of surveillance that is positively Orwellian. From the moment we walk out our front door until we come home at night, we are likely being watched--and not of our choice.

However grim this is, it just gets worse when we look at international human rights violations. Refugees fleeing genocidal regimes, seeking asylum and hoping to start a new life in a “free” country, find themselves immersed in a kind of Bizarro World nightmare. It’s not just the terrorists hiding among the refugees that are responsible for this. The more disturbing truth is that the western world is no longer free. Many people believe Socialism is the opposite of Fascism, that one is on the far left of the spectrum, the other is on the far right. In reality, they are almost identical. Glenn Beck summed it up best when he said there is no far left or right, but instead, as things get more extreme, the two sides of the spectrum curve back toward each other and meet in the very center of tyranny. So, the refugee is caught in a system similar to the one they escaped, where honor killings happen (and sometimes go unpunished), where conversion to Christianity (or any other religion) is a valid reason for parents to kill children. And for young females seeking asylum from obligatory, ritual mutilation (FGM), they are likely to be handed over to a “western” practitioner of this barbaric, cruel, and sometimes deadly ritual. It’s also quite likely that the practitioner, as well as the kidnappers, will go unpunished. If militant feminists put half the effort into this issue that they do on female athletes’ salaries, they could actually make a difference, promote freedom and perhaps save lives.

These examples only serve to highlight the difference, and the constant tension, between free will and freedom. Our free will can be affected by laws, cultural and behavioral momentum, the free will of others and a multitude of forces, seen and unseen. Regardless, we retain free will even when freedom is scarce and our free will does not grant us unbounded freedom. This is difficult to understand, impossible to explain. However, not for the first time I realized that an orchestra, and the performing of music, serves as an illustration for many individual and societal issues. It’s an almost perfect microcosm, complete with egos and idiocy. Any professional musician knows they cannot control a concert. Practice and experience only go so far because ultimately it comes down to 80 or 90 people on a stage together, dealing with bad intonation, bad conductors, acoustical problems, instrument problems, physical problems and ambient temperature changes. Stuff is going to happen, so we’re not surprised when it does and we adjust immediately, work with it, fix what we can and keep going. This, to me, is life. ESR

Charlotte B. Cerminaro is a Juilliard-trained classical musician who, in addition to being a studio and orchestral musician, enjoys writing. © 2018

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