Free Will of the Past
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."
— Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
Will Freeman (2020) — The Literary Fiction and Companion Title to the p.(x)
Free Will of the Past
And gladly wolde he lerne, and gladly teche."
— Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400)
The titled responsion implies that Will is something that transmits across generations.
Not too long ago, we (my roommate, myself, and our cat, Billy) used to have these really cool neighbours who were around our age. This may not seem noteworthy to the average reader, but if you have ever lived in the part of Washington, D.C. that we were living in at the time - adjacent to the infamous intersection between 5th Street and Kennedy Street in the Northwest quadrant - you would undoubtedly understand why this is worth mentioning.
Indeed, the nation’s capital - that is, the nation of the United States and not, say, Bhutan, whose capital is a city by the name of Thimphu (do not ask me how to pronounce it, as I do not know the answer) - is filled with many diverse neighbourhoods that are home to a number of varying communities. Depending on which of these neighborhoods you find yourself living in, you could be surrounded by any of the following categories of people: aspiring policymakers, movers and shakers hustling and bustling through Capitol Hill, hoping to climb the political ladder much in the same way that starry eyed schoolgirls from Skokie who have taken a Greyhound bus to Los Angeles hope to climb the ladder to Hollywood stardom; loaded (and I mean loaded) families whose wealth dates back to pre colonial times, holding steadfastly onto tradition and making use of their many powerful connections in order to avoid having to interact with anyone that is not a part of their privileged social circle; aging left wing activists of the baby boom era who are just looking to grab a bite to eat and perhaps take advantage of the newly decriminalized status of psilocybin mushrooms; college students looking to have a good time under the bright lights of the big city; aimless transients who are only passing through the district because it is a major transportation hub, maybe hoping to score a buck or two and any other freebies that those from the aforementioned categories might drop their way out of some paternalistic sense of performative compassion; and, of course, the city’s native residents, who have been calling D.C. their home since before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr even set foot out of Birmingham - easily the most underrepresented and least understood group of them all.
This latter category is who we found ourselves living amongst when we first moved into D.C. At first, they did not take too kindly to us. Honestly, I think they might have just assumed we were gay or something. This is quite understandable; both of us would often walk around with no shirt on (though, to be fair, it was summer), potted plants and flamboyant flowers adorned our balcony, and - at the oddest hours of the day, typically - we could be seen engaged in some sort of outdoor fitness activity that may or may not have given off the impression that we just wanted to put our hands on each other in public.
Now, D.C. is known to be an extremely tolerant town when it comes to homosexuality. In fact, I have long considered it to be the East Coast’s answer to San Francisco in this regard (in addition to the fact that rent in some places here is more than two months’ worth of salary for many people). However, this only really applies to the more metropolitan areas of the city. In most of the residential communities - filled with those native residents, a lot of whom were not the biggest fans of what they saw to be invasive species - veering from traditional, Bible-approved forms of romance was still very much frowned upon.
Because of this, we had a very hard time fitting in around those parts. That was until we met Erasmus Jagger* and Dixon Turnkey* - two mighty suave cats who were attending Howard University at the time. Erasmus was a Brooklyn-bred, no-nonsense character, a performer by nature who was always coming up with bits of comedic ingenuity and would often captivate us with stories of his youth in the “The Floss”, which was the name of the neighbourhood in which he grew up (and, by his accounts, not the safest place out there). Dixon, on the other hand, hailed from my hometown of Chicago, IL (or more accurately, as is the case with me, one of its well-kept suburbs) and was a true artist, through and through, often sketching works of sheer beauty to be displayed in the effulgent gallery that was his side of the apartment. Both were two of the most interesting people that I have met since I moved into this town (which is saying quite a bit, given all of the wacky characters I have encountered during my stay here in Chocolate City).
Both of them were also obsessed with anime. I do not mean to say that they watched a lot of anime when I say this. I mean to say that they ate, slept, and breathed anime throughout every moment of their lives. Every time I would come over to their apartment, they were watching some anime together or, if it was just one of them, it would either be Erasmus working on the storyboard for an anime show that he was in the process of creating or it would be Dixon drawing out one of the characters for said show. Indeed, if there was one thing the two of them bonded over more than reefer, it was anime.
