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Self-Determination Vs. Determinism *Grammar Update*

Updated on October 12, 2019
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Mike is a long-time supporter of procrastination and enjoys doing as often as he can.

Defining Terms

Free will is defined as a "voluntary choice or decision. I do this of my own free will; freedom of humans to make decisions that are not determined by prior causes or by divine intervention” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). When most people speak of free will, they speak of self-determination. “Self-determination free choice of one's acts or states without external compulsion” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.).

Many people today would say they have free will. They make their own decisions. But do they? Are our choices connected to self-determination and determinism? This will by no means be complete. The goal is to express an opinion or shine a light on the complexities of modern decisions. (I will not argue about how disorders and illnesses that affect decisions. Such an argument should be made by a person with more experience in the medical field.)

Our decisions are based on our needs, wants, culture, society, government, education, age, gender, family, friends, and other (circumstances outside of the norm). Self-determination, as in independent decisions, is based on these variables making free will conditional to them. Our decisions while being our own are also built on conditions and decisions made by others connected and seemingly unrelated.

Wants and needs (but you can’t always get what you want)

The most fundamental process in decision making are needs and wants. If an individual needs something (such as food, housing, etc.), his or her decisions are directed toward those needs. The same is true with wants. People who want to be famous (or infamous) will make decisions to help become so. Basic needs and wants are built on other factors, from culture to society.


Culture, Society and Nationality (decisions by committee)

Every day individuals make decisions. From what to eat to what to wear individuals decide on their own. Except, do they? Take, for example, what a person eats. There is a cultural as well as a social component to what an individual eats at what meal. An individual’s culture will define the style of breakfast, such as the traditional full English breakfast, which includes baked beans. Traditional in the U.K. but unconventional in other countries such as the United States. An individual believes his or her decisions their own while not thinking about guided by cultural connections.

The society also influences decisions. Influences in the low-fat movement to extreme diets such as Adkins or Veganism (which could be considered a lifestyle rather than diet) are built on social normality towards a healthy lifestyle. In large multi-ethnic societies, the cultural and community influences can clash, whereas in mono-cultural societies (Japan), society and culture are almost the same. In the southern part of the United States, a high-fat diet such as a traditional breakfast clash with the national movement toward a healthier diet. Many southern States In America and the UK will choose the traditional breakfast rather than going with what society deems acceptable.

Cultural influences develop over time. They are based on religion, race, location, interactions with people in the culture, and outside forces. Southern US culture is built on several different cultures from Scotch-Irish, German, Spanish, Native American, French, and African slaves. Each of these cultures are divergent of each other. This divergence is also true within regions of a larger society. The nation has, in the past, seen the south as backward outside of the national societal norms. Many of these norms are, however, are just the cultural tendencies of regions where the nation's media is stronger.

In the US, the media markets of New York (city) and California (Los Angeles) influence the national societal norms. The culture of California is based on several variables, including Spanish, Chinese influences, and location. The abundance of fresh produce to the yearlong outdoor activity helped create an outdoor culture built around healthy (or pseudo healthy) lifestyle. This Californian lifestyle is not constant for the entire state, but to the rest of the country, it is what many think of as California culture.

New York City is built on multiple cultures from around the world. The social norms of New York, in some cases, work against cultural norms. These conflicts become more evident in a broader community. The needs of the many, as well as the need to control the many, have developed a society that is government dependent. These dependencies also influenced such concepts as political correctness.

Nationality also plays into self-determination. A person’s citizenship is built on many factors, including location, culture, and society. A person in the southern United States will make decisions different from California and New York City, but their choices will be based on being from the United States. A person from a small village in France may have a different culture and society as a person from Paris, but he or she will have more in common with each. A person born and raised in a culture such as the U.K. will invariably make decisions based on that culture even if he or she moves to another country (culture). This nationality will, in time, lessen with exposure to a new culture (country or society). The children of such immigrants tend to adopt a new lifestyle instead. However, in many, some cultural identification still survives this acculturalization.

Friends, family and enemies (and the people who are all three)

Much of the cultural and social norms are from our friends and family. In particular, family influences the decision-making process through shared history and cultural heritage. A family in a culture such as the southern US will guide an individual toward social norms that fit the lifestyle. These cultural influences can bias the decisions made by that person. This is also true where the individual openly goes against their predetermined cultural influences. Choosing to buck social norms inevitably means that those norms influence the individual.

