Frag-ments

By Andy Pragacz

There are two things that I find vastly confusing and have avoided discussing in these pages (the reasons will remained unexplored here), but now I will finally address them. The confusing abstractions to which I am alluding are: myself and choice. The self, as all good Macalester students realize, is a difficult concept to grasp, an illusion of one sort or another (it could be a social construct or psychic creation, e.g.), but impossible to discount. Choice, as it turns out, is equally compelling and just as tenuous as the Self. This piece is not about uncovering what choice is, nor who I (or any other subject) am, those are conundrums for people (philosophers, economists, e.g.) who take these things far too seriously. Rather, this is a narrative about my, and maybe your, relationship to choice. This is the problem: choice does not seem to be freeing and I do not seem to able to choose anything of my own volition. These statements do not necessarily require each other for if ‘I’ as a unity does not exist then I certainly cannot be expected to make a choice. This also means, by virtue of me not being a subject, that the ‘I’ is not free, but that does not preclude the many I-s that make up me from being ‘free’ (relatively?). Let’s look at this again: because I am me I have to do and not do certain things that conform to the image of me, either constructed by some mental apparatus or society. And because I choose, because I am forced to choose from a limited number of choices, certain actions or items I have limited myself and thus I am not free. All in all, it seems both the liberal and neo-liberal notion of freedom falls flat on its face.

In class the other day, we watched a movie. In accordance with the rest of the stimuli I encounter everyday and the activities I do, I did not choose to watch this movie of my own accord (you never ‘choose’ to do homework, your professor ‘chooses’ it for you, for example). The movie was about Nietzsche, more precisely it was about why poor people and minorities die quicker than rich and/or white people. They discussed how rich/white people have access to better food, healthier living styles and the security of suburban prisons, all allowing rich/white people to live longer. This conclusion is horrendously unremarkable to such a point that it is almost sad that a documentary had to made to make people aware of such things.

The radical point, enter Nietzsche, was that if a rich/white person and a poor minority (or white person) lived exactly the same, ate the same fast food and smoked a pack a day, the rich/white person would still live longer! Why? Because of the will to power/the feeling of choice. Nietzsche’s asserts that the will to power produces everything, that we as humans create everything in the world (and the world itself), and it is our natural right to create. We, however, constantly hide behind science, philosophy, and experts when we make a claim or a choice. Nietzsche beckons us to recognize that we, as a never completed subject, are responsible not only for our world but the World in general.

The movie concludes with Nietzsche that rich/white people live longer because they have more control and influence over their lives; rich/white people create the circumstances under which they live and work; they make the rules they live by. Poor people, by contrast, are full of anxiety over their lack of control of their personal lives and work experiences causing certain parts of the brain and body to deteriorate quicker then those of rich/white people.

A new conundrum presents itself: even though choice is not freeing and we are not even whole enough to make choices, the sense of subjecthood (coupled with an absurd confidence in ourselves) and control (aka freedom) allows people to live longer.

I end this thing here, for now and leave the question this question for next week: what does this mean for me?

Andy Pragacz ’10 can be reached at [email protected]