*names have been changed to protect the innocent
Around this time, I was making a living as a teacher in a homeschool program for a seven-year-old boy with autism in Bethesda, MD. It was quite possibly the most rewarding job opportunity that I have ever had the privilege of undertaking - both monetarily and spiritually. I still think about that kid every day; it is pretty hard not to, after all, considering the fact that I would spend at least three hours a day with him, six days a week, without anyone else in the room except for his toys - all of whom I had bestowed identities upon, so perhaps we were not so alone after all.
One day, after work, I decided to pay my pals Erasmus and Dixon a visit so that we could just kick it and get to know each other some more. I wanted to pick their brains, but what I started to notice was that I seemed much more interested in having them pick mine. I think that they started to pick up on this, too - to be fair to them, it was pretty hard not to. I was, for lack of better phrasing, pretty far up my own arse at the time. Anyways, after a night of me trying to show them a series of clips on YouTube that I felt was my obligation to make them aware of, I decided to give them some time to decompress.
On the way out, I grabbed a few pieces of Dixon’s homemade sushi (which was delicious, despite protests from Erasmus to the contrary) and, after recommending at least five or six books for them to read, made the following comment:
“Hey, guys, I know I have been talking a lot. I just feel like, with this job and everything, I am always in ‘teacher’ mode, you know?”
To which Dixon replied, rather sagely: “It’s good to be a teacher, but sometimes you need to know when to be a student.”
I do not think any of us realized how profound of an impact this statement would have on my life when it was said. Honestly, I think we all just wanted to go to bed (it was about four in the morning).
As the days turned into weeks and I began to process this piece of advice, I noticed that my entire attitude began to shift. For instance, when I would show up to “teach” the boy, I felt as if I was the only one who was being taught anything of value; I mean, sure, the kid was learning how to count to a hundred (he could only get to about thirty when I started working with him) and trace letters (when he really focused, his Bs were not that bad...when he really focused, though), but what I was learning from working with him each day and absorbing his extremely unique perspective on existence was far greater than anything I could have ever possibly offered to him.
These change in view extended into many facets of my life, as I no longer viewed myself as a teacher, a guide, a sage, a shaman, a mystic - all things that I did not necessarily fancy myself as, but sort of strived to be, at least subconsciously. Now, however, I do not even desire to be a teacher. I feel that there are far too many lessons still left for me to learn at this point in my life; to be honest, I cannot really think of a point in my life in which that will not be the case. In this respect, I have become an eternal student.
The venerable Anton Chekhov wrote over five hundred short stories during his lifetime. One of these stories, which I first became familiar with courtesy of the always engaging Dr. Cornel West, is entitled “The Student”. In this story, a student of the clergy returns home on Good Friday and comes across two widows warming themselves by fire (it was a particularly chilly evening) and recounts to them the Biblical tale of the Denial of Peter, in which Jesus foretells that one of his apostles, Peter, will deny that he knows of him three times before the rooster crows at the break of dawn, essentially disowning him; this ends up happening and, upon realizing that Jesus was correct in his prediction, Peter weeps profusely.
As did one of the widows upon the student’s unfolding of the story, which, in turn, transfers a lesson onto him: all of human history, from the beginning of time, is bound together by the lace of truth. This truth is what allows a widow in nineteenth-century Russia to be brought to tears upon hearing of a tragic event that allegedly took place in the infancy of the first century; it is what causes our hearts to be filled with passionate courage and renewed inspiration when we see the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat, or when we hear the words of Billie Holiday, Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X, Nelson Mandela, James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Tupac Shakur, or the potent notes of John Coltrane (or even Alice Coltrane for that matter); it is what fills us with rage when we learn of the Armenian Genocide, or the brutal, unpunished torture and murder of Emmett Till and George Floyd.
Chekhov’s contemporaries saw “The Student” as a demonstration of Chekhov, a known agnostic, calling his own beliefs into question. Of course, that would make him part of a longstanding intellectual tradition, dating back to Socrates, in which the wisest among us realize that they are the ones with the most to learn.
