On wills, won'ts and lack thereof

May 26, 2022 by Lucian Mogosanu

First off, let us agree (together) that this article is not here to break any ground on the philosophical matter of the so-called "free will"; but rather to look at the notion from a practical perspective, and if anything, invalidate any formalist wankery on the matter. With this thought in mind, let us proceed.

I will begin with a quote from an older article of mine:

Words, as any other tool, hold no power by themselves. You need someone to sift through them and arrange them in the proper sequence in order for them to hold any meaning at all; and you need someones to read said sequence and decipher it. In other words, words hold at most a potential power of changing something in people upon their decipherment. When employed correctly, the fractal structure of language allows words to change not merely individuals, but entire populations -- as clearly shown by historical evidence of texts, speeches and so on and so forth, from philosophy to mere propaganda, the edifice of human civilization is built, among others, upon words.

and so on and so forth, read the whole thing if you will. Long story short, what I meant to say is that language, among others, forms the (or at the very least a) fabric of society -- language is the software of society, if you want a convenient analogy.

Furthermore, since societies of humans and their so-called will cannot be decoupled from politics -- man himself is a so-called Zōon Politikon -- I will continue with a quote from a slightly newer piece:

Let's start from the top: two decades ago, much like today, the so-called "civilized world" -- which includes, but is not limited to all democratic countries west of the Black Sea -- had a ruling political elite, elected by each state's citizens. And much like today, a majority of this political elite was made out of politruks, i.e. "someone's guy". Anyway, regardless of where they stood, politicians two decades ago knew how to talk to their public, and did so eloquently, even the more incompetent among them. Nowadays that bar has been lowered to the point where so-called elites no longer talk to their folks. This is apparent to me at the very least in the US and in the Romanian space, where the political game has degraded even below that of the old communist days.

Now, I will admit that in my zealous attempt to figure out what the hell went wrong with the world in the last two decades, I naïvely looked at the problem from the wrong end. Yes indeed, "so-called elites no longer talk to their folks", insofar as "their folks" include myself and another couple of marginals who wouldn't fit anyway. Democracy, however, is a numbers game, so the aforementioned elites don't need to bother; in fact bothering would be quite counterproductive and any elites who'd attempt such a move would probably be changed in short order. Anyways, the art of speaking was somewhat of a big deal in the twentieth century, and then computers came along and... well, everyone got distracted, so to speak. Democracy works great whenever you tell people precisely what they want to hear, and as folks get dumber under the inevitable pressures of "the market" (of ideas, or whatever), by the end of it all you just don't need to tell them much in order to appeal to their souls, or lack thereof.

At this point, the keen reader will have already wondered: but wait, how do you go about telling people what they don't want to hear? Which brings us to the third quote (archived) -- I'll quote it in full and I'll hope Bloomberg doesn't mind:

Hungary's Orban Declares State of Emergency Over War, Economy

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban declared a wartime state of emergency immediately after his new government was installed.

The state of emergency, a new tool Parliament approved earlier on Tuesday, will take effect at midnight and will give the government "maneuvering room and the ability to react immediately" to the fallout from the war in neighboring Ukraine, Orban said in a video message on his Facebook page.

The government will announce its first measures under the emergency on Wednesday, he said.

Meanwhile Wednesday's almost passed as I'm writing this article, and in Hungary as well, but it dun matter one iota, since as we're already used when it comes to Pravda, we're not told much about anything anyway. This brief exercise in hermeneutics leaves us baffled: what does a so-called state of emergency entail according to Hungarian law? what is the relationship between Ukraine's war and Orbán Viktor's reaction? and so on and so forth, I won't bother you with the endless array of questions left unanswered.

