We Are Vectors And Creators
It’s funny to hear people speak confidently about human autonomy when they don’t realize that almost all their behaviors are learned behaviors or else instinctual and beyond their conscious control, that the color of their existence is cast by the prism of their specific cultural and historical moment. Yet they take their own situations to be self-evident reality.
How we are in the world, the way we think, feel, and act, is directly tied to the people and culture around us. Our thoughts and actions are really just the inevitable causal continuation of their thoughts and actions. We like to think of ourselves as creators in our own lives, but it’s maybe more appropriate to think of ourselves as vectors. Anything we create ourselves blooms in the soil of ideas that were already there.
Where existential freedom comes into the mix and allows you to reassert your autonomy is that you are the one who gets to decide how to respond to the ideas around you, to decide which to discard and which to pursue. You can’t change anything about the specific familial, cultural, and historical moment you inherited but you have the freedom to react to your present reality as you see fit. You can open yourself up to testing and accepting other versions of reality, ideas different from those you were taught are universally valid.
The knowledge that what we do is a continuation of what all of humanity has done before us, from those early days where cave people drew pictures of animals on the walls, deepens our respect for other cultures and others ways of being. We derive some comfort from knowing that our actions will continue to ripple on forward too, just as theirs have.