Every day there are opportunities for learning, as long as you always remain open to receiving new information. There are many among us who go through their entire lives thinking they’ve got it all figured out. These people are, in my view, dead - for they are missing out on that which life is truly about, which is to revel in the vast wonder of each breath. They would rather recite all the knowledge they already possess to those who do not share it than take a moment to stop and ask those very same “students” what they think about what’s going on in the world. In forgetting to do this, they rob themselves of a glimpse into what Aldous Huxley called “the mind at large” in The Doors Of Perception.
Honor and shame from no condition rise. Act well your part: there all the honor lies."
— Luis de Góngora (1561-1627)
The titled responsion welcomes the responsibilities you must embrace to move towards an honourable outcome.
Lies contain their own internal dichotomies of opposites, attracted by light-seeking truth-tellers in search of the Absolute. Honour is but a fiction we tell ourselves. How does it differ from the ideal? Is it of Stoic origins? Duty-bound and tethered to the becoming of another, the imagined self is hardly irreplaceable, despite the continuity of any and all self annuities. Becoming is a promise of things to come, hopefully, ideal and without contradiction. Intellectualized, the hero of a tradition worth living and apparently dying for!
Alright, enough. I am going to pedal myself into schizoaffective disorder if I take this silliness any further. Therefore, I shall henceforth cease.
Time for a cliche.
You know they say “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do”. I never thought much of that old aphorism; it struck me as a tad too...Yogi Berra-esque. And I tend to prefer my Yogis being of the Paramahansa variety than the Berra variety. It is not that I don’t like the game of baseball, because I actually kind of enjoy it - at least, I tend to be enamoured by the spectacle of these sorts of things. That being said, if I happen to miss a game, even if it is during the World Series or something, I will not be losing much sleep over it. In fact, I will probably sleep pretty well, knowing that I likely used my time in a much more beneficial way than staring at a television set waiting for numbers to change.
Now it kind of sounds like I don’t like baseball again, so perhaps I should clarify further. I will put it to you this way: if someone invites me to come out to a ballpark and catch a baseball game with them, I will most certainly go - like I said, I tend to be enamoured by the spectacle of these sorts of things. However, if someone invites me to come out to a bar and watch a baseball game with them on one of the TVs there, I will almost always politely decline.
This goes for any sport really - either I am getting the full experience, or I am avoiding the whole thing altogether. There is no reason to dip my toes midway into something. If I am going to a competitive event of any kind, I expect to be jumping, shouting, and flailing my arms around all over the place like some sort of escaped mental patient who just downed an entire thirty day serving of Ritalin and ate a whole sleeve of Oreo cookies in one sitting. There is no reason to play it coy at these modern-day gladiator matches. If I am to engage in the spectacle, I expect to be fully engaged in the spectacle - after all, as the late Prodigy (that is “Prodigy” as in one half of the infamous hardcore hip hop duo from Queens, NY - Mobb Deep - not “Prodigy” as in The Prodigy, pioneering English electronic outfit, although they also recently just had a prominent member pass away [Keith Flint] so perhaps your confusion is warranted in this scenario. Anyhoo, do carry on) let us know quite explicitly back in 1995, there ain’t no such thing as halfway crooks. You are either to be fully committed to the art of crookery, or you shall be known as no crook at all - nothing but a fraud, a farce, a complete and utter fool, useless to any cause. There is no option for you, however, to simply dangle one foot in the doorway of being a crook while the other rests, safely, on the carpeted floor of honest living. If you are trying to live that life, then you had better be prepared to ditch the comforts of the prim, pristinely presented world of pamper and hop, heels first, onto the hardwood reality of a lifetime spent on the run from Johnny Law and his merciless band of gregarious, government check cashing goons.
