Brain Pickings

Renata Salecl: How Limitless Choice Limits Social Change

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Why having more options makes us more critical of ourselves and more politically passive.

I love the work of RSA Animate. (Previously: Sir Ken Robinson on changing educational paradigms; Steven Johnson on where good ideas come from; capitalism explained five ways.) Last year, I recommended 5 essential books on the psychology of choice, and the latest RSA animation tackles the same subject through the work of professor Renata Salecl, who explores the paralysis, anxiety and dissatisfaction that come with limitless choice — a curious existential question about freedom and its flipside.

Having grown up in Eastern Europe, I can attest to this. As socioculturally toxic as communism was, before its fall, when we had to queue up for bananas once a year because that’s how rare this “exotic” fruit imported from the West was, people seemed somehow more content, more peaceful, even if that peace was really a trance state. After the initial exhilaration about democracy and capitalism in the early 90s, however, the marketplace exploded and this radical shift from extreme deprivation to extreme abundance made people ultimately more unhappy, unleashing a rapid rise in everything from crime to obesity to corruption — all expressions of the ceaselessly wanting self. Is contentment based on illusion worse than discontentment based on reality? I have no answer.

The ideology of choice is actually not so optimistic [and] it actually prevents social change.” ~ Renata Salecl

The problem is actually that today’s ideology of choice-led capitalism, the idea that everyone is a maker of his or her life, which goes very much the reality of the social situation, actually pacifies people and makes us constantly turning criticism towards ourselves instead of organizing ourselves and making a critique of the society we live in.” ~ Renata Salecl

Salecl is the author of Choice, a concise yet deeply insightful new read on the complexity of the human capacity to choose, drawing on everything from philosophy to pop culture to psychology to online dating.

via Open Culture

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