We are faced with piles of choices every single day. Advertising pumps tons of clothing and cars, household cleaners and soda for us to choose from. Our friends and communities make these choices seem more real, as we are surrounded by people who want the same things, and everyone strives towards similar goals.
However, at what point are those false choices? At what point do those choices distract and take away from the real choices we need to make in our lives?
Renata Salecl, an economist in London, recently claimed in an RSA video that, “The ideology of choice is actually not so optimistic and it prevents social change.” She laid out a compelling argument that highlights how the majority of choices we are faced with everyday are simple consumerist myths that perpetuate our sense of choosing without actually giving us a say about what we’re choosing – they are false choices. She identifies how these choices drive some of us to believe we are being impinged on by false choices, driving us to create new options that in turn become placebos for meaningful decision-making.
Worst still, Salecl implies that these choices are distracting us from more serious decision-making by filling our minds with rubbish. This “fullness”, apparently re-enforced by a New York Times article called, “Too Many Choices: A Problem that can Paralyze“, which puts consumer choices on par with substantive choices like who should govern us or whether we should go to war. Or, the NY Times is apparently honing in on the outcomes of this rubbish by reporting on a study about “decision-making fatigue“, which apparently seeks to absolve the Average American from their responsibilities over their lives and work and families by acknowledging that we are simply faced with too many choices to be able to function successfully every single day. All this, and personal exposure to younger and older people who “suffer” this way, leads me to agree with Salecl.
We are surrounded by a cacophony of phony, the allure of the unreal. It seems incredible to me that so many people- young and old- actively choose to fill their lives with impediments to their power. It is as if we are actively surrendering our ability to make the world we want to live in. It was Paulo Freire who first taught me that the highest order of being human is to be a maker rather than a consumer. However, as a people we are suffocating under a pile of consumption.
Social change requires the active belief that we are fully capable and desirous of making the world we want to live in. We must actively choose to do that every single day, be it through actively eschewing television and teaching our kids to stay away from it, or by denying the commercial overload that would take over our lives by living simply and within our means. False choices are killing social change.
It is from that place of unhindered decision-making that we can develop the critical consciousness and social awareness necessary to change the world. It is from that place that we can make a real difference.