The Illusion of Free Will

January 5, 2017

One of the topics I like to come back to is the idea of accountability.  Personal responsibility.  I talked about this a bit in a variety of terms–personal, social, professional, etc.  I’ve argued in a lot of ways we don’t necessarily acknowledge or understand the responsibilities we have and struggle to reconcile them.

A recent incident at work has brought the topic back to my mind.  We have this new piece of equipment and with it has come a lot of learning as we go and figuring out how best to work with it.  The other night, the sanitation workers were spraying cheese curds off the salting system–basically a long conveyor where salt is applied to the cheese and stirred in with massive stirrers.  One of the sanitation workers was spraying this out and jammed up his hand.  Somehow he didn’t break it, but it was pretty messed up.

In response, management adjusted the system to hopefully prevent this from happening in the future.  Kind of an interesting situation, in that it forces the sanitation workers to readjust their methods when they are still getting accustomed to the new equipment.  On the one hand, I can understand the need to make an adjustment.  However, isn’t their a certain level of responsibility to acknowledge the worker himself might have made a mistake and expect everyone to learn from it?

Obviously I’m giving a very general overview, but the point I’m trying to make is that no number of safeguards or adjustments or whatever will completely negate the occurrence of mistakes.  People will do dumb stuff.  They always have and always will.  But do they take responsibility for it?

Nobody really wants to take responsibility these days.  The idea that when someone screws up it could just be their own damn fault is a foreign concept these days.  Four or five years ago I got my foot run over by a forklift.  It hurt, I iced it down a bit, but on the whole not a big deal.  I never once blamed anyone but myself.  I was the idiot standing next to a forklift, not paying a damn bit of attention to where I was and my foot got run over.  Another coworker had the same thing happen to him.  He went to the emergency room and ran his mouth about the guy driving the lift–as I recall, not too many people were impressed by that.

People don’t really want responsibility.  They want the appearance of it.  In the end, all they want is the illusion of control.  To be the decision maker without making any real decisions.  People want to call themselves “informed” when they vote, but do they really know what it means to be informed?  After this last year of politics, I wonder.  Nobody really wants to take the responsibility if only so they have deniability.  We’re willing to give up free will if it means no consequences.

I’ve made mistakes.  I like to think I know what all of them were.  And in a lot of ways I own up to them.  I take responsibility for them.  I’m proud of myself for that.  I’m not perfect, but I like to think I’m getting closer.  And I am continuing to hold myself accountable for where my life is.  However, I have to wonder if we do enough as a culture to take responsibility for our decisions or just try to give up that accountability.  If we do give it up, aren’t we giving up free will in refusing to take responsibility for decisions?

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