My favorite types of movies are the feel good ones. I mean, it seems like a no brainer to me; the best movies are the ones that make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Who doesn’t like feeling warm and fuzzy?? Yesterday, as I prepared my White Chicken Chili because it was Soup-Day Sunday, I watched The Giver, and goody for me, it was a feel good movie. I’m not saying it was the best movie I’ve ever seen, and yes there were definitely some major plot loopholes, and yeah it did deviate a tad from the well-known book from which it’s based, but it had some truly beautiful scenes.
I thought it did a fairly good job at capturing the important concept of the startling beauty and necessity of human free will. The story of The Giver, for those who didn’t read it in middle school, features a future society in which there is perfect peace because humanity has removed the concept of individual will. There are no fights, no arguments, no war, no dissenters. But there is also no love, or goodness, or beauty, and this is where free will becomes of the utmost significance.
So I’d like to examine this concept of free will. I think sometimes we fail to see the true gravity of the construct. The fact that we possess this faculty by which we may observe our environment, convene with our intellect, and then move ourselves into an action that is truly our own has big consequences. First, it allows evil to exist in this world. We have the ability to see what is good around us and to come to know this goodness, and we have the capability to reject it. Such an act of the will would be determined as evil, because it is not good. Possessing the ability to choose allows humanity the option of choosing wrong, and as a result vices including greed, hatred, selfishness, or apathy exist.
On the other, much sunnier side, free will grants us the ability to love, produce beauty, and reach for that which elevates us. Love is a free gift of oneself, meaning in love you choose to place the good of another over your own desires. Without the ability that makes it a free choice, love would no longer exist. Love is so powerful, sought after, and such a big deal because it is something freely and consciously chosen. It’s not merely a person who overflows with gooey feelings and skips around spreading their gooey emotions everywhere, it’s a person who feel the desire to be selfish but chooses to act in opposition to that selfishness. It is the presence of the option for bad that gives so much power to the choice for goodness.
I see these acts of the will where humanity chooses the good in the face of opposing evil, chooses others over themselves, chooses a difficult beauty over an easy ugliness, as powerful fireworks that burst with dazzling color everywhere they are committed. They light up the world, and help illuminate life’s purpose of finding truth, choosing goodness, and knowing God, who is love. I think about that sometimes; society always seems so obsessed with finding authentic love, and since God is love (*Literally, that’s what love is. It’s a God-like action: willing the good of another without any thought to oneself, which could basically be God’s catchphrase. “God: willing the good of humanity without any regard to the fact that we are going to be a huge pain in the butt since the beginning of time!”) sometimes I wonder if this whole time society has been obsessed with finding God and just haven’t realized it.
For the Greeks, “Know Thyself” was an incredibly important idea. They inscribed those words on every temple they had for Apollo. This phrase can be translated to the pursuit of the answer for the question, “What is my deepest self?” or “At my core, what am I?” There are a number of ways to answer this:
1. I am a social function, one little ingredient in society, and my purpose is Society. Such a concept leads to the loss of the individual and the mass conformity that writers warned of including Huxley, De Tocqueville, and Nietzsche. This answer is built on the notion of losing one’s will, much like in The Giver.
2. I am a physical function. I am little more than material, I am what I eat. A will could not exist in something purely physical, because it is not a physical thing.
3. I am an emotional function. I am what I feel, experience, or ingest. If such a thing were true we would not really be our own selves, but rather conglomerate collages of the randomized desires and feelings that flitted into our minds during the course of our existence. We would not possess a will, because if we were what we felt, we would always act as we felt, and the will exists by our ability to act against our desires if we see such action to be fit in light of our intellect.
4. I am a rational function. I am made of my own knowledge, understanding, and cleverness. I can come to know truth. This answer draws us close, but still lacks the deepest part of what we are, because if this was our deepest level then we should never act contrary to what we know. However, examples of people choosing that which contradicts their knowledge (eating poorly, procrastination, neglecting responsibility) exist in plenty. Free will require intellect, which animals do not possess, in order to see clearly the truth of the choice presented before it, but intellect does not dictate which choice will be made.
5. I am the will. At my deepest level, I am that which chooses, commits, and loves. I cannot distance myself from my will, or attempt to scrutinize it, for such an attempt would in itself be an act of my will. I is synonymous with my will.
And if our deepest self is our will, the importance of that free will cannot be overstressed. Our gift of free will defines us as human beings. In the movie, there was this really striking quote in which the creepy Chief Elder lady said, “When people are given the ability to choose, they choose wrong.” This quote isn’t wrong, people do choose wrong a lot. Everybody does. But if you eliminate the possibility of an ugly choice, you also eliminate the possibility of a beautiful choice, and you end up with a world devoid of anything real.
That’s how important free will is for us. What we will makes up the deepest part of what we are, and if you removed that we’d just be hollow shells living in an equally hollow and empty world. Unfortunately, evil is always going to be around, but this is only because good exists. Evil is merely the absence of good; it is choices that have no goodness in them.
The beauty of our free will is that it allows for such beautiful things: art, passion, dedication, honor, trust, love.
So, all that from a movie that only garnered 6.6 on the IMDB ratings. On occasion feel good warm fuzzy movies can make you think.