“Character is fate,” deduced the historian Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989), who wrote “The March of Folly,” a book George Bush should have read before March, 2003. It relates “how mighty empires, churches and nations occasionally plunge into unwise actions that backfire, leaving them painfully damaged.” Bush’s war is the ultimate folly and his undoing.

“Happiness is a conscious choice,” reads the bulletin board at Charleston Catholic High School, a concept modified by an editor, thusly: “That’s partly true—but there are complications. If your child gets cancer, or a flash flood destroys your home and job, it’s harder to choose to be happy.”

“Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), Irish dramatist, critic, and social reformer.

“A man’s brain is so constructed that it can originate nothing whatever. It can only use material obtained outside. It is merely a machine; and it works automatically, not by will power. Its owner has no command over it.” A quote from Mark Twain’s “What Is Man?”

Twain’s answer to the question posed in the title of this article, were he here to answer, can be inferred from his book “What is Man?” In summary, he would say that humans have no free will. They think they do but it’s an illusion. He would say that man is born with a temperament that never changes but can be modified somewhat by training and environment but that he has no choice over what training his gets or the environment in which he lives.

Tuchman’s concept if reversed comes closer to reality; that is, fate is character. One does not chose his parents and his disposition is a combination of those of his parents. One does not choose his environment or his training. All three are determined by fate. Thus, fate is character rather than character is fate.

“Happiness is a conscious choice” is a concept as unreal and illusionary as is the belief in angels, fairies, heaven and hell, and everything that one hears and sees emanating from television.

Happiness is not a choice but a gift of fate. One doesn’t chose he just acts in accordance with what fate has decreed, what time and events from the beginning of time and events have ordered.

Shaw says “Life is about creating yourself.” One doesn’t create oneself; one is created by his genes and his environment, by his nature and nurture. One’s parents determine an offspring’s genes. The genes determine at least half of the character of what one is to be. The other half is fashioned by environment, an environment over which one in his formative years has no choice and even in his declining years has no choice. Whatever he does is determined by what he is and what he has done. Any act of his is the result of his genes and the story of life, from the beginning of everything until the moment of his decision, that have impinged upon all his ancestors and him.

One believes he acts freely but that is an illusion. One has no choice where he is born, when he is born, how well or bad he is made, how intelligent or dumb, how many in his family, how stable is his family, how loving or hating is his family, or how anything that determines his character and how one acts. He is a puppet whose actions are the result of fate’s pulling the strings that determine his actions.

All the quotes except Twain’s have the cart before the horse. Fate is character, not character is fate; happiness is fate not a conscious choice; and one doesn’t create oneself, fate creates one.

Thus, the beliefs of most of the peoples of the world are illusions and delusions. They believe that everyone has free will and that if he does wrong it is the result of free choice so he is to suffer the penalty thereof. They believe that if one is good he is to be praised and is to profit for choosing to be good rather than choosing to be bad.

They believe that there is a god who presides over the universe with such attention that he notes the death of every sparrow, that he records the daily doings of every human on earth and has a balance sheet on everyone for some angel to tally when one dies so as to determine whether that person ascends to heaven or goes hell—that is, unless he has in the Christian world been baptized and declared his faith in Christ. Then regardless of his record of bad he goes to heaven.

Suppose that all religions that posit the beliefs in a God, a hereafter and a heaven and a hell, and miraculous healing are nothing more than the source of false hopes of the honest and the source of nothing more than scams and shams of charlatans and impostors preying upon the faithful in order to bank the widow’s mite and the money in the plate proffered by the naïve.

Then consider what has happened as a result of Christian and Muslim faiths and what the world would have been without them. There would have been no Inquisition or religious wars or the Muslims hewing their way with swords to their vast conquests. There would be no war in Iraq and no horrors suffered from it and blood and treasure wasted by it.

Suppose that there is no free will and that humans are machines whose acts are determined by fate. Then there would be no prisons, no heroes or villains. No cause for revenge. No heaven or hell. No legal system based upon the premise that one can choose to be good or to be bad and if he chooses to be bad he is to suffer the penalty prescribed.

If society functioned with the beliefs that there is no god and no free will, what then? Man’s hopes and happiness and energies would be invested in the now and the here instead of in preparation for life in a hereafter. He would rejoice in being alive, being aware of the multiplicity of life, every species of which is a miracle, including himself; and in having senses to appreciate the beauties of this wonderful creation whose beginning was 4 billion years ago.

How free is one to fashion his fate? Any serious introspection by one into the causes of his fate will reveal that he is a straw in the winds of time and history. I can look back and see the events leading to where I am and what I am doing. I see my parents in me, I discern my disposition, I see my anatomy, I remember my life during the Depression, I recollect my boyhood and the influence of living on a farm and being tutored by my grandfather. And I remember the war [World War II] and how it has determined some of what I am, what I have done and do. It is obvious to me that I have had no choice in the forces and events that have brought me to this moment.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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