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Article donated by Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys

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Free Will or Duped, Coerced or Manipulated?

I cast the I Ching this morning as I do every morning. The I Ching is a book of ancient Chinese Wisdom. Some have described it and dismissed it as “fortune telling”. That is in my opinion a gross misunderstanding of what it is. I cast the I Ching as a way to gain “food for thought”, similar to the way some people randomly open their Bible’s and plop a finger down on a page to find a passage to read and think about for the day. Today’s casting gave me a lot to think about!

One of the change lines I cast this morning said (I paraphrase here): The wise person humanely discriminates between Evil people and the Good people who have been duped.

As the 2020 election draws closer and with the release of the redacted Mueller report and Attorney General Barr’s summary/commentary on the report, the talking heads are speculating about Trump’s supporters and whether they will continue to support him or if they will finally have decided enough is enough and dump him.

In light of the passage in the I Ching I cast this morning, they are trying to figure out if the diehard Trump supporters are really Evil people or Good people who have been duped. IF they are Good people who have been duped there is hope that they will come to their senses or be persuaded to dump Trump.

As I thought about all of this I came to realize that what we are seeing is more than just the age old struggle between Good and Evil playing out on the American stage.

We are also seeing the age old struggle (from a Religious perspective) over the concept of human Free Will. If God knows what you will do before you do it (omniscient), and if He is in full control of everything that happens in the Universe (omnipotent) then a person isn’t free to act. They have no free Will. If you are not free to act, how can you be held responsible for your words or actions? You are nothing more than a puppet on a string playing a bit part in some God’s fantasy. This also calls into question the claims that God is perfectly good for how can a good God justify manipulating people into doing things that will harm them or others?

Are the diehard Trump supporters (and others around the world, both past and present that do and have done things that hurt others) freely making their choices and thus responsible for the choices they make and the consequences of those choices or have they been duped, coerced, or manipulated and if so by whom? By God or the Devil?

Some Evangelical Christians seem to think: If Trump is our candidate for the presidency it must be because God wants Trump to be our president and we must vote for and support Trump. In spite of his obvious flaws, we must not defy God. It is their moral duty, to ignore his sins and look the other way.

But what if Trump is the Devil's minion and not God’s? Would a truly good God elevate a man like Trump to the highest office in the land when that man defies all of God’s teaching about how we should treat other people? I don’t think the Conservative mind set is configured to handle this dilemma so they do what their preacher or teacher or husband or father tells them to do, washing their hands in their minds of any responsibility for outcomes.

Or have they been duped, coerced, or manipulated by unscrupulous politicians or pastors? If they are “good people who have been duped, coerced or manipulated” that casts a bad light on far too many Americans. How can a democracy survive if the majority aren’t free agents with the intelligence, wisdom, and self-discipline required to be an informed and responsible citizen?

Are they truly “free” agents in control of their passions and their fears in which case they can and should be condemned as Evil and not good people for supporting a man as seriously flawed as Trump and whose policies are harming so many people.

A recent article on the website says:

"... researchers have shown that, on average, the brains of conservative authoritarians as compared to the brains of liberals are quite different from one another. For example, conservative authoritarians are more fear-centered, tend to fixate on negativity, default to order and hierarchy, and are averse to new stimuli. By comparison liberals are more tolerant of ambiguity and are more open to new experiences. The brains of liberals also seek out novelty.”

The conservative authoritarians are more easily manipulated by unscrupulous politicians. So are conservative authoritarians really free or are they controlled by their very nature that they don’t have any control over? For the scientist all of this is over the concept or battle between nature (our genetic makeup) or nurture (how we are raised and nurtured by parents and others -- grandparents, friends, neighbors, teachers, pastors, politicians, social networks, news media, etc.) I think eventually as neuro-science advances we will discover that our actions are determined by a complex interaction between nature, nurture and life experiences. Our nature is one contributing factor, one influencer that affects the choices we make. NOT the sole controller of those choices.

Or are they under control of an out of control Ego? Which also casts a bad light on a large number of Americans. For religious folk it shows their religion hasn’t been able to help them overcome their human flaws and weaknesses.  Some would argue that their religion and some religious leaders have actually manipulated those flaws and weaknesses for personal gain -- wealth and the illusion of power/control of others. For American Nationalists and White Supremacists, their out of control Ego’s are a real threat to the safety of others.

