Friday, May 13, 2005

On the Freedom to Choose

I have thought a lot about the current liberal paradigm of choice, and I have gotten no closer to my goal of finding a better liberal assay. Choice is really good. Let people do what they want; it is the full extension of Mill's writing. By ensuring that all people have the right to choose (active) we simultaneously prevent harm (passive). I don't think that the ability to choose is a bad thing, I just think it is not the best thing. I am willing to entertain the possibility that there is no best thing, and that we will be stuck with choice for the rest of eternity. However, as the minds of people are fickle, the lack of evolution will always lead to social regression. Sort of the same way a firms credit will be downgraded if it fails to meet market expectations, liberalism will be downgraded to junk if it ceases to show strong returns or come out with new products.

So what are the problems with choice? I have come across three for now.
1. Too many choices: Everything is a choice. Snack food, Presidential elections, dinner, television. You can't be forced to choose all the time. Well you can, but you will get so bored of it that either you will make crappy choices or your choices will consume you, in some paradoxical way, limiting your liberty. If you spend as long deciding between doritos and fritos as you do on your selection for president, you will have very little time to do anything productive with your life. To argue that one does not need to spend that long on a choice is not a proper response, however, because all it does is further condemns the ability to choose.

2. Following up on that last thought, we are not really free to choose. If an observable has three degrees of freedom (e.g., translation in the x,y,& z planes)then it is limited in OO-3 ways. Insofar as you are only free to choose the options in front of you, you are de facto limited. Hell, you are limited by your time on this planet (as my prof told me when I complained about an exam "life is a timed exercise.") If you tried to make every choice fully you would be severely limiting yourself on this blessed planet.

3. The ability to choose presupposes you can govern the outcome. If you did not think you can govern the outcome of a choice, you would be completely satisfied to let someone else choose for you. Since we can't dictate the outcome of our choices, it seems silly to make choice the ultimate barometer of our liberty. (Ad absurdum I might argue that I don't really want to choose at all, rather I want to dictate the outcome of my choices. Therefore I should ask that person who can best help me arrive at that outcome (ignoring for the moment that no one can dictate things perfectly). However I have now forced another person to choose and maximize their ability to dictate the outcome and then they will seek the person best able to dictate the outcome of this new choice. This will obviously lead to a regress.)

4. Sometime it is better not to choose. Normally we say that the more educated an individual is, the better he or she can make a choice. However, sometimes we restrict knowledge from people so that they can learn e.g., on tests. Furthermore there are choices I would never want to make, like choosing between my sister and my brother (Ch'vCh), I would feel more free not to make that choice.

Again, choice is not a bad thing, it is just not the best thing. And no, Jacob, this in no way relates to my thoughts on abortion.

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