Volition, Focus and Evasion

I mentioned that Objectivism supports the position of Free Will. There is still a question of how this is manifested. Yes, we can choose between different actions, or different ideas, etc., but how? Is there a basic kind of choice?

The answer is volition. According to Objectivism, volition is the choice to focus or not to focus, and it is the fundamental choice. It amounts to choosing to think or not to think. To examine, or to not examine. Since consciousness is awareness, it's really a choice to be aware or not. That's as fundamental as you get.

Volitional consciousness means that awareness is not automatic. Reason does not happen on it's own. It's a process you must choose to enact. Concepts are not formed automatically. You have to form them yourself. Your body doesn't make food on its own, you have to focus on controlling it. Each of these involves a process of focusing on the task at hand. Without focus, none of this is possible.

What happens when you don't focus? You're awareness becomes blurred. You don't analyze the data that you see. You don't integrate it with the rest of your knowledge. You don't compare it to what you know. Your mind essentially shuts down.

Along with this view of volition is the Objectivist view of "evasion". Evasion is the process of avoiding focus on a particular issue. There are lots of ways of evading certain ideas. You can just refuse to integrate, or recognize any contradictions. This is a blurring of the mind. You can also divert your attention onto something else, letting you escape the need to focus on the task at hand.

Evasion is the root of irrationality. It is the intentional blinding of yourself to knowledge. If irrationality is going against your reason, it's only possible by refusing to see what you already know. Imagine you feel like skipping work, even though you know you could lose your job. The "solution" is to evade the knowledge that you could lose the job. Don't think about it. Don't think about the consequences of your actions. If you start to drift in that direction, refocus on something else. Think about the benefits you'll receive. That is the process of evasion.

Evasion is anti-mind. It's an intentional attempt to negate your awareness.

When you argue with someone, you'll sometimes see that they intentionally steer the topic away from a sensitive spot. Or they'll come up with some blanket excuse for not following your line of reasoning. That's where silly sayings like "Who's to know?" or "That may be true for you" come from. The goal of the evader is to not have to focus on the issue at hand. They may have a bunch of reasons for not wanting to. They may be emotionally wedded to their own ideas. They may not want the responsibility of having to act according to the new knowledge. It might prove that they were wrong in the past, and they're afraid their self-esteem will suffer. Or any number of other reasons.

There is a tendency among young Objectivists to shout "Evasion!" whenever there's a disagreement. One thing to note is that integration doesn't happen automatically. Even if you make a convincing argument, it's unlikely that they'll throw away their entire world view for it. Even an honest person would have to spend time trying to figure out what other ideas he has are wrong, or whether this one really is compatible with everything else he knows. So expect it to take time. They may look for disagreements at first, but that's because they've got their own mental sorting out to do. Obviously there appears to be contradictions with what they know, so they will bring them up. Don't expect someone to make a fundamental change to their world view in a matter of minutes.

Also, what happens when you seem to have contradictory evidence for something? Imagine explaining that Capitalism is good to someone who thinks he has a bunch of theoretical reasons against it. If you make a good argument, he cannot integrate without weeding out the contradictory knowledge. And to do that, he may need more information than he has, or more time to do the work. Don't mistake evasion with a slow process of reasoning and integration. The fact that they don't try to integrate on the spot does not mean they don't want to integrate their knowledge, but that the prerequisites for integration are not available.

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