The Paradox of Choice

Choice is a beautifully gilded piece of architecture. To a person glancing the menu of western luxuries, choice holds a fortified position as being the most frequently enjoyed. And so we bask in it and demand more until an unnerving anxiety sinks in. But it's not that choice satiates to a point of discomfort, it's that its overwhelming presence debilitates and often confuses. With choice, we enter onto a stage where immediately we start sifting through the sea of variety to try to pick out what's the ideal; what's best for us, how does our decision compare to other's, how does it weigh on our social projection, and finally, is this all there is?

I distinctly recall a summer evening when I was sitting in a restaurant among friends and a few new acquaintances. I am by no means a sommelier, but I was somehow delegated the task of choosing the wine. I looked at the menu and scanned the prices. Too expensive and I seem pompous. Too cheap and I'll look stingy. I had to not only defer to the absolute median price, but also insisted on paying so as to relieve myself of any true social judgement. The vast menu exhausted my decision making reserves and the perception of myself in this environment filled my gut with unease. I could have just as easily been pacified into declining to make the choice altogether. Looking back, I think I may have actually preferred to drink anything that the waiter himself recommended, as long as it wasn't my decision to make.

"The problem is actually that today’s ideology of choice-led capitalism, the idea that everyone is a maker of his or her life, which goes very much the reality of the social situation, actually pacifies people and makes us constantly turning criticism towards ourselves instead of organizing ourselves and making a critique of the society we live in.” ~ Renata Salecl

Under the facade of "the entire world is yours" lies an insidious subjectivity that suggestively insists on more consumption. This "pacification" into indecisiveness due to the plethora of choice cozens our questioning mechanisms into being turned off, thus allowing passivity to continue. The gilded architecture mentioned earlier is that of a belief that "you are the master" with submission actually being the underlying principle. Who knew that all those commercials we are being bombarded with are just tranquilizer darts!

The ideology of choice melts into something that isn't so optimistic and subsequently prevents social change. Choice almost starts looking like loss. If I pick this, I am missing out on that. If I help this person, I am in turn not helping another person. We hold on to what little we have, relatively speaking, and become afraid to take chances on what we really want. This also holds true with sticking one's neck out and helping to provoke any sort of social change and being strong with critiquing the environment in which we live.

Just as with any sort of psychological bias or mechanical habit that doesn't serve the user, sometimes it's enough to just be aware of it to catalyze change. Our society, which promotes more options and more products and more choices, won't decelerate anytime soon. But we can definitely go with the flow and mitigate the negative side effects of something that inherently should be beneficial, or at the very least benign.