It wasn’t just Prodigy, either, of course - Big Daddy Kane made it pretty clear how he felt about the responsibility we as humans have in fulfilling our duties to the utmost degree possible with his song “Ain’t No Half Steppin”, in which he states that there is not to be, well, any “half-stepping” in this life. To continue this trend of rhythmically assisted poetry derived wisdom, there is also the classic OutKast refrain from the song “B.O.B. (Bombs Over Baghdad)”, which was released prior to both the attacks of September 11th, 2001 as well as the ensuing invasion of Iraq in 2003 (during which more than a few bombs were launched over Baghdad), that has Andre 3000 (father of Seven 3000...or, I guess, Seven Benjamin would be his legal name; regardless, George Costanza would be immensely proud) instructing us not to “pull the thang out” unless our plan is to either “bang” or “hit some-thang” - otherwise, we might as well just keep the thang tucked away for another time when we actually plan on using it for its intended purpose (which is, I presume based purely on context clues, to “bang”, “hit some-thang”, or some sort of combination of the two).
Maybe rap ain’t exactly your thing, though. That’s cool. I mean, I feel bad for you, but it’s cool. It would be nice if you could wrap your head around why rap makes heads go-'round, or why hip hop makes all the kids stop, mid-trot, and bop to the beat of the drip-drop, rockin ‘round the clock til’ they hear that desperate knockin’ from pops, who says “if y’all don’t get to sleep then one of y’all gettin’ shot”; that being said, an appreciation for hip hop is not a requirement for understanding the central theme of this article. It is a requirement for understanding why many people are forced to carry out their lives in the way that they do by shedding light on the circumstances that cause them to have to behave in this way or undertake these particular actions, significantly expanding the potential for human connection across the globe and contributing, at least in my estimation, to the cessation of conflict among the various “tribes” of Planet Earth as each of us comes to realize, through the groundwork laid down by hip hop, that all of us are, fundamentally, concerned about the same things and, at the end of the day, all of these “tribes” are merely social constructs that we have just happened to find ourselves to be a part of at some point in our lives. At no point did any of us ever make the conscious decision to join such a grouping - most of us would not have.
I am rambling. I will stop.
Okay. Now, where was I? Oh, yes. Perhaps you are not a fan of rap. There is nothing wrong with that - skip the boom-bap, assume that doom’s a -
No! Not again!
Look, I can’t help it that I am a genius wordsmith. It is simply something that I have to live with the knowledge of, unable to make use of it for the vast majority of my days. On the off chance that I do happen to find myself in a situation that does seem to warrant the busting out of a couple of fly rhymes, it is entirely possible that I may then get a little carried away and end up providing everyone with the contents of a fully mixed and mastered extended play. I am not necessarily saying that I am going to do that; I am just saying that I am liable to, and I would greatly appreciate you not holding it against me, okay?
It’s been a rough week.
Lots of heartbreak, lots of tragedy, lots of pain.
And still, I have managed to trudge forward, like a tortoise making its way through a stream of poo poo and shattered dreams. What do I have to show for it? I am still just as stressed as I was when the week started (perhaps even more so), my agenda is still full of unfinished projects, my refrigerator has become afflicted with an incredibly pungent smell that I cannot, for the life of me, trace the origin of (despite it being not that big of a fridge to begin with), my cat still won’t stop biting me, and I keep getting hair in my eyes.
And yet, day after day, week after week, I keep on meditating every morning, filling my agenda with projects to be worked on and seen to completion throughout the week, stocking up on the freshest of ingredients, giving my cat all of the love and canned tuna I have to offer, and letting my hair grow without ever so much as thinking about dusting off the old set of Gillettes.
Why? Why do I do these things despite them, oftentimes, not resulting in the desired outcome? Well, it is pretty simple: for me, there is no desired outcome. Indeed, I am not doing any of these things with the expectation that they will result in any particular outcome at all. I am not really thinking of the outcome of an action when engaged in the action. When I am engaged in an action, the only thing I am thinking about is the action itself. Even then, I am not really “thinking” about anything at all - I am honestly just super focused on whatever it is I am supposed to be doing.
