Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Barry Schwartz's Choices

Barry Schwartz

"If Barry Schwartz is right to say that choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied, is there a case today for taking some of it away from us?"

Barry, here, defines choice within a commodity culture.

The great choices, that determine who we are, existed before modern liberal democracies, and their free market promotion, and they will exist long afterwards.

Whether we are true to our word?
How we choose to see others who are different from ourselves?
Our relationship with authority?
Whether we choose to believe that there is more than can be seen?

These choices have not diminished but their import may have been occluded by choices that are merely cosmetic.

So because we are swamped with only cosmetic choices, that really do not affect who we are, as people, those important choices that do are often overlooked or put off.

And because of being swamped with commodity choices the choices that really matter are paralysed to us.

For choices are either driven by motive or impulsive in nature.

When our impulses are satisfied by a plethora of choice we then loose the capacity to be driven by motive.
There are no motivating forces, no ethics or rules that you hold because you want to hold them and you become dissatisfied with life because everything is wishy-washy, or a game with no finality, no direction to where you want to be.

So, do I think that there may be a case for taking some of them away?

Certainly there is a case for stopping manufacturers making one item and then branding it in several ways to give the illusion of choice.

And if a clear message could not be provided through the marketing a single entity for multiple differing consumers then it might force manufacturers to restrict their branding activity. This could open the door to other manufacturers which might be a good thing for the marketplace.

However, the free market should never be called into question precisely because who other than a parent of a child should hold the authority to restrict choice?

There is a strong case, here, for education to focus on the important choices that people would never have to confront if the marketplace were king.

This suggests that the free market should have no power over our schools.

And the curriculum of schools should not just be focused on academics or job-related courses, but should foster dialogue on philosophy as a means of addressing issues without really providing a right or wrong answer.

In such classes, where children should be encouraged to explore those choices, the government should be excluded from dictating their values, nor should our teachers be dictating values past those of discipline and hard work.

Our children should be allowed to determine the answers to the great questions themselves through the exploration of great works of literature, thought, ethics and religion. The teachers job should be as chair as bring the question at hand to the table through the introduction of those works and ideas.

This also suggests a different calibre of teacher, one not affiliated with a specific school but a nomad between schools. A wandering nobody.

My perfect job description.

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Location:Tesco Central

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Deconstructing Democracy through (for, of and from) Choice

Deconstructing Democracy through (of, by and from) Choice.

Emmanuel asked:
"If Barry Schwartz is right to say that choice has made us not freer but more paralyzed, not happier but more dissatisfied, is there a case today for taking some of it away from us?"

Is there an illusion of choice?
That we assume that since we have choice, that we are more free, or even that the choice is real.

Don't marketeers exploit this illusion when they brand equivalent products differently.
And isn't this a loss due to modernity that packaging is what makes things sell.

Even in politics many are dissatisfied with the political system because they "know" that there is no choice.
But what they mean is that there may well be choice, but the difference between the parties boils down to a piece of paper that everyone knows carries no weight.
And does congruence really mean that everybody is performing as efficiently as possible?

But when we think about it such a claim boils down to evolutionary theory.
For if such were the case then evolutionary pressure would necessarily mean that traits that increase performance push out those that don't. Whilst traits that are cosmetic may well become more attractive with rarity, thus ensuring a balanced distribution.

Difference in the evolutionary world is accounted for by circumstance.
For different environs create dissimilar evolutionary pressures that also account for the variety amongst us all.

But if we assume an evolutionary model for modes of social organisation then with increased globalisation, we would have to admit that this is no real choice; only cosmetic one.

That if Nation State democracies are the most efficient form of social organisation then the future is inevitable, and that we have no control over it. Except in catastrophic circumstance, of which, obviously, we also have no control.

A fatalistic philosophy that bases itself on a disregard for the fact that we each feel we have a choice, and can affect our futures.

So how do we square this circle where we have choice and yet no control, if not by reverting to fatalistic evolutionary theory?

Freedom of choice really means taking responsibility for your actions/ choices. And when we are willing to be responsible for those choices then that means we have been free to choose. If the question, "are you willing to bear the consequences?", makes any sense in the circumstances then you really could claim that you have chosen and have been free to choose.

Flipping channels on a TV is not choice because there are no consequences for the choice of one over the other. If someone would ask you that question above then it would just be a matter of a laugh, and would not be treated as a serious question.

