The fallacy of choice

I've been wondering lately if choice isn't becoming our ruin. As Westerners, we're under this delusion that we get to choose. We have freedom of choice, we assert. We get to vote. We can choose brand names, products, stores, cable packages, payment plans. Oh, the choices!

And more. We get to choose who we marry. (And having chosen, unchoose when things don't work out as planned.)

We get to choose when we have children, and whether, and maybe even who they are -- or, perhaps more accurately, who they are not.

And now we want to choose when we die.

But do we really get to choose? Are we really in control of all this? I'm not arguing for some overly-deterministic, fatalistic perspective on life, only for a dose of reality.

There's a saying that you can't choose your family but you can choose your friends. But can you honestly say you've chosen each of your friends? You fall in with a group of people, or are thrown together with a group of people, and relationship develops. Sure, in some cases, you are intentional about spending time with those people to form those relationships, but overall, you meet who you meet, and some of them become your friends.

It's a simple example, but maybe it helps to dislodge the idea we're in control of everything. A lot of our experience is the product of circumstance, not design. In the meantime, however, this delusion of control has led us to also believe we are in control of our unhappiness.

I'm not arguing for some really passive take on life that eschews taking initiative to change your situation and your attitude, but the opposite. I'm arguing against the perception of taking control that prizes personal choice over commitment to relationship, others' well-being, and sacrifice. Ironically, our options for changing unhappiness lie not so much in the circumstances (which we think we've chosen), as in the attitudes (which we deny we can control).

"In a perfect world...," we say, as though we actually have a wide enough vision to conceive of what a perfect world would look like. Aren't the unexpected people and events in your life -- the ones you'd never have chosen, the people and events which at first blush look like imperfections -- the ones from which you grow the most, or draw the most meaningful, or sometimes just plain fun, experiences?

Would it really be all that great if we got to choose everything?

This fallacy of choice, I believe, contributes to divorces, abortions, infertility desperation, and now a growing call for euthanasia. If things don't go as we want, we choose a different path. We un-choose what was chosen. We fight tooth and nail to get what we have chosen but haven't yet received.

And we choose to not choose unpleasantness. Death? Well, that's not an option, but how to die? It's the last choice available to us. In our feebleness and frailty, whether from disease or old age, we want to exercise that one last bit of control. When it feels like all other choices have slipped away, at least we can hold on to choosing when to die. But with our history, is that wise?

Let's not stop choosing. No, let's not stop choosing beauty, relationships, joy, life, God. And in choosing God, let's let him make the decisions that are too big for us. Let's leave for his wisdom the choices we can't possibly make for ourselves, perfect world or not.


lasselanta said…
Beautiful post. Have you read the novel "Descent into Hell" by Charles Williams? Some interesting thoughts there about "loving the Fact" that fit in with what you have said here.
kar0ling said…
Thanks, Sharon. No, I haven't read it, or heard of it, I'm afraid. It looks quite fascinating, though; perhaps I'll have to look into it. Was he an Inkling?
lasselanta said…
Yes, he was-- good friend of C. S. Lewis in particular (the third book in Lewis's science fiction trilogy was heavily influenced by Williams). Worth reading and pondering. :-)

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