The other day I was on the phone with my brother when we got into a “Say, I wonder what ever happened to…?” conversation. The name that popped up was Darren S., a neighborhood kid from my youth of thirty years ago with whom we’d spent countless hours playing manhunt in the orchards, having sleepovers, and watching Saturday morning cartoons. So I turned to the marvel of Google, typed the name into the almighty search engine, and waited.
Darren S. had not had an easy life. Raised in a divorced home with two rough older brothers and an absentee father with a criminal past, it would seem he had the deck stacked against him. What, if anything, might Google reveal about Darren S’s fate?
The first hit confirmed my worst suspicions. It was a news article from Washington State reporting that one Darren S., originally from Kelowna and now a resident of Whistler, B.C., had been caught attempting to smuggle cocaine across the border. Now he was in jail facing a multi-year prison term. (In case you’re wondering, there is no doubt it was the same Darren S. The article included several details, including Darren S.’s age and unique nick-name, which simply left no doubt.)
The thing is, had I been placing bets on where Darren S. would end up, it was pretty much as the article described.
A few months before this I did the same thing with another fellow, Troy A. Twenty years ago good old Troy A. was a “headbanger” back when packs of them roamed the northern plains. (Like the great bison of old, the headbangers seem to have disappeared, except for small pockets that emerge from the hinterland like moths to the flame every time Iron Maiden or Slayer come to town.) My projections about Troy A. were bleak. Sadly they were confirmed by a Google-sourced news article which reported that Troy A. was arrested last year for randomly tasering a woman on the streets of Vancouver.
And then there’s Randal R. Beginning in grade 1 I told everybody I was going to be an “author” because I loved reading and I loved writing even more. It is no surprise given that my mother was a teacher-principal-superintendent. Consequently I was provided all the financial and emotional support to achieve my goals that were never provided to Darren S. and Troy A.
These observations are corrosive of any sense of superiority over others, as well they should be. Who knows how things would have been different if Darren S. and Randal R. had switched places at birth?
Such observations also bring in their train a more unsettling thought: in a world where we don’t choose our brains (or bodies), nor the complex nexus of social, environmental, economic, and religious factors that will shape them, is there still room for that elusive concept we call libertarian free will? Or is it a mere chimera, one that dissolves on approach like the flickering mirage on a desert highway?