Returning to the discussion on the so-called "power of words", the educated reader may take a brief detour through history and notice that for the most part, human societies were by and large split among two categories of people: those who speak, on one side; and those who listen and execute, on the other -- in other words, what two decades ago we would still call dictatorship. Now, as then, we may readily observe that there is also no third category between or outside of the speaker-listener dualism. Just take covid as a quick example: authorities told people that tiny-but-really-bad virus will eat them alive -- and yes, they still do that in some places -- and people fuckin' complied, to the letter, not despite, but because the right words were uttered at the right time. Pretty horrifying and at the same time a rather great achievement of modern civilization, wouldn't you say? Good thing we have those "people with a larger1 view of the world" to utter just the right words and entire masses of "we're all humans" will simply... comply, whether we're talking about "the pox", big-bada-Putin, or whatever the fuck reality TV episode will be launched next on a tube near you.

In other words, bad news will always be delivered as a perceived narrowing of choices, which reduces any imagined or real semblance of "free will" to dust. To quote a translation of that old Zamyatin piece:

Here is an example: this morning I was on the dock where the Integral is being built, and I saw the lathes; blindly, with abandon, the balls of the regulators were rotating; the cranks were swinging from side to side with a glimmer; the working-beam proudly swung its shoulder; and the mechanical chisels were dancing to the melody of an unheard Tarantella. I suddenly perceived all the music, all the beauty, of this colossal, of this mechanical ballet, illumined by light blue rays of sunshine. Then the thought came: why beautiful? Why is a dance beautiful? Answer: because it is an unfree movement. Because the deep meaning of the dance is contained in its absolute, ecstatic submission, in the ideal non-freedom. If it is true that our ancestors would abandon themselves in dancing at the most inspired moments of their lives (religious mysteries, military parades) then it means only one thing: the instinct of non-freedom has been characteristic of human nature from ancient times, and we in our life of today, we are only consciously --

In other words, this is the only meaningful way in which I can interpret political actions for the foreseeable future: the so-called elites, or rather their amplifying agents -- say, this thing -- will sprinkle the daily gargle with more and more bad news, in order to prime the cattle for whatever's about to come next. It's irrelevant whether or not the content of said bad news has anything at all to do with reality -- after all, throughout millenia the cattle believed in all sorts of metaphysical truths they barely understood, and furthermore nowadays the purely material suffices -- and it's irrelevant what said cattle think they think about it. If Orbán said there's an emergency, then you'd better believe it.

Long story short, you'll be told what to think and believe about it, and that's about it, folks, enjoy the show!

  1. Read: totalitarian; but I'm getting ahead of myself over here. 

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7 Responses to “On wills, won'ts and lack thereof”

  1. #1:
    spyked says:

    In other digressions: I did not quote the passage from We out of nowhere and I bet that the reader who knows what follows after that passage will agree with its foresight. Let us quote two more paragraphs:

    I was interrupted. The switchboard clicked. I raised my eyes,--- O-90, of course! In half a minute she herself will be here to take me for the walk.

    Dear O--! She always seems to me to look like her name, O--. She is approximately ten centimeters shorter than the required Maternal Norm. Therefore she appears all round; the rose-colored O of her lips is open to meet every word of mine. She has a round soft dimple on her wrist. Children have such dimples. As she came in, the logical fly-wheel was still buzzing in my head, and following its inertia, I began to tell her about my new formula which embraced the machines and the dancers and all of us.

    Notice how this passage completely contradicts the previous? It has something almost poetic about it, it reeks of a humanity that is otherwise entirely absent from Zamyatin's Taylorist dystopia. Our protagonist acknowledges, even if only unconsciously, that he is driven by forces other than those placed upon him by those in power, and that those forces are more primal in nature.

    As also discussed here, man has within himself the potential to place himself under certain... let's call them constraints. This is what acting is and yes, this is what dancing also is and the same applies to any other skill or habit which takes time to learn. Furthermore, some may go further than others into mastering this temporary suspension of freedom and unexpectedly, they may end up appreciating and practicing actual freedoms more often and in general more than those who would not willfully apply such constraints.

    As described in Zamyatin's piece, today's socialism has indeed made it infinitely easier for statal machineries to educate individuals, rather than allow them to educate themselves. Fortunately, the state needn't "allow" anything, as the closed doors are for the most part in the minds of the victims.

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