Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Fate and Providence vs Personal Responsibility

As should be apparent to people who read this blog on a regular basis, this bunny and several of our contributors are politically what could be described as Libertarians. What is a Libertarian and what do they believe in? Libertarians favour small government, taking the view that the 'tax and squander' policies of Statist politicians lead to less prosperity for the general population along with a catalogue of economic anomalies. Allied to this is an equally firm belief in social and constitutional liberalism, that the state should stay out of people's bedrooms and personal lives, while being extremely careful with regard to eroding civil liberties such as free speech in the names of 'diversity' or 'security'. The typical Libertarian could best be described as someone who possesses liberal instincts on all issues at all times, while holding prejudice, discrimination and its 'foe' of political correctness in equal contempt.

Unlike many Libertarians, I also believe in the man upstairs, a higher authority and creator who clucks his wise tongue at our many forays into the realms of sin and vice. This of course is not the same as being a member of an organised religion, which from a little period of 'try before you buy' I found to be an expensive and soul-sapping business where fellow human beings appeared determined to deprive you of the ability to think for yourself. Like in any large organisation, those possessed with authority in the world of mass religion appear to want blind faith not to the man upstairs or his word, but themselves. Drawing on life experience, people who demand such a precious commodity on a no strings attached basis tend in reality to be the least worthy of it.

However, if you believe in God and hold liberal instincts, then there might appear on the surface to be a clear contradiction at work. How does one tie in the notion of fate (ie 'God's plan') with a belief that we as individuals both own and are responsible for our own lives? Many of the Libertarians I know are both very intelligent and confirmed atheists, and one supposes the answer for them is very simply:- they don't - you own your life and are responsible for the successes and failures within it, so leave God out of the equation since he's about as real as Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. For an atheist Libertarian, it's far more simple on face value to square that particular circle, but I would naturally and fundamentally disagree with them that the notions of Christianity (which I wear more lightly than most) and instinctive liberalism are mutually exclusive.

The first point worth making is that freedom and responsibility are mutually inclusive, so perhaps the conversation only applies to those who are truly in possession of free will. I can certainly recall occasions during my formative years when life took a turn for the worse because of the inadequacies of others who made decisions on my behalf - I'm sure many of you will be able to relate to that. Now, can I seriously be held responsible for the negative consequences of other people's decisions? Methinks not, but whatever holes I found myself in as a result were, I believe, part of the preordained element of this bunny's timeline. At some point in the future I would of course have a greater degree of free will to either 'right the wrongs' or make things a whole lot worse (as I and many of us often have, but hey that's how we learn, yeah?).

A key part of this reconciliation is the understanding that there is both a fated and controllable element to most real life situations. We have all seen in our own lives how bad things happen to good people and vice versa, despite the best (or otherwise) endeavours and deeds of those involved. This may involve a significant turn for the better or worse that was entirely beyond the immediate control of the individual, but then how they either appreciate the unexpected opportunity to improve their lives, or revive themselves from an undeserved moment of disaster, is indeed a question of free will. One of the reasons this bunny is passionate about personal liberty is precisely because without the ability to (lawfully) get on with their lives unimpeded, it becomes very difficult for individuals to 'take responsibility' in the true sense.


Freedom - Responsibility = Anarchy
Responsibility - Freedom = Slavery

In time, I've come to view life as something resembling a game of snakes and ladders, with the caveat being the ability of external forces to either give one an undeserved but welcome break, or put the individual back where they started. I'll give you a very good example from my own life - I'm distinctly uncomfortable with being bossed around and have little time for people who are instinctively authoritarian (statist) by nature. While I was still professionally ambitious in rat race terms and clung onto the possibility of encountering 'the one', then this issue naturally brought about some deeply unhappy situations. However, once I came to the realisation that this was life's way of presenting this bunny with another choice, then the picture became a whole lot clearer. The rat race and its triumphs of obedience over ability can go to hell, while marriage is something they rightly refer to as an institution (see the slavery equation above for further details!!).

Someone who I talked to about this put the concept of a 'screwup timeline' far better than I could ever have done. She likened the fate/responsibility reconciliation with those ghost story books where one faces a string of choices, followed by several possible endings for which you would flick to a different page. If you end up dead in the book, then it is possible to trace your bad calls back to a point where things went seriously wrong. This is often the case in real life too, and I don't believe for a second that it is a mere accident or fluke. Perhaps life will throw another wannabe traffic warden at this bunny, or render him the smitten kitten to one temporary angel or another? Naturally, I sincerely hope that this does not happen!!