Friends, as well as enemies, also influence our decisions through social pressures such as peer pressure. “Peer pressure a feeling that one must do the same things as other people of one's age and social group to be liked or respected by them” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). The need to fit in is compelling to the individual and weighs heavily in his or her decisions. This peer pressure, in most cases, is based on social and cultural norms, including micro societies such as cliques, gangs, sororities/fraternities, and seemingly undefined groups. People in such groups from the KKK (Ku Klux Klan) to high school cliques are influenced by and influence these groups. These groups, such as the KKK, can magnify the worst elements of an individual and lead to horrible decisions. The larger the group, the more intense the social pressures influence the individual’s choices. They can be as small as two people or as large as political parties. The cultural norms enforced by these groups (society, friends, family, and enemies) help develop an individual’s core beliefs. These core beliefs influence decisions.

Gender and Sexual Identity

Gender identity has become a hot topic in mainstream society. How an individual identifies him or herself greatly determines their decisions. As before, this identification influenced by culture, community, family, friends, and biological imperatives (not trying to make an argument about sexual persuasion at birth or by choice). Biological imperatives (not including the three basics Food/Shelter/Security) include the need to mate (or reproduce) to the need for romantic attachments. His or her choices in companionship are complex and built on factors including biological imperatives and social pressures.

Social factors, including peer pressure, also play a factor. In many western societies, men and women have assigned standards. Boys are supposed to like blue and play sports; girls like pink and play with dolls. These gender roles also include gender preference. Individuals that fall outside of social norms were for many years (and to some extent still are) ostracized. In this societal shunning, these individuals either stay on the outliers of society (closeted) or join like-minded groups and new cultural norms. These new norms influence choice.

Core Beliefs (what we think we know is right)

An individual’s core beliefs are the principles he or she follows, which are determined by his or her past, cultural heritage, social standing, and social pressures. A person with a Catholic upbringing will have in their core beliefs built on Catholic dogma that he or she follows or dismisses. Family, friends, and education all play a part in these beliefs. People use these beliefs in conjunction with and subjective to society and cultural pressers. Even those people who choose to go against traditional social norms are themselves subjected to those norms. People who decide not to make a choice are also making a choice (See Rush’s song Freewill).

Governmental and Political influence (big brother is influencing)

Governments use laws and regulations to control society. These laws include anything from speed laws to the attempts to outlaw larger than 16oz cups of soda. Government influence is open to interpretation and capable of changing as the broader social norms change. At one time, interracial marriage was illegal, as well as homosexuality. With a large group, it becomes necessary (somewhat) for the government to help define social norms. Places such as New York City laws governing social norms become inevitable. Much of these laws are politically influenced.

Politicians influence laws and social norms for good and evil. Politicians are people. People bring with any decision their culture (including nationality), beliefs, biases, prejudices, and personnel identifications. Political correctness (PC) is a byproduct of this. Merriam-Webster defines politically correct as “conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.). These beliefs are based on culture, race, social dynamics (rich or poor), gender (including gender identity), and location (including size and density of population).

A location such as New York City with its dense population will develop a stronger political correctness culture than a small town in another part of the country. This is to counteract the cultural differences between minority and majority groups. That political correctness will be (even if slightly) different from other parts of the country. Large population centers such as New York or Los Angeles with more significant media markets will have a larger cultural and societal effect. This effect includes both the people who follow political correctness and those who choose to go against it. Social dynamics that subvert political correctness are working on a form of political correctness.

Determinism (who is to blame when things go wrong)

Determinism “a theory or doctrine that acts of the will occurrences in nature, or social or psychological phenomena are causally determined by preceding events or natural laws.” (Merriam-Webster, n.d.) Concepts that express this idea are conspiracy theories. These theories (not all) suggest that outside forces influence all variables making an individual’s decisions limited. Religion can also be considered in this concept. Many faiths have at their core a belief that a higher power has a plan for them. Politics, both social and sexual, also play a role. A biological component can also be derived. People with family members with cancer are considered more likely to develop cancer than those who don’t (this is also true with heart issues). The children of alcoholics are considered more likely to develop addictions. Science every day is finding pre-determination in genetics. DNA can be used to rate a person’s chances of developing diseases. Society could one day use this information to limit a person’s choices (see movie Gattaca).

Conclusion (ish)

People’s decisions are built on many different variables, including gender, social pressures (friends, family, etc.), and others. This makeup makes up who people include their process of decision making. People’s decisions, while influenced by these variables, are also affected by circumstances. A parent with grown children will make decisions differently than one with underage children still living at home. Free will in the decision-making process is limited to a person’s ability to overcome these variables, both overt and hidden.

"Determinism." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2017.

"Free Will." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2017.

"Peer Pressure." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 7 Apr. 2017.

"Politically Correct." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 8 Apr. 2017.

"Self–determination." Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 6 Apr. 2017


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