The modern Western man has a deeply-bred abhorrence for the concept known as “fate.” It is archaic at best, but to most (especially to Americans) it is an offensive heresy. Does fate control your life? Are you a pawn of the gods, or the whims of overpowering cosmic forces you cannot see? Heresy!
We are “free-will agents”, endowed by evolution with the right to determine our life path, our future, our circumstances. We can ALL be that iconic “Self-Made Man,” especially in America, the glorious land of opportunity. That is the self-aggrandizing propaganda we absorb from the umbilical cord in our agnostic, human-technology worshipping, modern Western culture.
Who Is in Charge of Your Destiny?
Did you choose your parents, socio-economic background, or the country you were born into? Did you (in some nebulous pre-birth state) hand select your primary gifts and weaknesses? Did you choose your gender, height, sexual orientation, or ethnic background? These traits were dealt TO you by the Cosmos. You did not have shit to do with that choice. That, my friend, is fate. A concrete, unalterable destiny which was imposed on you regardless of any intrinsic merit (or lack thereof) on your part.
The very thought rattles our modern sensibilities and asserted self-autonomy. I remember being in a large (100 students plus) undergraduate lecture on philosophy. The atheist instructor (who was under the mistaken impression that he was loved by all the female students, and a demi-god himself) was pejoratively teaching about Calvinism.
The zany professor broke down John Calvin’s stance on “Free-Will” vs. “Predestination.” I literally heard a rumbling of grumbling, anger, and indignation from a 100 people reverberating through the cafeteria the class was held in. The students were visibly and audibly angry at the very thought of our destiny being something outside of our direct control, and fully in the hands of a judgmental deity who was omnipotent.
Such a perspective makes one feel rather feeble, mortal, and certainly dis-empowered. The opposite of what we are told we should be as “real” men. Especially “self-made” American men, like our all-powerful Commander and Chief, Jay-Z, Warren Buffet, Kayne West, Bill Gates, et. al. These and all the rest of the movers and shakers are paraded before us as icons of male achievement. These modern “supermen” defied fate — Implied point being, “So why can’t you, you lazy dweeb and loser?”
The Heavy Hand of Fate
When I was 19 years old, I was on a 4000-mile solo bicycle tour through the Western United States. In Colorado, I was flying down a road in the steep Rocky Mountains with 40 pounds of gears on my humble Schwinn bike. Suddenly, my back tire hit some sand and completely fell off the bank of the shoulder of the road, which was above cliff thousands of feet deep. In a millisecond, I mentally kissed my ass goodbye. Then, a weird “jerk” lifted the back tire up (which was completely off the bank into the precipice) back onto the road.
At that time, I was a card-carrying atheist. I had no intellectual framework to explain this “miracle,” or, so-called, “act of fate.” It perplexed me to no end, eventually leading me to a place where I felt some odd sense of thankfulness to an unknown power beyond my senses to comprehend. Apparently, it was not in my “fate” to die that day. I was happy about the outcome but utterly lost in attempting to make sense of it intellectually.
“A Simple Twist of Fate” — Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan’s great song summarizes how often “fate” dictates our most meaningful relationships; their joining’s, their cycles, their endings. Very few of our parents in modern times got together as a result of an arranged marriage. Fate’s heavy hand dragged them into the same school, bar, party, where, by a “simple twist of fate,” the kajillion in one chance of the sperm hitting the egg occurred. That simple twist of fate was the genesis of your very existence.
For those of us who have been in significant relationships, perhaps having children ourselves, our stories also seem to flow in this apparent stream of “random occurrences.” Perhaps with the growing popularity of internet dating, this sense of mystery may erode. Internet dating, (which is equivalent to shopping on Amazon, only the “product” has a voluntary choice to drop into your basket) perhaps will of itself bear some odd divination-like mysterious power to those who connect through it.
I know that most of the working class men I grew up with, literally “fell” into their careers, through opportunities that, by fate, suddenly appeared. They never intellectually chose some vocational path. It fell upon them, as if from the skies. This is how many experience their day to day work for basic survival. It is a privilege we take for granted in the West to have some level of access to education, upon which we then voluntarily “choose” a scholastic and career path to achieve a chosen vocation. Historically, if your father was a “cobbler,” then you were that. It was (and for many still, is) your “fate.”
The Ancients Understood the Subtle Dance Between Choice & Fate
The ancient Greek and Roman writers lived in a world controlled by “the Fates.” The Ancient Eastern Intellectuals, like Confucius, Mencius, and Lao Tsu, likewise, took it for granted that there are powers moving our lives beyond our control. Rather than getting upset about it, they shared principles for navigating that reality, or claim such a thing does not exist, or that they are somehow “superior” to that, they shared principles for exercising the power we do have wisely.
Modern Western Man is far too arrogant, self-aggrandizing, and delusional to even consider such a thing. This is one reason they are so unhappy, depressed, and suicidal. Humility is a subtle, hidden strength. As the pull of life on a macro-level (who signed up for the Jewish or African-Diaspora holocaust?) or on a micro-level (your girlfriend got pregnant even with contraception) jerks you in a way you did not plan, how will you handle that?
Are You an “Accident” or Fate?
I was a very unplanned pregnancy for my parents. My bio-dad had a family already and was married. My mother had two kids already and was in her late, late 30’s, with limited economic resources. It was the first year of Roe vs. Wade and she could have legally terminated my existence. She was not a religious woman, and it would have made sense. But she did not. So, by a “simple twist of fate,” here am I, and my four sons, and two grandchildren, and more to come.
We, as modern men, are ludicrous to have such disdain for our biological and intellectual ancestors, discounting as “primitive” their honoring of “fate.” Cross-culturally our ancestors (and still today much of the so-called “developing world”) knew that our power as humans, as awesome as it is, has limits.
Fate can bear a heavy hand. But, it all comes down to this —how do you perceive, and what choices do you make with the cards “fate” has dealt you? Play that car hand all out. Take no prisoners. Leave your imprint (hopefully for good). Do you! That is your privilege, and even duty, as a human being endowed with the glorious gift of choice. To choose anything less is a fate worse than death.
Previously published on FrankBlaney.com