Michael Battalio


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Serious conversations (part 15):

        This series is a continuation of my conversations with an atheist friend of mine. We began with religion and have now moved onto many other things. These are my edited responses from that conversation. The fifteenth entry concerns self determination:

To quote my friend:
The problem is this: in a world where you can do just about anything, how do you decide what to do? When you're smart enough and educated enough to do almost anything there is in the world to do, how can you possibly figure out what you should do, what you want to do?

Ever wondered about why the fiction stories that seem to appeal most to our world now involve people who are fulfilling their "destiny?" Take something like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, and you find a hero who is simply playing out something they were always meant to do because of their bloodline or because of some particularly extraordinary thing that happened to them that doesn't really leave them much choice about what to do with the rest of their lives. That's how they become great. Indeed, it seems like heroes in these types of stories are the ones we like best. We hold some romanticized notions of destiny and fate that really play almost no bearing on everyday life today. Granted, it is undoubtedly much easier to craft an interesting story when you have a definite problem and a character with an unavoidable fate, much easier than writing a story about a character with no specific inclination toward anything or any particular obstacles in his way except the anxiety of self-determination. But that's what real life is like for people like us. It's terrifying to think that we could literally do /anything/.

In a way, life would be easier if some huge challenge or extraordinary circumstance suddenly landed in my lap because then I would know exactly what to do. Whatever it was might be extremely difficult, but it would be easier than making a choice about what to do in the first place.

Here’s what I said:
I have often pondered about self determination as well. Having taken a lot of different classes (by way of changing majors multiple times), I figured out I could pick just about anything I wanted to do and to it just as well as any other person. This is part of why I keep collecting degrees. (If I had unlimited money I would do that for the rest of my life; I really enjoy learning.) I get an inkling about an interest, and I go investigate it. This is the blessing of our youth. If we have an interest, we can go pursue it. So what if you decide that the path you are taking is wrong. At worst you've wasted some of your time (and money). I think this is what most self-determined people end up doing-trying stuff until they like it. I know a lot of people who change careers mid-stream. It is just a matter of being patient enough to wait until you have found a vocation.
        Unfortunately, some people are anxious about self-determination, and they just go to the first and easiest place they can go. I think this is partly the reason people working just awful jobs don't leave, because they are scared of what to go do next, not necessarily that they wouldn't be able to find something next, just that would have to find something.
        I agree that actually making the choice about what to do is harder than actually doing something. The problem is, I don't really know how to go about making the final determination of what I should do. I just have to hope that my future self will be able to make a better choice than I can presently.

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