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Free Will and Moral Responsibility

Speak up, or give up

By

“But you said the price would range between $15-$20 yesterday when I made the order. You also promised it would be ready in the morning and it’s 4pm now.”

“Well, you know, it took our translators more effort than we expected. And your deadlines were really harsh. After all, who does such things at the very last minute? You should have turned to us earlier. Are you going to pay?”

As human beings, we cannot avoid interactions with other people. More often than not we find ourselves in situations where either a person or a system makes us accept their unilateral rules of the game. Whether it’s a clerk working at a bureaucratic institution, treating us with an “I am the state, you are nothing” attitude, a parliament which passes laws violating our rights, a society placing upon us a great number of expectations and norms, a teacher shutting down our dissenting opinions, or a parent who perceives our life goals as meaningless. In most cases, we have two options: either we speak up for what we believe is right, or we give in to someone else’s idea of what is right.

Fear as the driving force

One of the most distinctive characteristics of unfree societies and countries is the fear to stand up and stand out. Although we have witnessed many revolutions over the course of history, the issue goes down to the individual level, which explains why those group uprisings have often changed so little.

Freedom always comes with responsibility and while everyone craves the former, hardly anyone is ever ready to deal with the latter. What happens in unfree societies is that people trade their freedom for security and the reassurance of stability. Today is bad, so tomorrow will be bad too, but at least you know what to expect, right?

On a governmental level, this concession opens up a great field for manipulation, as regardless of your ideological backbone, you can always frame your agenda as the one wanting to make life in your country more stable. Politicians will make good use of this desire for security and stability in their proclamations. Their actions, however, are divorced from the ideals expounded in their speeches.

The fear to stand up and to consequently become ostracized from society, which provides as much security as the idea of government as a ruling authority, stems from conformism. Why would you, for example, wear a dress with sneakers in a city where no one else does it, setting yourself apart as an outsider? What would people think of you if you are a law school drop out? Why do anything that won’t make you respected in your society?

In other words, why be free if you can be a slave to someone’s idea of what is right? In unfree societies, the very idea of freedom to act in the way you wish is associated with guilt. Thus, it is your choice to state in your final exam that you believe in free markets instead of central planning, but risk being punished by a teacher who has a different opinion. You will get marked down. You are the guilty one. You decided to speak up.

The status quo is encouraged, which is why we should challenge it

The idea of stability helps politicians manipulate their voters, and so do the forces of guilt and shame on a societal level. Accordingly, just like most governments, most societies encourage the maintenance of the status quo.

Different ideas of systems emphasizing stability stand to benefit from the status quo, while the main loser here is the individual. Someone who pays taxes they never consented to and is subordinate to public opinion, has internalized a pessimistic view of responsibility.

“No, I am not going to pay”

I am not going to pay and, as a consumer, I am saying “no” to the behavior of that translation agency. I am saying “no” to the feeling of guilt the manager wanted to instill in me. I am responsible for making a time-sensitive order and agreeing to pay $20. Since they consented to have it ready by a specified time and at the price agreed upon, it was their responsibility to perform their duties. Their failure is not, as they want me to believe, something I have to feel any guilt for.

Yes, it is that easy, just a random everyday thing, you would say. Everything starts small. Today you say “no” to unfair treatment and perverse societal norms, tomorrow you say “no” to a government that steals from your pocket. Eventually, you will win. In the end, I paid $20, instead of the last-minute increase to $30.

Every action or lack of action has a consequence. Either you speak up or give up, as you are the one who has to deal with the outcome. The choice is yours: will you speak up or give up?

To read more about free will and moral responsibility, be sure to check out our cluster page by clicking on the button below.



Edited by Russell Coates

This piece solely expresses the opinion of the author and not necessarily the organization as a whole. Students For Liberty is committed to facilitating a broad dialogue for liberty, representing a variety of opinions.

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