Free-will is scarce

Say in a communist country, the politburo chooses 3 candidates to be president and has the public vote one of them into office. They then try to pass off their country as a democracy – their leader is elected by the people after all. Would you buy their argument?

In several cases, our choices aren’t too different from the scenario presented above. With running shoes, I have always purchased one of three brands – Adidas, Nike or Puma. My smartphone has always been either a Samsung or a Google device. My search engine is inevitably Google – a choice of one. As for online entertainment, it is either YouTube, Netflix or Amazon Prime.

Now who really made these choices? Was it really me who compiled those lists, or were those choices made for me?

Jean Paul Sartre once quoted that man is condemned to be free. Freedom is damnation because once a person is free, he is responsible for everything he does. By extension, a person with free-will is responsible for everything he consumes – the greasy McDonalds burgers he eats, the vicious pay-day loan he signs up for and for the Netflix binges he uses to fall asleep each night. As a consequence, corporations are free to use all manners of marketing messages, and coercive behavioral design even as consumers have to bear complete responsibility for their purchase decisions.

In reality, we don’t have much free-will. A vast majority of our choices are already made – by our parents, peer groups, governments, institutions and large corporations. Yet, we live in a culture that assumes that each of our choices are ‘free’. Economists assume that every consumer’s will is completely free, and that their purchase decisions are rational. Large corporations are happy to further this argument by making statements such as, ‘if obese children choose to consume our caffeinated, sugar saturated sodas, who are you to deny them this right?’

Here’s a secret that the overlords of today’s society don’t want you to find out – your free-will is almost non-existent. Recognizing this truth is essential to prevent us from surrendering the little of it that remains to their waiting arms.

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