Illusion of Choice

The real slight of hand that Western consumerist culture has pulled is giving us the illusion of choice…

After reading a great blog about marketing to existentialists, I got to thinking more about the choices we make (or think we make) and how we think they define us. Fight Club was used as an example of consumerist existenialism in that post.

Another really fine example of cinematic choice is The Matrix Revolutions. Neo vs. Smith, final showdown, what’s the great epiphany that enables Neo to defeat Smith? The one thing that Smith can’t grasp in order to fully exist on his own: choice. It’s the only reason that justifies Neo’s actions and gives him meaning. It’s not freedom, peace, or love — all of which Smith defines as “vagaries of perception, the temporary constructs of a feeble human intellect trying desperately to justify an existence that is without meaning or purpose.”

Neo’s purpose is a postmodern one. When reality around us is suspect and illusory, there is no truth higher than our own wills, our own existential predetermination. And as empowering as that might seem, the revelation is no less depressing. There is no higher meaning after all, no greater good worth fighting for, other than the whim of individuals.

And yet, despite the pearl of wisdom this represents, even the nature of choice reveals itself to be illusory. How can we really trust our decisions, given the stimuli driving them? There are far too many third parties with vested interests in our likes and dislikes. In a capitalist society where a free market thrives on consumers, can we really be sure that our decisions are our own?

The real slight of hand that our Western consumerist culture has pulled is giving us the illusion of choice whilst really making us look, talk, and breed the same way. One would think that with the myriad choices available to us, there would be an infinite variety of demographics. But there’s not. It’s really just three major buying blocks: 12-17, 18-35, 36+ year olds.

So just how much existence are we experiencing if in fact our perception of choice is misguided? If all of this sounds Orwellian, it should.

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  1. You are right on. My latest favorite trend in advertising is ads that don’t show the product. There’s this one Honda commercial with this guy sitting on the beach…walking in the mountains…contemplating urban landscapes, and reflecting upon his life. He basically decides that he has reached nirvana, and that life–for a thinking man–is good. The last three seconds of the commercial is him driving off in his Honda. Ha! Maybe if I drive a honda everything will become clear to me, as well!

  2. I have actually been pondering this topic for quite some time, even having written several entries in my own blog about it. It is nice to see that you are pondering it as well, Rob.

    The problem is social conditioning…… after spending 6 years in the US, I can see the effects that Western culture has left imprinted on me. We are programmed to think that the only path to happiness is paved with wealth, beauty, sex and power when in fact there are a million more journeys that can be made to reach that destination. The populace seems so consumed with living the “picture perfect” life is seen on television and magazines…… that we create many different facets of ourselves to fit a million different situations…. which makes it almost impossible to see back to our original selves.

    Hopefully, I am on the path to learn how to shut out society’s deafening screams and listen carefully to my own inner voice.

  3. travel back to your childhood , your earliest memories, your earliest feelings and experiences. back when you were simple,
    laughing or crying, the basic things that you enjoyed, such as fun, warmth(family), excitment(discovery)
    than begin to understand
    how year after year as you developed an analytical mind,
    the influences that made you what you are today layer upon layer. the conditioning.
    once you realize what these were and still are, then you can begin to understand them, and discard them as necessary so that you can reach that child again, be that child again but with the wisdom of years. its a way to self brainwash the negative effects we have picked up over the
    years, so that you own more of yourself every day and
    understand all the influences in our noisy media saturated,
    illusion driven lives and navigate through the many traps that await.

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