Friday, May 08, 2009

The No-Choice Movement

By now, we've become familiar with the "pro-choice" versus "pro-life" movements. Most people use the name preferred by each of these movements, because it's absurd to think that anyone might be "anti-life" or "anti-choice." It's more a question of whose choice (and whose life) you value more. That's why I thought it was so hilarious when I read the following excerpt from Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next: First Among Sequels:
With a nation driven by the concept of choice, a growing faction of citizens who thought life was simpler when options were limited had banded themselves together into what they called the "no-choicers" and demanded the choice to have no choice... The no-choicers suggested that there should be a referendum to settle the matter once and for all, something that the opposition "choice" faction had no option but to agree with. More sinisterly, the militant wing known only as NOPTION was keen to go further and demanded that there should be only one option on the ballot paper--the no-choice one.

The wit and absurdity of it all really struck my funny bone at the time. But today I stumbled across this article where prominent blogger Joel Spolsky argues that choice is a bad thing. He basically rails on the Microsoft Vista team for not unifying all of Windows' shut-down options into a single "b'bye" button. "The more choices you give people," he argues, "the harder it is for them to choose, and the unhappier they'll feel." So rather than giving you the choice between, say, switching user accounts and physically turning off your computer, the computer should pretty much decide what to do for you. "If you're concerned about power usage," he says, "let the power management software worry about that. It's smarter than you are." Nevermind the fact that the changes he suggests would require changing the actual hardware on users' machines; the blame for this interface falls fully on the "whole team of UI designers, programmers, and testers who worked very hard on the OFF button in Windows Vista."

Having seen someone so blatantly arguing for a no-choice approach to things, I got to thinking about the way we as Americans have been systematically voting for the government to take away our choices. For example, if someone wants to have a home birth like we did, it's illegal in several states for a midwife to come and help them.

I look at France, where the educational system is designed to educate children to the highest level that they can attain to, and therefore you will go to the school that you test into. If you're bad at taking aptitude tests, you'll be sorting mail for the rest of your life, no matter how motivated you may be. And, frankly, I see the United States going in that general direction, as we pump more money into the public school system, without allowing parents to choose other alternatives. In California, it's technically been illegal for parents to home-school their children for a long time, but nobody seemed to notice until a judge recently ruled that "parents do not have a constitutional right to home school their children."

Keep an eye out, as you go through your day-to-day life, for other areas where you've either given up your freedom of choice in exchange for security, or had it taken from you legally. You'll find that the problem is more pervasive than you realized. The people behind it would never call themselves "no-choicers," but a rose is a rose.
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