Of course, some truly dreadful and inexplicable things happen to people for which I could offer no rational explanation, but I know from personal experience that most of the time the source of our woes owes itself to a period in which we perhaps could have handled the free will element of a situation better than we did. That is not to say that it is or was entirely within our control, since there is likely to have been a preordained element too. However, having made more mistakes than most, I can cite plenty of situations where although there were aspects beyond this bunny's immediate sphere of influence, those that sat within it were not played particularly well.

God bless those that believe and take care all who don't - I'll see you tomorrow...


  1. Great post Daz-being a Christian I also have issues about what passes for organised Christianity. You're right about the way some people in churches are wanting a kind of power for themselves, under the aegis of demanding it for God! Happens all the time I think. Keep up the good work!

  2. Hey TC - thanks as ever. Your blog makes for very deep reading by the way...

    God is a Libertarian surely - I mean he believes in free will yeah?!!

    Do you believe in fate and providence yourself?

  3. Mine Alone

    It was my fate to be a rationalist
    who has no truck with providence.

    The parents I chose,
    and the special mix of genes
    making me the unique Malpoet
    on earth, conspired with
    decisions I made in infancy
    to discern the absence
    of origination in my image.

    There is no fortune,
    good or ill,
    that is more than context
    born of law and consequence
    devoid of luck.

    I do not hide
    from the bearded, old man
    walking in the garden.
    Whatever my nakedness
    I am clothed with
    the quantum of knowledge
    plucked from the
    tree of life.

    It shall suffice.

    My father was wanting,
    but what I was bequeathed
    is mine alone.
    What I do with it
    is mine alone.
    My destiny
    is mine alone.

  4. What a load of rubbish, everyone knows that God is a communist.

    God can kiss my hiney!

  5. "Do you believe in fate and providence yourself?" Wow, what a good question! Where do I begin? I see it like this; I'll keep it simple so I won't confuse myself! I believe that God knows what is going to happen in our lives, BUT at the same time He allows us to choose our own way; THEREFORE, we do have free will BUT we also have a destiny at the same time! I hope I've made myself understood Daz?

  6. Think so TC - sounds like you believe there is both a preordained element to life and one driven by free will?

  7. Daz,

    You seem to be making a meal out something which is fairly obvious to anyone capable of rational thought:

    You have free will, but so do the 5 billion other people who populate the planet. This means that whilst you can exert a certain amount of control over your life, it can never be complete control, because other people exercising their own free will may have an impact on you. On top of this are all the other factors that you can't control like the weather, the environment,wildlife etc.

    This element that you can't control could be called fate or chance. Some people like to exert a great amount of control over their lives and will go as far as trying to control other people who's actions they feel might have an impact on them. Some people on the other hand are happy to take what life brings (it can be more fun that way).

    In any case it really doesn't matter whether you believe in God or not. They key to success is not to worry about the things you can't control and focus your energy on the things that you can.

    With respect to freedom the same principle applies. Everybody should be free to do whatever they wish provided that it does not impact negatively on others. One person's heaven can be another person's hell. For example when I was growing up nearly everybody smoked, therefore people were free to smoke almost everywhere: at work, in the supermarket, on a plane, in a restaurant even whilst serving food. In fact you could smoke just about anywhere except on a petrol station forecourt. This was hell for the minority of people that didn't smoke. Over time the minority became the majority and it become more important to protect the right to be free from smoke than the right to be free to smoke. So nowadays you can't smoke anywhere indoors and eventually you won't be able to smoke anywhere but your own backyard. You could call this "statist" but it is really just being sensible and civilised. The same applies to other freedoms.

    It seems to me that the libertarian is just someone who wants to have their cake and eat it. You are looking for some Win/Win scenario between the the extremes of the anarchist and the totalitarian. Perhaps this is why you believe in God because you are hankering for something that doesn't and can't exist in the real world.

  8. "sounds like you believe there is both a preordained element to life and one driven by free will?" Wow, now we are getting deep Daz! You know, if I was honest, I would say that I haven't really give it a lot of thought; and the question you have posed is a very good one; I'll try and answer it!

    I think God allows us free will, a will to do anything we like; and in reality people do all sorts of things, good, bad and perhaps mostly indifferent. BUT, perhaps He also has a destiny for us as well, and within that framework, we are free to do what we want but somehow it all works out! I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it is food for thought what you asked me; I need to think about it a bit more!