The Embarrassment of Free Will
NOBODY, of course, forced Sara Kestenbaum to carry those sandwiches across the street. She chose freely to do it--and could have chosen just as freely not to do it. The choice she made was a moral and welcoming one. Perhaps religion impelled her to do it, or perhaps a more personal sense of right and wrong, or an instinctive warmth of personality; most likely, some combination of the three was involved. And yet, in the end, she made a voluntary decision. She did the right thing because she chose to.
We Americans sometimes like the idea of choice, the idea that our lives are in a sense self-created, spent in the exercise, or nonexercise, of our many precious freedoms. Indeed, we have for a very long time defined our republic largely in terms of the marvelous range of choices it presents for us. We are a nation of consumers, and our unprecented wealth has emboldened us to imagine that we, unlike the less fortunate folk who dwell in other lands, are entitled to possess whatever we can afford. The luxury of discretionary spending has become the very definition of freedom. The reason that supporters of abortion rights like to cast their position as "pro-choice" is precisely that the term appeals to this broad and deep American notion that freedom is good and restrictions on freedom are bad. The same appeal explains why cigarette makers battle restrictions with a defense of the right of choice--the choice whether to smoke--and why, before its unfortunate recent flirtation with scientism (see chapter II), the gay rights movement popularized the term "lifestyle choice."
Do not misunderstand the point. In principle, choices are a