Did You Really Have a Choice?

Did You Really Have a Choice?

Musings by Staff Writer

“You chose to be/do what you did” is often said in an accusatory manner by those who seek to not understand the construction of your thought process, and to push away your explanation of events. This is usually said when one of your apparent choices turns out to be less than optimal. Usually, these accusers are not the people who sought to help you to choose in the first place.

They accuse you because they are repelled by what you said or did, not because it is necessarily the truth. They accuse you to shame you, blame you, and make you wrong for following a path wherein no conscious thought, or thought without full information, lay.

So let’s take a conscious look at what a choice consists of.

A choice is a decision to mentally or physically move in one of two (or more) directions. A path in the woods. You make a choice to go left or right. But what’s more, you may only have your imagination to guide you in what either direction will bring. You might imagine you hear birds coming from the left path, so that seems a joyful direction to go. You might imagine you glimpse a city at the far end of the right path, so you avoid going there. Your friends may have told you to go down the left path because it is good, and other friends might have encouraged you to go down the right path for the same reason. Who is to be believed? The future is not entirely predictable and is based on circumstantial evidence. So why should any of your choices be the subject of shame or blame?

It could be posited that most components of choice, even conscious choice, are flawed. There are a bunch of symbols used in engineering to denote when a software program makes a choice: If this then do that. If not this, then do this other thing. This is how the world works in computer binary logic. You only have a one and a zero. Yes or No. Which are you going to choose? There actually is a third choice, which is not often useful in a universe built on motion: Null. Don’t choose either one. Let outside forces decide what happens. Cast your fate to the winds.

The inability to choose even shows up in Law. If a child does not fully develop a prefrontal lobe for executive thought functioning before s/he turns 18 or 21, he or she cannot be held fully accountable for crimes committed or sexual favors extended until then. But who made those years the magic dates? I’ve known sixty-year-olds whose ability to work out the logics of a choice seems to be missing, and young people wise beyond their years.

What’s missing in the everyday use of choice is the truth about what happens in life. When you choose to go to the store, is it conscious? Do you run through the ramifications of all the alternate choices? I could go to the store OR stay home and watch t.v. OR call my mother OR go for a walk, etc… Probably not. This much analysis on every little thing you choose to do throughout the day would probably drive you crazy. Compelled by the sight of an empty fridge, without much or any thought, you choose to go to the store. So when your spouse later blames you for wrecking the car because “if you hadn’t chosen to go to the store it wouldn’t have happened,” you are forced to admit she was right, but you weren’t conscious of making a choice between a car wreck and watching tv: you believed the choice was between getting food and watching tv.

Most choices are not conscious, but are based on the automatic responses you’ve built up over your life; some are entirely reactive. Because something else happens before you make a conscious choice. You stop in your day. You hold still and knowingly bring forth what you know about each item in the choice. You imagine, or use anecdotal evidence in your life to help you to choose which direction to move. You allow assessment of internal feelings, emotions, speculation, reasonableness, hormone activity, hidden agendas, all of it, to factor in. You knowingly engage your analytical processes and subject them to the engineering standard: If I choose this, then that will or might happen….

So to the degree you operate in life on an unconscious level, you never made a choice. You are bullied by your karma, your past examples, reactivity to a situation, incorrect information or no information and no cognizance that you are even making a choice. Information overwhelm has overtaken much of the population. With so much information easily available on the internet on any topic, how do you choose which to believe? Some data are deliberate lies meant to obfuscate and “shape” you. Some of it is facts that used to be true but no longer “fit” in the current paradigm. We’ve progressed beyond the psychology of the 1800s, but some haven’t caught up.

Before you can make a choice, you have to recognize you are making one and have a good idea of what the alternate choices are. Only then, with clear thought and accurate information, can you choose.

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