In the Bhagavad Gita, which has served as a fantastic companion piece to the unfoldment of my life as a human being thus far, the idea of doing one’s duty without any attachment to the fruit of one’s actions is a central theme. If you haven’t read it, you should stop reading this and do so. But, since I know that it will likely be some time before you make it all the way through that thing (it is not exactly a toilet reader, I will tell you that much), here is the story, in a nutshell: Arjuna, a member of one set of dueling families, is concerned that many of the members of the other set are his close friends and loved ones. Naturally, he has more than a few qualms about fighting and killing all of these people. Nonetheless, he is a warrior at war, and he must do everything he can to defend his army from attack and lead them to victory. That is all he is supposed to be focused on - nothing else. With Lord Krishna as his charioteer, the protection of his soul is guaranteed - just as long as he does what he is supposed to do.
Therein lies a perfect illustration of dharma, one of the most important concepts in all of Hindu belief, a word for which there is no direct English translation (those are usually the best words, as I have come to notice). As long as one is engaged in the actions which one knows one is supposed to be doing, one is fulfilling one’s dharma.
Nothing else matters. If you think too much in the abstract, nothing is ever going to get done. You will simply be living a life where you are in a constant state of analysis paralysis, endlessly toiling over all that you must do without ever taking the first step towards doing any of it, filled with shame without being able to pinpoint a reason for any of it - broken without anyone ever having tried to break you but yourself. You are your own worst enemy.
We are all our own worst enemy...but we don’t have to be.
We can be friends.
Best friends, in fact.
It is simple - remind yourself (often, at first, but not nearly as frequently as it becomes a force of habit) to always do your best when it comes to the undertaking of any action - no matter what the action is. If you can convince yourself just to focus on the action itself, and not the result, then you will have achieved total liberation from the bondage of inescapable anxiety.
...y’all ready for this?
Applied Philosophy Will Freeman
Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do."
— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
The titled responsion is more about doing than being.
Will Will Free Man?
To live alone is the fate of all great souls."
— Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
The titled responsion alludes to a questionable universal Will.
Soledad, with or without the Virgin Mary context, begins and ends with loneliness. Great souls and metaphysics aside, introspection and philosophy Will Freeman.
Will Will Freeman? Will Will Freeman do what? Stand up? I thought that was the real Slim Shady’s job. Oh - okay...yes, well, that makes much more sense. I’ve just been told that I have misread this title. Misread, not mistyped. Bear with me here, people.
The real question is not Will Will Freeman, or Won’t Will Freeman, or What Brand Of Peanut Butter Does Will Freeman Use In His Oats (those of you who are unfamiliar with the dollar-store delicacy that is peanut butter and banana oatmeal are truly missing out on one of waking life’s greatest offerings); the real question is, will will free man? Not “will” as in Will Smith (no disrespect to the Fresh Prince, or DJ Jazzy Jeff, both of whom are still killing it these days), not “will” as in what you hope your acrimonious grandmother doesn’t write you out of for never calling her on the weekends - I’m talking about free will, man. You know, the thing that got you out of bed this morning. I mean, sure, your alarm clock might have rang, and maybe you even had a mother, sister, brother, or significant other boorishly yank your blanket off of you or open the blinds of the window directly in front of you, leaving you shuddering and/or potentially even visually impaired for life (Thanks a lot, mom! Now I’ve got to learn how to read braille and play the piano).
None of those things, of course, were the reason why you got out of bed, though. Regardless of all of the external circumstances that may befall you, whether in the wee hours of the morning or just during the general sphere of daily life, it is ultimately entirely up to you which course of action you choose to take in response to this stimuli. The stimuli, naturally, is designed to provoke you, to elicit a particular desired reaction - indeed, this is its sole purpose. You, as a thinking thing (a la Descartes... wait, what are you doing? Put that dessert menu back, man!) must make the conscious effort to avoid falling into the pitfalls of robotic living. The vast majority of your peers, despite possessing the same capacity for critical thought and intentional decision-making, have yet to tap into the infinite intelligence within them that exists purely to guide them towards the right path. Not even necessarily the right path, as a matter of fact - “the path of the light” or “the natural flow of energy throughout the universe, without any egoic resistance” is perhaps a more accurate way of putting it.
