Life is about how you see yourself. How you see yourself defines what you will do, what you might try and what you will never do. At the moment at least. How you see yourself can change. Its flexibility is its biggest freedom and biggest curse.
It’s the biggest freedom because identity is defined by constraints. Constraints give us the boundaries within which we can start working. True freedom on the other hand is paralytic. If you have no restraints on who you are, then real action towards any meaningful goal is impossible. The writer who sets aside an hour each morning without fail to write might actually get his book written. The person who decides to study the law, and not sports science, can be said to be on track to become a lawyer to the likely exclusion of his desire to be a sports coach.
That is not to say that constraints only operate positively. They are our biggest curse because we all have things that we can’t do that we really ought to do. Sometimes these restrictions become foundational. Sometimes they become the defining limitations of our lives. The introvert who hates new people is left unhappily alone and friendless. The suspicious person who can’t trust, finds that there is no trustworthy person in his life. Some constraints have to be broken.
So we need a divider. Something that tells us when a constraint is positive or negative. For this we use reason. Reason, we argue, is the criterion by which we may divine good constraint from bad. Reason shall affirm or strike down our fetters.
Except that reason is no good for such things. Reason is self-referential and self-fulfilling. Reason is the self-convincing form of inertia that wants our identity to be constant. We are capable of reasoning to almost any conclusion we desire. Our reasons can be influenced by our perceptions of opportunity, our fears of risk and the boundaries of our self-identity. Reason, not inevitably, but often eventually, tends to keep us in the same place as before.
And so reason is not a divider. It is a handy tool by which we can pretend to have a divider, without undertaking the burden, the discomfort, of a real divider. The question then is this: what divider can we use? I no longer trust reason. I doubt intuition. And I will not advance on the basis of beliefs. But is there anything else?