August 19, 2004
Free Will and Suffering
I just got finished reading ”Brave New World” and am starting to formulate some thoughts about Aldous Huxley’s world. In addition to the book, last night was my Renew group meeting were we discussed the scripture for next weeks Roman Catholic Mass. It a great example of the cosmic order of things; both the book and the Bible readings covered much of the same material, only from a couple different directions.
Fundamentally I don’t believe that the dichotomy that “Brave New World” sets up is the one that Aldous Huxley believed he set up. The author (in his intro and the comments from the re-release) talk about the trade-off between what he calls “real emotion” and social stability. The dichotomy that I saw was one of free will and social stability. While I agree to some extent that things like tragedy, bravery, and passion are not possible in a world without strife; without difficulty. Huxley goes on to promote the idea that the cause of social strife is from desire (an extension of popular eastern religious philosophies) and that by removing desire by providing absolute fulfillment of all of our desires; we can “short out” that loop. I call it a loop because desire (at least desire beyond our animal instinct level) is an emotion; thus emotion producing desire, producing strife, producing emotion etc. ad infinitum. I believe that Huxley is partially wrong. I believe the cause of social strife if free will. Ultimately the civilized people of “Brave New World” were not lacking in emotions, or even desires. Through social engineering they effectively had their free will taken from them. In part this conclusion is reached by Huxley himself when (at the end of chapter 17) the Controller says to the savage, “…you’re claiming the right to be unhappy.”
This discussion ties into the scripture reading in that they discuss the place of God in human suffering. The point that was made in Renew is that God does not cause evil in the world, he allows evil to be done in the world. It is humans (and their ability to choose freely) that cause evil and suffering. If God was to remove all suffering from the world, he would (in effect) have to remove free will. Without free will, life has lost the intensity that makes it worth living. The passion with witch I pursued my wife gave me a greater love for her. The ability to choose which people I dated eventually gave me an intense respect for how wonderful my wife is but it also meant that I suffered though some really awful woman. Free will means the possibility of greater value in life, but it guarantees nothing. Experience, good and bad, is value. What would Shakespeare be without tragedy?
Ultimately, I guess my point is that free will is a gift. A great gift. Probably the greatest gift that has ever been given to mankind. But a gift of such value also has great consequences. For even if I choose to live a good and respectful life; free will means other people have the ability to NOT live such a life. Actions have consequences to more than just the person who makes a given decision. Its not fair, but the alternative is to live in a “Brave New World.