What are we? Well, we are human beings (unless you’re Lil Wayne, that is). However, lying dormant within this mortal meat sack is something far beyond what we have thus far conceived ourselves to be - something that is infinite, something that will long outlast any of the things we have attached a label or a definition to. Actually, come to think of it, many of us have tried to label it: it’s the soul, the atman, the tao, the divine bundle of cosmic energy that binds us all together as one universal spirit (someone’s been to a few too many Grateful Dead shows). And yet, unsurprisingly, none of us have come close to getting it right.
Why is that? Do we simply lack the ability to describe this supernatural phenomenon? Is it just that ineffable? What gives, man? I’ll tell you what gives, man (or woman, or whatever you would prefer to be called; I am aware that we have a very diverse readership here at planksip) - there is no need to define it! I mean, come on, must we label everything? Indeed, it seems like these days if you feel a couple of lumps in the area between your crotch and your anus, you’ve got to tell your doctor so he can put a glove on and stick his hand down there to check and see if you have prostate cancer. What has this world come to? What happened to the days when we would notice something like that, laugh it off, and then have all of our friends rub cold beers on it while calling it an Australian sunburn (Get it? A sunburn down under...I crack myself up, man) or something to that effect? Why must we take everything so seriously these days?
*I am, of course, obviously joking. If you do feel any lumps (even just one) in the area described above, please do not hesitate to inform your doctor. It may not be anything serious, but it always helps to know for sure. Just for your own peace of mind, at least.*
So, then, let us now return to the question at hand: will will free man? And, with all of the preceding information in mind, I’d say that we could certainly conclude, with confidence, that the answer to this question is a resounding “the jury is still out, but we’ll get back to you with something more concrete shortly,” with “shortly” of course translating to “when we figure out whether or not we are headed for imminent doom.”
Indeed, there is still far too much to be seen before any of us are able to provide an empirically grounded response to this inquiry. For one, we must observe the various ways in which humans use their free will to tackle the increasingly dire prospect of extinction via anthropogenic climate change. Many humans (far too many, if you ask me - and you are asking me since you are reading words that I have written) do not believe that climate change is something that we even need to be worrying about, or that it is a natural phenomenon to which human beings have made little to no contribution. Nobody is forcing these people to be morons - they totally have the free will to stop holding on to such ludicrous lines of thinking and join the rest of the world in attempting to craft a sustainable solution to this very real threat. They don’t seem to want to use it, though.
It’s all good, however, because, unlike supermarket coupons, free will has no expiration date. It’s not “use it or lose it” - it’s “use it, don’t abuse it, and if you don’t want to use it, well, then, fine; it’ll still be there tomorrow if you change your mind.” And that’s what is so beautiful about it.
I will end this meditation on the prospects of free will and its potential ability to deliver us from sure destruction with a passage from one of the ever-estimable Nobel Laureate Shabtai Zisl ben Avraham’s finest works:
“‘There must be some kind of way out of here’
Said the joker to the thief
‘There’s too much confusion - I can’t get no relief;
Businessmen, they drink my wine
Plowmen dig my earth
None of them along the line
Know what any of it’s worth’
‘No reason to get excited’
The thief, he kindly spoke
‘There are many here among us
Who feel that life is but a joke
But you and I - we’ve been through that
And this is not our fate
So let us not talk falsely now
The hour is getting late’”
The Show Must Go On, So Perform!
Perseverance, secret of all triumphs."
— Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
The titled responsion is more of a mandatory performance.
When in doubt, don't give up is the maxim worth memorizing, acting if you Will. The anticipatory response to the action potentials that lie in wait will myelinate and provide the reward well in advance of the desired outcomes.
And Will Free Man...
Writing a story or a novel is one way of discovering sequence in experience, of stumbling upon cause and effect in the happenings of a writer's own life."
— Eudora Welty (1909-2001)
The titled responsion is repetitive, and yet the wisdom is ubiquitous.
Manipulating the lamp and the mirror is narrative in nature. The story compels us towards comedy and tragedy alike. Then they take on a life of their own or not.
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