When we make a choice, who is making the choice? We have already seen that there are lots of things relevant to—and helping to cause—the choice, things that we are unaware of, both inside us and outside us and in the interactions between the two.
But there is still another issue here. Years ago, I was not an academic, then I became one and, after years of training and work, became a professor. People become different things throughout their lives. Two related things I became were an academic and a professor. When I started my journey as an academic, I knew little about how to behave and feel as an academic. I could not even pronounce academic words that I had seen in print, but never heard before in talk correctly.
Eventually, I learned academic—and, later, professorial—ways of being, knowing, behaving, and feeling. So, when I make choices when I am being an academic and professor (and, of course, I am not always so), those choices are constrained by the “social nature” of being an academic and professor. I have to choose within the choices available in the sense that I should not make (too often) choices so far outside of the set that they would end my identity or career as an academic or professor.
The choices available to me were created socially by groups of people through history, not by me. When I make “acceptable” choices I can “riff” on them—engage in my own style (to an extent)—and, in that sense, potentially modify the available choices (or the styles by which they are carried out) if enough people “imitate” me. When I am acting, valuing, and thinking as a professor, it is not “Jim” per se that is choosing. It is some curious blend of Jim (whoever or whatever that is) and the (social and historical) identity/Discourse of being an academic and a professor. At various times and places, I inhabit this identity/Discourse and at such times and places that identity/Discourse speaks and acts through me (uses me as a puppet, but one that has a bit of a mind of its own) to survive in history. “We” are “in it” together.
Now there can be several—even many—identities/Discourses that a person, at different times and places (and sometimes at the same times and places), can inhabit. For example, I learned to be a male of a certain sort. This was not straightforward for me. I was raised a devote Catholic. In elementary school we were separated from the girls. After elementary school I spent five years in a seminary and simply never dealt with women (we had a little book called The Young Seminarian that warned us to avoid women and told us they all had “lust in their heart”). Eventually, I left the seminary and went to college in Santa Barbara (a beach town) in the 1960s when college girls wore bikinis the size of napkins and nothing at all at “Nude-Ins” on the beach against the Viet Nam War. For the first time, I met non-Catholics and socially and racially diverse people.
In this brand-new context, I had to learn how to be a certain sort of heterosexual young male and it took a good deal of time and effort—and many failures, some of them quite funny now, but painful at the time. In a different setting, I would have learned other ways to be and do as a male (of a certain sort). So, even being a “male” is an identity/Discourse (indeed, many different ones).
But who (or what), stripped of all such identities/Discourses, is a person? Who is “Jim”—the underlying thing in the mix of different identities/Discourses? We could say that “Jim” is the person that was socialized into a certain type of family and social group as a child, but such families and social groups are themselves identities/Discourses. I sit writing this in a coffee shop in a rural “white” town (in reality, of course, there are many brown people—mostly Mexican-American people—here too). After a lifetime in academics and interacting mostly with middle and upper-middle-class, cosmopolitan, “liberal” people, I sit among people who are none of that. I do not feel uncomfortable, because I was born into the same class of people as those around me now. Had I not been, I would look askance at them and them at me (and, yes, at certain times, my other identities/Discourses kick in and I do, they do, and we do look askance at each other). The “original” socialized Jim was socialized into a “vernacular” (“everyday”) identity/Discourse (one of many) early in life (so were you) and learned other ones later (and you probably did as well).
So, who the hell is Jim? We really don’t know, yet we think it is this Jim character that is making free choices for the consequences of which he could go to Heaven or Hell (or whatever you think the rewards and penalties for being responsible for your free choices are). Now, I am not saying Jim is a fiction or does not “really” exist. There is something “Jimish” melded with all my enactments of identities/Discourses. Jim exists all right, but we don’t know what Jim like things (like you and me) really are, though lots of new science bears on the matter.