Wise people (including scientists) and Theologians have struggled to answer these questions for centuries. I won’t get into a thorough discussion of the Western (as in Christian) Theologians' arguments here. There are two problems I see with some of their arguments:

  1. They fail to distinguish between things that influence and what actually controls an action.

  2. They fail to account for visceral, gut, reflexive actions that most of us have no control over. Such as: facial responses to disgust, fear, horror, the jump/flinch response when startled. Even to a bad case of the “giggles”. If you have ever gotten the giggles you know how impossible it is to keep from giggling! At the best I seem to be able to stifle a giggle with a snort which sets off greater rounds of giggles among my self and my friends!

Eastern Wisdom teachers have taught us with Yoga, the Martial Arts and in the writings of their Sages such as in the I Ching, the Tao teh Ching, the Analects of Confucius, and in many other writings from the World Religions that TRUE strength, power, freedom and virtue come from self-discipline, self-control, self-motivation, self-constraints (as opposed to constraints placed on you by God or others) and self-respect.

If a person isn’t in control of their passions and fears, or if their self-imposed ignorance makes them more susceptible to being easily duped, coerced, or manipulated by others into acting against their own best interests, or if their self-imposed ignorance makes them unable to discern what is in their best interest, then they aren’t really Free.

It is actually the lack of constraints that we place on ourselves that limit our freedom. There will be many that will dismiss this as new age gobbledy gook. But it is actually old age wisdom or enlightenment.

Self-discipline is a restraint we place on our self -- to always seek truth even if it makes us uncomfortable, to always behave ethically, to put the needs of others ahead of our own.

Self-motivation is a restraint we place on our self -- to find within our self the encouragement we need to do what we know is right rather than to seek approval from others. Those others may encourage us to do things we know are wrong in order to gain their approval.  

Self-control is a restraint we place on our self -- to not do what we know will be hurtful to others or to ourselves. It is the ability to put off immediate self-gratification in order to reach a long term goal as well as the ability to control our fears and passions.

All of these things lead to self-respect, doing what is right when others are doing what you know is wrong. Self-respect is another constraint we place on ourselves -- knowing that how we feel about our self is more important than what others think about us.

These self-skills free us from the control of our fears, passions and an out of control Ego. Fears and passions may still try to influence our choices but with our self-skills they don’t control our choices. This is true freedom, and it comes from self-constraint.

Many will never fully understand this concept. The opposite of self-constraint isn’t unlimited freedom it is Tyranny -- where someone else places constraints on you. Unlimited freedom is sometimes called Hedonism -- the philosophy that places pleasure and instant gratification above all of your other needs. This can result in alcoholism and other addictions to harmful drugs or activities.

A belief in unlimited freedoms can also lead to obsession, which is anything but free. It is control by your passion, sometimes at your own or others detriment. These are things guns rights supporters don’t grasp, Their lack of self-constraint has led in many cases to obsession and may eventually lead to what they fear the most: Tyranny, as others decide to take control in the interest of public safety and pass the restrictions guns rights supporters won’t place on themselves.

Also, a belief in unlimited freedom can lead to greed -- the exploitation of others (or environmental resources) for one’s personal gain. I am thinking of the giant pharmaceutical companies that have raised the prices on life saving drugs, placing the drugs out of the reach of the people that need them.

The basic teaching from Confucius (551-479 BCE) is called the Ethic of Reciprocity, it requires self-discipline, self-control, self-motivation and self-respect to live by the simple rule: do not do to others what you would take unkindly from them.

Rabbi Hillel recognized this and called it the “whole of Torah, all the rest was commentary.”  It first appeared in a saying from a pagan Greek, Pittacus (640-568 BCE). In Islam Muhammad in his Farewell Sermon said “Hurt no one so that no one may hurt you.” It has been expressed in Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Christianity, Taoism, etc. Wise words from many faith traditions.

I have said it before and I will keep saying it, the world would be in a whole lot better place if we practiced this one simple teaching. It would show the world whether we (or others) are truly Good or Evil Free Agents, or if we (or others) have been duped, coerced or manipulated by unscrupulous folk or by the passions and fears of our own nature or of our own out-of-control Ego.

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See also two other articles by Susan Humphreys on the same theme:

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Thomas Paine,"The Crisis," 1776-DEC-23, at:
  2. Chauncey DeVega, "Racism and the brain: A cognitive neuroscientist explains how the world moved right," AlterNet, 2019MAY-09, at:

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Original posting: 2019-MAY-29
Author: Contributing Editor Susan Humphreys
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