Autonomy, Addiction & Appetite

“This appetite to choose death by pleasure if it is available to choose — this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites, this is the death. What you call the death, the collapsing: this will be the formality only. Do you not see?” (319)

Marathe suggests to Steeply that “your Bureau‘s fear of this samizdat” (318) is an acknowledgment of how the U.S. citizen has come to “choose nothing over themselves to love.” This inability to choose with care seems to arise from a culture of inundation: since every demand can be met with significant ease, there is no need to question the impetus behind each demand, and to compare their relative urgencies, necessities, and contribution to one’s well-being. The U.S. citizen is unable to transcend their “own wishes of sentiment” to something greater than themselves — sentiment here implies confinement to the realm of one’s own subjective viewpoint. Hence the threat of dying for pleasure, alone, becomes one that is especially malignant considering the U.S. constitution. Marathe illuminates the centrality of the desire-makeup of the “U.S.A. persons in their warm homes”: (1) how in solely making the Entertainment cartridge available suffices to establish a legitimate threat, and (2) how “killing Colombians and Bolivians to protect U.S.A. citizens who desire their narcotics” merely served to temporarily cut-off the means to appeasing the desire without affecting the desire at all — “How long was it before the Brazilians replaced the dead of Colombia?”

Freedom of the will, autonomy and choice are enmeshed in a complex manner. Again, Marathe’s remarks are insightful:

But what of the freedom-to? Not just free-from. Not all compulsion comes from without. You pretend you do not see this. What of freedom-to? How for the person to freely choose? How to choose any but a child’s greedy choices if there is no loving-filled father to guide, inform, teach the person how to choose? How is there freedom to choose if noe does not learn how to choose? (320)

Prima facie, freedom is simply the lack of constraint, but that negates the will portion of free will. There could not be any imposition of will in the face of entire arbitrariness. Hence, freedom in a positive sense is the capacity to act for reasons rather than on the basis of feelings, impulses, or desires. We are most free when we act in accord with reason, as opposed to desire; the latter might even compromise our autonomy.

The case study of a drug addict might help to shed some light. The following is the account given by the philosopher Harry Frankfurt in “Freedom of the Will and the concept of a Person.” Our desires can be conceived of as taking a hierarchal structure. There are 1st-order desires “A wants to X,” where X is an action and 2nd-order desires which are the desires to hold certain 1st-order desires: “A wants to have 1st-order desire X’.” Within 2nd-order desires, there are cases where (1) the agent wants “simply to have a certain desire” and (2) when “he wants a certain desire to be his will”. The first case involves the simple desire to hold a certain desire without being moved by it all the way to action. The second case involves the agent’s desire that a certain desire constitute his will, which are termed “second-order volitions” and is essential to being a person (compare “this appetite of your people unable to choose appetites, this is the death”). Will here means effective desire–one that moves (or will move) a person all the way to action. The will is not coterminous with first-order desires (what one wants to do) since it picks out the specific desire that overrides the rest in effectively manifesting itself in action. While first-order desires can remain unsatisfied, one’s will necessarily results in action. With that in mind, we can see how free will does not concern the relation between what one wants and what one does, but is instead concerned with the relation between second-order volitions and the will. Hence, to have free will is to want what one wants to want.

Now, addictive desires might function in two ways. Consider the examples of the demonic regulator and demonic possessor. The demonic regulator monitors the action of the agent to ensure he performs action A. It steps in to regulate his behavior upon observing him veering away from performing that action. If the agent came to perform action A on his own accord, the demonic regulator would have no influence over his deliberative process. Therefore, the agent’s action not only reflects his autonomous will–it is brought about by it. The fact that his ability to perform A depends on the permission of the demonic regulator does not preclude the possibility of him acting freely and of his own free will.

On the other hand, the demonic possessor basically usurps the agent’s consciousness, taking complete control over him and making decisions on his behalf without him knowing. The agent thinks that he is functioning as an autonomous being, but his existence is really a form of demonic drunken stupor. Just like how drunkards often proclaim themselves not to be drunk, he truly believes that he is in total control of himself. He thinks he is doing what he wants to do, but this is merely a delusion. From a third-person perspective, the agent is not himself; his autonomy has been revoked by the demonic poxssessor. His ability to critically self-evaluate his desires has been radically impaired to the extent that his actions have to be attributed to the demonic possessor rather than to himself.

In the case of addicts, it is difficult to ascertain which analogy is more apt in describing their desire-makeup. One’s subjective attitude towards their first-order desires might be informed by it (as in the possessor), and hence one’s autonomy might be undermined by the addiction. If that is the case, it becomes impossible to know if a certain action accords with the true autonomous will of the individual. Or, if , as in a culture of inundation where first-order desires are easily attainable, there is little need to posit second-order desires since there is no imperative to pick out effective desire. This lack of second-order volitions seems to be the death referred to by Marathe. The autonomous self cannot be instantiated when devoid of the ability to choose what one wants to choose.

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