One often hears complaints about a lack of “political will.” We know we need to rein in carbon emissions, for instance, yet so far the “political will” to do so has not emerged. We know we need to regulate the banks more closely, but again, we seem unable to muster the “political will.” One suspects that neuroscientists should focus their efforts on identifying the mechanism underlying “political will,” with the goal of producing a pill that politicians could take in order to summon it up — then all our problems would be solved.
What I’d like to suggest is that we actually have more than enough “political will.” Doing the right thing — once you know what it is — is generally the path of least resistence. It takes a real act of will to persist in doing the wrong thing, and even more to convince yourself that the wrong thing is really the right thing. This dynamic might be clearer if we called it political willfulness.
If you recognize what is right, you don’t need some additional surplus of arbitrary willfulness in order to achieve it. Instead, you release your willfulness and just “go with it.” There aren’t two “choices” here, each equally requiring an act of will — the choice is actually between either actively willing or releasing your will in order to get on with things.