Self Determination

FTLComm - Tisdale - Monday, March 18, 2002
A few days ago we published an article by Chris Blackman, in which he pointed out the remarkable declaration of freedom that is found in the July 1, 1960 Canadian Bill of Rights. In all likelihood the ultimate struggle for all humans throughout time may well be dealing with their ability to make choices and accepting the times when we as individuals, are utterly helpless.

This morning as I walked out of the house to see what would be a good picture to tell readers what it is like here in Tisdale today, it struck me that even though in most years this would be a spring day with geese circling overhead and water trickling down the curb; the neighbour instead of shoveling his driveway would in most years be dealing with an accumulation of melt water in his low yard setting up his sump pump and attempting to prevent the water from coming in his basement.

But this is not the case today, spring is delayed and the weatherman tells us this morning that we can expect similar conditions until at least Thursday when the temperature may get up to -5 instead of -20s that seem to be the norm for most locations this morning. Though we want it to be spring we are utterly powerless to do anything about it and when it comes to the weather we are able to accept the immutable.

For most of the last century the discussions about personal choices raged around psychological inquiry that seemed to develop two distinct lines of thought. Those that believed that nature, our genetic make-up and historical setting, predetermined most of what happens to us and what we think of as freedom or self determination is an illusion. The other thinkers believe that we as thinking choice making individuals are governed by "nurture", it is how we are raised and those things that happen to us that make the difference. It now appears that most thinkers have discovered that both developmental factors play almost equal roles in shaping a person's life.

It is not surprising that religion has played a really important role in how individuals in a society view their chances in life. Buddhists and Hindus feel that human life is mercilessly confined to a predetermined "fate" and we are each destine to go through life fulfilling what is our way in life, our destiny, with the only hope of change to be found in living this life to our best so that in the next life we might get a better deal.

The major religious struggle of the Western world was precisely over predetermination and self-determination. The religion that became known as Christianity had worked itself into a position where the church was deciding what the individual should know, even preventing the individual from reading and discussing the scriptures. As this control and deified direction of life went to extremes a group of religious scholars decided that this could not be right and that it was up to each person to find out for themselves about their God and so began the reformation. A conflict that soon turned to incredible violence that burns away to this very day in Ireland. Over the ages the Catholics of the world are taught to accept God's will, while Protestants seek to do their part by performing the work of God as they believe it to be.

Islam follows the direction the Roman Catholic religion had taken by assuming that Allah has a plan and that it is for each individual to accept the "will of Allah."

It wouldn't take you long to realise that Judaism is caught with both of these beliefs in various versions of their faith, but the theocratic society that is Israel is very much in the self-determination camp where practicing Jews believe that JAWH provides the believer with choices and the test for all men is to face these choices and do his or her best.

Clearly, North American society is a long way from accepting the idea that things are predetermined and many observers feel that the technological advances made in the past century were a direct result of the unfettered and freedom loving people who knew little or no constraint on what was impossible. For as the reformation developed in Europe the renaissance seemed to go hand in hand with the ideas of self-determination especially in the Catholic countries. Those developments seen the reckless exploration of the world and the settlement by Europeans of North and South America.

The conflict that seems to be at the base of Canadian culture is between the First Nations and the Europeans. First Nations people are a vastly diverse group, but all share a common reverence for freedom and self determination. I have spent many hours with elders in all of Western Canada and they have always impressed upon me that my English culture is to restrictive, to confining and as a result lacks respect for the individual. The West Coast people in particular were most disdainful of European's culture considering the invader's culture as so childlike and primitive beside their ten-thousand years or more.

At age two every child enters into a period where he or she learns the meaning of the word "no" and from then onward the rebellion, the self development begins and reaches its extreme in late teenage life. Every son rebels against his father and every son ultimately reaches a point where his awareness grows to the point that he learns to accept his father within himself. We each have varying levels of desire to make our own decisions, levels of acceptance of authority and levels of resistance Balancing these factions within ourselves is perhaps the most difficult things we have to achieve in life.

Our culture (European) tends to suppress women of all ages attempting to make them submissive but we have steadily seen that to be truly democratic, we as a society must have women who will assert themselves and reverse the traditional roles thrust upon them. It is interesting to see the simple fundamentalist versions of Christianity demand the most submissiveness of their women in society. Many feel that the greatest threat to personal liberty in our society today comes from the so-called "religious right" who seem to be the least tolerant and most violent members of our pluralistic society.

But to go along in life without questioning how and why you make decisions, is to deny your humanity and though we can do little about the weather, illness and taxes, just about everything else is within our capacity to affect change.

Timothy W. Shire