More on choice. (or, On more choice.)

January 16, 2011

About three quarters of the way through, this came to mind: Schwartz talks about this idea of opportunity cost and retroactive comparison of your choice with all other possible choices, and then, the inevitable disappointment that comes when you look back and realize you didn’t reach your expectations, and when looking for someone to blame, finding yourself having really, only, yourself, in the end, to blame, because when you quit pouting and dig yourself out of the groundhog hole to have a look around, you find yourself playing the blame game in a room of mirrors, where it is no longer possible to shake your fists and curse “the world” for having brought this horrible outcome come true but you are left with only you, yourself, only you to blame. And that this is all very sucky and depression-inducing because gawd why did you choose to do that when you could have made some pretty spectacularly less horrifying and catastrophic choices. Like, you had dozens of options, you just had to think about it. I think this is spot on and I think this is not only what happens in the current system but perhaps more shockingly what this system is designed to do. Not like from a designer viewpoint, I don’t even know what that would begin to look like, but I’m thinking more from a system viewpoint i.e. with the current rules governing the system there is no other possible outcome — it was built into the cards baby. What I mean is that we’re in a world where, to use a dramatic and perhaps hyperbolic example from Barry, the doctor puts the burden of decision on the patient rather than on himself and is justified in doing so because of this dogma that choice is better than no choice (or, more choice is better than some choice). Of course the dogma is all wrong as Schwartz illustrates, but what is worse is that the dogma has permeated through to the legal system where now not only will some doctors give the patient the onus of decision-making because of belief in the dogma but many more-than-otherwise-would-have will actually need to do so, rationally speaking, will themselves choose to put the burden of decision-making on the patient, because dun-dun-dun of liability concerns. The system is designed now in such a way to encourage such disconnect via the omnipresent motivator of the lawsuit. We have created monetary incentives, and significant ones too, for these depression inducing worlds — professionals act rationally out of fear of lawsuit to put all liability on the consumer, the individual, and with so many options (and with all the free time that accompanies WEIRD life) the individual can’t help but twenty-twenty hindsightedly look and see the actual correct choice and then grow depressed over his or her own failure — with the fault all coming down to the solipsistic fiction that you, yourself, and Ure-ka you again are best suited to determine what’s best for you.

I think our problem may be we confuse the identity/nature/whatever of the “you” for which we are trying to decide what is best for. Is it your health? Is it your neurotransmitters, or your hormones, or your Omega-3 fatty acids? Is it the mental you or physical you? (Is there a difference?[!]) Is it your future you? Your 401k you? Is it your future environment you? Is it the future world for your children you? Other humans like you? Other humans not like you?

To cover all our bases — for the patient to make a judgment at the doctor’s office — we need to be informed. Being informed is pretty much universally nodding-and-smilingly agreed upon as a good thing. I’m not so sure. Everything is a spectrum. How informed should we be? And if we’re incompletely informed, or misinformed by error — if we try our best and really burn the midnight oil on WebMD — but it turns out we can only really make a rough approximation of an informed opinion: is it still helpful?

As for me, all I know is that I know nothing, for when I don’t know what justice is, I’ll hardly know whether it is a kind of virtue or not, or whether a person who has it is happy or unhappy.
– Socrates (via Plato, The Republic)

Some of this gibberish came more eloquently from Philip K. Howard. He’s worth checking out.

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