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Choice: A Paradigm of Paralysis

January 27, 2013 Leave a comment

Most of us have been conditioned to believe that choice is a good thing in our lives, and that a wide breadth of choice will lead to greater personal freedom and therefore greater happiness.  To a limited extent this holds true.

Certainly the very core beliefs of Capitalism is that consumers should have the right to choose.  The result of this approach is that it creates a consumer driven democracy in which purchases are the ballots by which votes are cast.  In such a system a great responsibility lies in the hands of the consumers, though this power may be largely unrealized.

Social conscience, therefore, doesn’t rest in the hands of the companies.  This responsibility has also been downloaded onto the consumer–if the consumer didn’t agree, they wouldn’t vote for it.  At least this is what basic economic principles hold to be true.  (One must remember, however, that such theories also presuppose that consumers have “perfect knowledge” of the choices they are making, that is to say they are fully aware of all of the factors involved in their choice.  I dare say that is not the case)

Choice can be debilitating.

Consider chewing gum.  Likely we have all deliberated over the bevy of choices laid out near the cash register.  For discussion let’s say that there are 64 different flavours to choose from. Consider what choice you would make?  To make a truly informed decision, you would have to have tasted all 64 flavours.  Assuming you could distinctly recall what each one of those flavours was, you would now be in a position to decide.  It is likely, however, that you haven’t tried all the flavours and so can’t possibly know what you want.  So you guess.  After you have made your choice do you reconsider?  Do you wonder if there was another flavour which might have been even better?  How many other choices are made and then tinged by regret at the possibility that a different choice would have been more satisfying.

Consider the possibility that there were only three flavours of gum:  Blue, Green, and Red.  The choice would be much simpler and the likelihood of dissatisfaction would be drastically reduced, unless you’re like me and always choose blue despite the fact that green is a more pleasing mint flavour.

Chewing gum is a relatively simple task with only one variable: flavour.  Other decisions about more valuable purchases are much more complex with multiple variables and greater consequences for poor decisions.  It is overwhelming to try to make an informed decision about something like a camera and a computer if you are not already an expert in that area and fully understand all of the applications required for your use of the device.

Recently I bought a winter sleeping bag.  It took me nearly a month to reach a conclusion about the bag for me, and there were only three variables to consider: price, weight, temperature rating.  Agonizing over the decision consumed me.  How many hours did I spend pouring over websites and reviews?

This type of preoccupation with choices really inhibits our ability to act decisively.  It impairs our ability to move forward.  It is a modern mental paralysis.

 

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