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When a person is offered to choose between a pen and a pencil, 50% choose the pen.
But offer the same person the choice between 1 pen and 3 pencils and 80% choose the pen. If offered 1 pencil and 3 pens, 80% choose the pencil.
I think, writ small, this is precisely what lies behind the thinking of single women (who vote very strongly liberal), the Russian or Turkish or Venezuelan masses (who usually vote for bad strongmen), and even much of the American public (who vote liberal no matter how conservative they might be personally). People fear choices.
When given the option, people instinctively choose the path with the fewest unknowns.
What was the scariest essay topic for most people? “Pick your own topic.” Students invariably prefer something very specific, something with less risk, fewer unknowns. Above all, fewer decisions.
I have argued in other threads that this same phenomenon helps explain why culture is inking up. Tattoos (among other things) help a person constrain who they are, limit the choices available to them.
I think that Vampire-lit and Fifty Shades of Grey are both excellent examples of how people (women, especially) thrill to the idea of powerlessness, of not having to make decisions. Cosmo may give you 10 tips to drive you man crazy — but if you merely decide to be tied up, you won’t even have to decide which of the 10 to try!
And I see it in medical treatment as well. People often prefer to die a predictable path (with a doctor with whom they feel they have a good relationship) rather than try something that contains many unknowns. I know Canadians who have died because they refused all the medical pencil choices that awaited them over the border. In Canada they were offered a pen. And that was better, in their minds, than potentially-effective treatment that required some degree of initiative and decision-making.
We see middle class blacks who oppose SSM, who line up for days to attend charter schools, and who would seem to be natural conservatives – but who vote for Democrats. Every. Single. Time. And I think they do it because they feel, deep down, that it is a Big Bad World out there, and while they may want freedom to make some specific choices, they fear that there are countless other monsters out there who can only be tamed in a world with less freedom. This is one reason why demonizing business and white people and “the other” in general is so effective.
If all of the above is true, it leads to an obvious question: How do those of us who embrace freedom and a write-your-own-menu of choices help people to think of choices as inherently good things? How do we help people conquer their fears?Published in