Free Will and Destiny
I. Free will and freedom are similar, but different things. Freedom is a state of self-determination that has a lot to do with our relationships with other people. A person is free if they are not held in slavery, or has another person to constantly answer too. Freedom is something everyone deserves. We should all be able to choose where we live, where we go, and what we do to a certain extent. And we should be able to make these choices without fear of legal, social, or other repercussions that can be inflicted by our fellow humans.
Free will is also a form of self-determination, but involves our relationship with the world and universe around us more than how we interact with other people. Discussions on free will often involve the concepts of fate and destiny. If a person has no choice but to reach a specific goal, even if they can choose how to get there, do they really have free will?
The heroes, both in stories and in real life, have the noble distinction of achieving greatness. They save worlds, or change them forever. And they are remembered long after their deeds. But for all the benefits, anyone with a grand or noble destiny does not have free will. For free will is the direct result of obscurity.
II. The ancient Sumerians believed that kingship was a tangible thing that could be either passed down or stolen away. In this way, destiny is like kingship. Kingship is a grand thing. It allows you to carve your face on everything and make ridiculous demands. Kingship is also a terrible burden. Whoever holds kingship, be they good rulers or bad, has a responsibility to all the people under their rule. True responsibility is not something that can just be ignored like a barking dog or a new mole on your shoulder. Responsibility will pop up again and again, and is a real limiter of choices.
Having a destiny is like having a cosmic responsibility. You have to save the world from being destroyed by an asteroid, or prevent all life from being swept up in a tide of evil. Not all responsibilities however are so grand in scope.
Destiny is unavoidable. Like other responsibilities, destiny will not go away. The difference is that if a person does not achieve their destiny, it is implied that the course of the universe will then be out of whack. The person will be faced with choice after choice until they are unknowingly pulled back, and things are set back on the right trajectory. For fifteen billion years the Universe has been chugging along without a hitch. For now it won’t allow some petulant human to ruin its perfect performance record, but we’ll see what happens when the sixteen billion year warrantee runs out.
III. Like many complex, yet probably fictional situations, the world of video games provides an excellent illustration of free will. For this example I am using the main Halo games, but it would apply to any game with single-player capability.
In Halo you play as Master Chief; the quintessential hero. He does the general hero stuff, running around with guns and grenades, saving every living thing from a fate worse than death, and making anyone who isn’t an eight-foot-tall champion of humanity feel terribly inadequate.
As a video game character, Master Chief has a unique capability. He can be, and has been, controlled by an infinite number of different individuals. Except for the robots that play Halo, each of these individuals is a person that ostensibly has their own free will to exercise. They can make choices, like having Master Chief destroy everything with a rocket launcher, or making him sneak around with an energy sword.
Despite the unlimited options in strategy and play-style, the story always progresses the same way. The cut scenes never change, and the end is always the same. This is because, even though people with free will control him, Master Chief has a destiny. He has a responsibility to save the galaxy.
IV. For those who bear the mantle of responsibility, free will is an illusion. People in important positions have far more influence than the average Joe. Kings, Presidents, and CEOs wield more power than I can imagine, but such power is a means to an end that is probably beyond their control. Meanwhile, I can do whatever I want, because what I do doesn’t matter.
Of course, the Universe is a big place. It is entirely possible that no human being is important enough for their actions to really matter. This might seem bleak, but knowing you are probably not important can be a very liberating feeling. Maybe free will doesn’t matter, but it doesn’t come with the same conditions as a mighty destiny, either.
Phenomenal cosmic powers. Itty, bitty living space.