Law in Contemporary Society

Choose As a Free Man

-- By KevinChang - 27 Feb 2009; revised on 18 April 2009 as part of the second assignment

Most People Are Not Truly Making Choices

Most people are not truly making choices. It is because most people, being social animals, often are not really thinking, or at least are not thinking independently. Moreover, most people believe that they are constrained by “external circumstances” in making their choices. As a result, those in power control most people. Only independent thinkers with strong will could achieve what they really desire and thus are truly free.

Group Consciousness Influences People

Most people, though thinking they are making choices, are actually to a certain extent influenced by group consciousness. We choose what to wear based on fashion; we choose which school to go based on rankings; and we choose our careers based on what people generally think promising. Sometimes when we make choices, certain options, although we are well aware of their existence or even think those options meaningful, never come into our minds because we rule them out based on what people generally believe. For example, an outstanding medical student may only consider becoming a professor and attending physician at top academic medical centers. She might let go her original ideal of serving patients in remote areas because this is not what most medical students regarded as a “prestigious” or “profitable” career which they believe an outstanding medical student deserve. At this point, what she really desires is superseded by what people would generally want. Because she is not thinking independently, she loses her freedom.

People Feel Constrained by External Circumstances

Most people feel compelled to be constrained by “external circumstances.” People with adverse external circumstances such as low socioeconomic status or family dysfunction seem to believe or to be believed that they are somehow deprived of the chances to be truly free, that is, to be able to pursue what they really want. For instance, people would generally believe that one in an extremely poor family might be seriously limited in pursuing what she really desires for her life. Interestingly, some people with advantageous external circumstances may also be hampered in their pursuit of freedom. For example, one who in a family with high socioeconomic status may be expected by people like her parents, to achieve a career generally believed to be respected. Under both circumstances, people lost their freedom, which may result from the fact that most people do not have the strong will and courage to strive for their own dreams.

People Tend to Lose Freedom of Choice Because They Are Social Animals

The fact that most people tend to be constrained by group consciousness and external circumstances is related, substantially, to the fact that humans are social animals. To maximize the chance of survival, humans gather and collaborate and thus are biologically social. In order to satisfy their spiritual needs, people provide each other with mental supports and therefore are psychologically social. Moreover, most people prefer others similar to themselves. Therefore, most people, as social animals, tend to adopt what is generally believed by the majority of people in order to be accepted by others. This fact created, on a social level, group consciousness. Although a great deal of diversity does exist within group consciousness, “main stream” values also exist and to a certain extent affect the thinking process and decision making of people. The smaller the group, the lesser the diversity and the more influential group consciousness would be. For instance, it is certainly true that, on the level of the society as a whole, people vary widely in their personal views on a certain profession, and these differences are certainly respected. However, if a person within that profession challenges the “mainstream” creed of it, he would likely be less acceptable to the majority in that profession. Unfortunately, the smaller the group the more it is related to individuals, and most people are afraid of being less accepted in that kind of closely related group. Therefore, most people lost the most freedom in territories that is most related to them and subject themselves to the group consciousness.

Being Social Animals Makes People Susceptible to Control

Mainstream values and external circumstances are easily created and manipulated by the powerful and wealthy, especially in modern society where massive transmission of information is common and most things are working under systems. Keeping people lead their lives under those values and systems without thinking independently and challenging existing systems serves the benefit of those already in power. Therefore, most people are actually deprived of their freedom to pursue what are truly meaningful to them and thus are controlled by mainstream values and external circumstances that may be artificial products of the “directors” of the society.

People with Independent Thinking and Strong Will Are Not Controlled

Granted, mainstream values are influential and external circumstances pose daunting obstacles to overcome, there is no denying that some people, though truly rare, can simply break through these limitations. Independent thinking and strong will are the keys. Stories of great thinkers leading the evolution of human civilization are too numerous to enumerate; great entrepreneurs are also solid proofs that the strong are not constraint by adverse circumstances. To mention merely one living evidence—Stan Shi—the founder of Acer, the fourth largest computer manufacturer worldwide. His father died before he was born. His mother is illiterate, and he had to struggle to earn a living when he was five by vending fruits with his mother at countryside temples. However, he made it to one of the best universities in Taiwan and has accomplished what few men can achieve.

Think and Strive, and We Shall Be Free

It might be true, for most people, that group consciousness and external circumstances pose stringent restrictions on the choices we could make. Therefore, most people might not be truly free because they are not pursuing what is truly meaningful to them. However, let us not forget, by thinking independently and strive with courage, everyone may be one of the few who are truly free.


Webs Webs

r6 - 08 Jan 2010 - 22:10:26 - IanSullivan
This site is powered by the TWiki collaboration platform.
All material on this collaboration platform is the property of the contributing authors.
All material marked as authored by Eben Moglen is available under the license terms CC-BY-SA version 4.
Syndicate this site RSSATOM