Recently I've come to some kind of existential crisis, and it's been bugging me for a while now.
I don't really care about free will, because whether or not we have it is irrelevant; if we do have free will, there's nothing to talk about, and if we don't have free will, there's no purpose in trying to tamper with it because there's no way to spontaneously generate free will where it doesn't exist. But there is another issue that has bothered me, and it's whether or not we really want what we think we do.
Desire is what motivates everything, essentially. From single-celled organisms to primates, most life is concerned with a desire for survival and procreation, an endless cycle with no apparent purpose or end. More social species have recreational activities to entertain them.
Humans are no different; although most of us in the first world have no need to fight for basic things like survival, we still have plenty of issues - serious ones - that we occupy ourselves with. Generally these have to do with hobbies people are genuinely passionate about, careers, and our relationships with each other. It could also include things like an ideal world view or a system of values for the religious or politically inclined. And in most of these, we have some kind of objective, whether we realize it on the surface or not; most people want to get better at sports, more forward in their career, become closer or resolve problems with their friends or family, or try and work for a brighter overall future.
But where do these desires really come from? Things like ideals and social interactions are obvious: They come partially from our genetic nature as social beings, and partially from our social upbringing. Things like social justice interest us because we live in a society that is actively trying to progress (as opposed to a stagnant society, like most of ancient history where people were content dying in the same social class they were born into). Activities that concern our physical body can also be traced to obvious causes; the state of health our bodies are in directly affects our mood and temperament, and so we try and take care of ourselves.
In none of these situations are our desires truly independent, and in none of these are our ambitions truly our own. Peoples' beliefs are too often subjugated to the context in which they were raised. Conversely, many people who oppose their upbringing display the inverse. I am polyamorous but was raised in a monogamous society, but this lifestyle choice was only a conscious decision because I have come to resent most of the social rules I grew up in; I only made that choice because monogamy gave me the context in which to oppose it. This can be seen quite frequently whenever you talk to adamant atheists who grew up in highly religious households. Either way, we have little say in what we believe, because our knowledge is limited to our scope of experience. Our perspective is furthermore limited by the fact that we have only one body which inhabits but a single location at any given time.
People generally think of a person's identity as being the combination of a number of factors, but these are generally based off of a person's ethnicity, gender, background, upbringing, religion, choices, or desires. The first four are simply a product of DNA, and have no correlation with choice. The last three are debatable, but are still not necessarily governed by choice.
Take religion for example: People convert from all religions to all religions. They may discard a previous religion altogether, or subscribe to another with no previous religious affinity. However, these conversions are usually the result of some exterior influence. Life situations may make someone question their existence, which can lead to them seeking some kind of truth. This oftentimes ends in them converting or becoming an atheist. But what if such a life situation had never occurred? That person would have continued living the way they had in the past.
A second influence may be missionaries or people who speak on the behalf of a religion or lifestyle. Someone who does a good job of it can convince people of anything, fact or fiction. Someone who does a bad job oftentimes ends up making someone adverse to their ideas, which can still be true or false. What causes you to intersect with these people is not of your choosing; the same person grieving over their mother might be just as likely to convert to Judaism as they would be to abandon Christianity for atheism, depending on who talks to them and wins them over.
As far as desires go, it is the objective of the vast majority of people to change your desires and objectives such that they coincide with their own. That's what cooperation is, and most people are followers, not leaders. Advertising is meant to tell you what you want. A media outlet with a private agenda can easily display a context in which certain ideals look more appealing than others. Whether you lean more to the right or left, just about everyone agrees that there is a media bias.
On top of conscious influences, luck also plays a role in what you want. If you were born with cerebral palsy, you could aspire to be a great mathematician or perhaps a history major. Conversely, you might be more interested in sports if you were born with a physically fit body. Life situations can often dictate what you want to a frightening degree. And of course, our desires will influence our decisions.
So if our desires are so often the result of completely external factors rather than being ingrained in our identity, why should we feel motivated to follow them? Are we not just pawns walking the paths set in front of us? To what end do we participate in our own agenda, or even participate in the world at all? Life could have a purpose, but our ability to make that purpose is severely hindered by our fragile psyches.
So what is the point of living?