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of evil to one who is striking at the root." -
Henry David Thoreau
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Truth Barriers
Levels of Volition
Human Volition
The Ego Problem
Free Will Article
Hypocrisy Analysis
Hedonism Aspects
Belief Arrogance
God Talking
Nature of Belief
Issue of Style
Good/Evil Trivialization
Tyranny of Time
Loss & Recovery of Self

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Three Levels of Volition

Masters of Destiny

Humans like to think of themselves as volitional beings, where if not in total control of their destiny, they have a significant influence on it. Enough influence through volition to generally make the difference. However, this "destiny" for our life on earth is understood to have severe limits put on it by the 'Human condition". Given an average lifespan in western civilization for those that survive childhood of about 70 years, we can through judicious decisions about a long list of things "significantly" affect that number by plus or minus 30%. And since there is no guarantee that a person is not going to die in the next minute, hour, day or year, you can judge this to be significant or not.

It is in this context of severely limited influence that we have on this life that the idea of an afterlife gains a lot more traction. Surely our striving to use our volition properly should have more effect than just 30% of 70 years. Religions that posit an afterlife attempt to maximize this traction, and Christianity takes the carrot and the stick to the extreme with an unimaginably swell eternal heaven and an unimaginably awful and eternal hell.

The elephant in the living room is the overwhelming evidence that our volition doesn't overcome or counter the vast preponderance of factors that control us. These range from our genetic tendencies, traits and characteristics and run through hormone levels in the body, gender, health, and intelligence, to religious and cultural value programming, conditioning, training and habits, all not especially due to our own control. Not to mention the situation that we may find ourselves in, with pressure,whether light or unbearable. Especially eloquent in speaking to this reality is St. Paul in Romans where he says, "...but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate."

The result of all of these factors in pushing us, controlling us is so powerful that humans, from the ancients to modern man, have a tendency to think in terms of god, the devil or demons controlling us. There is a large part of Christianity that believes we can turn control over to some kind of reified Holy Spirit. Modern psychology has come along with a movement that either denies we have any volition at all or makes it very obscure as to where and how it operates.

Nevertheless we also operate under the widespread understanding that we are accountable, and can be held accountable, for our actions and behavior. This accountability also rests on the foundation that a person has volitional control over their behavior. Even though we have many situations where we conclude this isn't so, we have no other handle on accountability outside of a persons actions.

Finally, we clearly have 3 levels on which we can exercise our volition, or to which we can point it:

  1. On the foundational level we have our concepts, values and beliefs. Overwhelmingly most people are just programmed by their spiritual environment as children−their parents, teachers and religious leaders−to NOT think for themselves and use their volition on this crucial level but to just accept the prevailing religious environmental package. However, we CAN take control on this level and choose concepts, values and beliefs. These greatly influence and effect the next level.

  2. This is the level on which our emotions and feelings operate, and these come largely automatic and unbidden. However, we can learn to take some control over feelings and emotions and counter or override them. However, this is very difficult and damaging if done to any significant degree, and makes a person seem somewhat mechanical or emotionally cumbersome. Much better to deal with the first level and have feelings and emotions come that do not need to be curtailed or modified. Of course feelings and emotions overwhelmingly effect what we decide to do, our behavior.

  3. On this third level, that of our behavior, we do have some semblance of minimal control, but it has already been largely determined by what we believe and by our conditioning. It takes an almost superhuman effort to abort what our feelings and emotions are telling us to do. Much better to take control on the foundational level.

Much if not most of psychological counseling and psychotherapy are concentrated on and directed toward changing behavior rather directly or doing it through changing how we feel about things. It seems to be dimly understood that the real solution lies in changing the foundation or wellspring through taking control of the value and belief system, changing what is believed. This can only be done on the most basic and powerful volitional level by taking personal responsibility and using your volition to choose what you believe.

Choosing what to believe is quite different from getting in touch with what we have been programmed to believe.  Most people never choose what they believe but rather expend their energies upon defending what they have been given in the process of growing up.  In contrast to retention of what was injected into us, real belief is practically synonymous with understanding and is based upon the inward journey; and it is an active choosing of a position on the major issues (these are issues for which there is no external influence or evidence) and in the extreme being willing to stake your life on your choices.  It is pro-active, not passive and is not controlled or determined by “fleeting thoughts, impressions, emotions, etc.  Most people have never even done the thinking to identify the major issues, much less are they able and willing to stake their life on their choice.

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