You cannot talk about action (or consequences for that matter) without mentioning choice. That goes even if free will is not the be all and end all in your universe, because you still don’t know the full plan so you have to rely on an imperfect feel of what you ought to do, including commands, principles, requirements.
It could be that we need the above commands etc. as there is really nothing that is absolutely required if you are a free agent in the world. It is a matter of choice, all of it. Look at a baby refusing to sleep, despite being exhausted. Look at a protester refusing to eat or drink. Look at monks and nuns with vows of celibacy. Look at those who commit suicide. And yet living, eating, drinking, sleeping are supposed to be natural requirements, and I haven’t even begun to mention the human ones!
If the above are teaching us anything at all I suppose it is the fact that choice is not easy. So much so that I lose patience with questions like “if the boat is overloaded and you have to through someone overboard in order to save the majority, who would you condemn?”… and here follows usually a list of people that addresses everything that is prejudice in us.
I ignore this type of question because I believe that every day choices are difficult enough sometimes that we really don’t have time for making our lives even more complicated.
Choice is also the subject of… hm… choice (non-intended pun… which I will adopt and intend from now on 😛 ) for the regulators of our society. How often have we heard judges prompting people in court to make “better choices”? Food and drink with or without some much publicized ingredients are also “better choices”. Elections are full of people who are “better choices” than others. We are expected to compare and act…based, of course, on the intention – be healthy, be safe, be better off.
Several of the choices are automated (breathing, heart beat etc.), others are behind very strong walls (living, not hurting ourselves intentionally), yet others are regularly reinforced (eating, drinking, sleeping). Most of the other choices we make are small and easy – what to wear, what to eat, what time to put our alarm at. This, of course, brings us to the big choices, the ones that influence a big portion of our lives, and the most difficult. They are not many, and they are also the ones most heavily influenced by society. Those choices are sometimes at odd times: haven’t you ever marveled that we know teens’ brains are under construction but we still expect them to decide the direction for most of their lives? Others are made for strange (to me) reasons – marriage being decided by other people than the ones getting married, really? Still others are annoying – deciding to study the inside of an atom as a priority as opposed to finding a contraceptive that doesn’t wreck bodies, desire or fertility.
The big picture/perspective is probably the most important factor in the choices we make. But big picture hasn’t been a favourite subject for a long time, with individuality, specialization and win-lose mentality being preferred. Sure, we fit into our respective niches, but these niches are rarely communicating with many other niches.
And what is the point of a fragmented society?