Free will is an illusion? I disagree.
But proponents of that statement are not without any support. And there is definitely some truth in it. It is said that man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains (Rousseau). Indeed he is. The chains are everywhere. The institution of marriage is one. When you marry, you are committed. The pun is deliberate but no less true. The marital vows set the boundaries for the couple. Once you say "I do", you are saying "I won't" to a lot of things or activities. Your freedom is curbed to some extent (or less free). And to compound matters, the commitment is for a lifetime. Some call it a life sentence and others call it growth.
The point is that you have restricted your choices and in a strict sense, you can't do otherwise as you would have done if you were still a swinging bachelor or spinster. In other words, your will is not as free as you would like it or want it to be. All choices, whether consciously or unconsciously, would be made to abide by or honor the marriage vows. Unless you live in subterfuge, secretly two-timing, and betraying your vows, you have made your choice and you have to live with it till death or divorce do you part.
The chains are also in your genetic makeup. Although genes are not destiny, the bad ones can be a real pain in the derrière. And when they are mixed up with an environment of deprivation, the nature-nurture cocktail can really screw your life up. Those who happen to draw the short end of the ovarian lottery will live a life with much mental, emotional, psychological and socioeconomic constraint. Think psychopaths and sociopaths and I think you get the drift.
Then, the chains can also be cultural. This is evident in certain religiously oppressive countries where women are treated like chattels, married off before puberty and subjected to genital mutilation. The girls in these countries are generally uneducated and the tragedy is that they will never know what true freedom is when they are confined against their will within the external environment of control, manipulation and oppression.
Lastly, the chains can be a certain sexual addiction. Some people I know have compulsive urges that they cannot control. I have dealt with some of them who are addicted to hardcore porn, taking up-skirt videos and sniffing undies. Of course there are other addictions with a psychological cause but you get the point. For them, their world is narrower than the world of a normal, well functioning individual. And with a narrower world comes a narrower range of self-directed choices.
So the debate will go on just like that Titanic song about free will but in my view the free-will deniers are misconceived in this debate. You see, I can't imagine the total absence of free will in the same way that I can't imagine the total reign of free will where we are absolutely conscious of the ins and outs of our surrounding and are therefore in complete control of the choices we make. Both extremes are illusional.
I think the practical concept of free will is not an either-or option, and you don't need to be fully conscious of your choices to be deemed to be exercising them. Anyway, we are never fully conscious of how our lunch is digested or the number of hours it takes. We are also hardly aware of how our wound heals. And when we are asleep, our dreams and nightmares are definitely not tethered to our conscious self as they exhilarate or torment us in our waking hours.
Further, there are just too many ideas, thoughts and actions that take us by surprise and we’d be disingenuous to say that we knew they were coming. Or that we consciously bring them into existence. In fact, you can ask any athlete, artist and orator and they will be hard-pressed to map out a step-by-step break down of their physical, artistic and oratorical brilliance, which are clearly more unplanned and spontaneous than are meticulously directed.
Come to think about it, writer’s block are often the result of thinking too much – as novelist Anne Lamott put it, “Your unconscious can’t work when you are breathing down its neck.” The truth is, you can’t be creative by command. Creativity is not like laying an egg via constipated force. It comes naturally, mostly unthinking, and often unexpected. And “if sanity lies between rigidity and chaos”, then creativity lies between the unconscious and the conscious.
So free will is a matter of degree and not absolute. Some of us have more choices (that is, consider a well-educated university graduate who comes from a wealthy home living in a first world economy) and some have lesser (consider the same young lady who is a mother of nine when she married at nine to a man forty years older, unschooled, and living from hand to mouth to make ends meet).
In the end, I choose to look at free will from another angle. Considering that I sometimes entertain curious thoughts and strange ideas from unknown origins, I see my freedom of choice as more about exercising "free-won't" than free-will. Yes, it is about sieving through ideas and consciously rejecting them for their less-than-desirable content. I am therefore my own filter and I see myself metaphorically as a conscious hands digging into the stream of the unconscious and throwing ideas I find repellant or offensive out of that flowing stream.
If there is any proof of myself playing a pivotal role in the decision making process, it would be saying "no" to the many dubious ideas that bounces off my cerebral quantum space. Resisting temptation is a good example of this. Lust, anger, sloth, greed and pride are part of me and they are uninvited guests who gatecrash whenever the circumstances avail itself. So, by saying "no" to them when they make their unprompted appearances, I come alive to the daily freedom I experience as a responsible individual responding to the deviant triggers of my innermost urges.
Of course, this struggle is tough and relentless as this world becomes more seductive and explicit in its visual diorama of materialism, sexuality and corruption. They will all appeal to my inner-self and beckon me softly like the deadly sirens of Odyssey. But on my part, I shall will myself to exercise "free-won't" to keep them all at bay as I take the next mature step in this freedom journey to take control of the aspect of my life that truly matters and leave the miscellany of the inconsequential to its unconscious devices. Cheerz.