Whilst rebelling against the authority within an institution does resemble a choice because you may have to bear responsibility for their sanction.

Voting for a political party represents no choice, and therefore no freedom, because how can you be said to be responsible for the choice of your peers? That is even on the off chance where there is a real choice between parties.

"Are you willing to best the consequences?" becomes a redundant question because willingness has got nothing to do with it. I am forced to bear the consequence of my peers decision, and the mismanagement a political system that allows for no choice.

What does this mean?
If this is the case then authority for democracy does not lie with the people. Because I'm sure it doesn't lie with me and I'm sure that you would agree, if you are true, that it doesn't lie with you.

And then phrase "for, off and from the people" becomes redundant.
Democracy in such terms is fallacious.

And yet being a Muslim, I believe in the democracy that people's voices must be listened to. For me the theory of democracy was always still born because of a prescription for action that is couched in something far greater than the minds of men;

An illustrious recitation and the example of the greatest leader of Mankind- Muhammad, may he forever be blessed.

Because contained in both is a real prescription for consultation in political processes, and then the building of consensus- shuraa'.
A real democracy that is something that Modern Nation States with their congruent political parties only scratch at.

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Location:The Hague

Sunday, 5 April 2015



When iron rusts, engines fail.

When a man vested with the interests of the many, uses it for the furtherance of his own interests then that is the rust on the cogs and wheels of our society.

Hypocrisy rusts the heart, and critical self examination is it's balming oil. For the heart is the engine through which our actions can mark themselves out as being good deeds.

Abu Bakr (as) when he was asked to take a stipend from the treasury so that he could best fulfil the affairs of state, was constantly anxious, in his heart, as to whether it was in excess of his needs. Umar (ra) scrupulously recognised where the affairs of state ended and his began, as when he extinguished the lighting of an oil lamp mid conversation.

But with Uthman (ra) the insidiousness of corruption crept ever so silently in. For what harm could possibly come from appointing adept people to positions of authority, even though they might be related to you?

Uthman (ra) obtained his position at the table of the "blessed ten" because he did not retaliate nor did he unjustly slay any Muslim. He (ra) was a man full of heart.

That Uthman (ra) was of the blessed ten is not in doubt, nor that with his appointment entered a corruption that ended with the Kingship of the Ummayads.

This then suggests that corruption is inevitable; for when man is weak and not insightful enough, but good nevertheless, then corruption can and does inevitably creep in.

Plato suggested that statesmanship is an art, part learnt and part something that you are gifted with. And that people who have that ability will not suffer to let anyone less able determine the affairs of all others, including their own.

Was this a prescription of him who had seen the folly of democracy?
Or a description of it?

After all each man that claims the democratic right to lead, today, does so on the basis of his ability.
An improvement over the claims based on authority from before, but no less arbitrary.

A willingness to wield power, after all, does not guarantee neither the ability to do so, nor the foresight required of one, nor an incorruptible heart.

A democrat might argue that at the very least a Politician's ability lies in his persuasion. That is until you counter that big business has caught up with Politics, which now seems to be all about branding, and no substance. About where the quick advantage is had.

So what are the qualities that truly make a great leader?

In Muslim political theory the first is that he must not want it.
He must recognise that it is a sacred duty, not taken lightly.
He must have foresight, and lead by both example and through consultation.

And possibly the greatest is that he must be a man of heart, but an incorruptible heart.

Conviction is not nearly enough.
For whilst Tony Blair fought with conviction, a Mujahid fights with his heart evinced by his compassion. But the fight, though tempered by heart, is no less.

The affairs of state are a fight.
A fight with yourself against the slightest slip into corruption.

A fight against the favour that you might show to your family and friends, and the hypocrisy that goes with it.

For with nepotism whilst you might wash your hands, at night of it, by saying, "it was nothing, only a trifling thing", is the beginning of a corruption that you will be called to account for.
An account that you should fear no matter how small.

How much better the reply of the Messenger of GOD (saw) when the Ansar complained, after Fatah Mecca, that he had rewarded the nobles of Mecca and Taif but had forgotten them?

How much the worse the people who hope for leadership for themselves, or their sons, and think that by doing so they are performing a sacred duty towards the religion?
They neglect their hearts.
And their hearts tremble not with fear.

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