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Freedom from Choice
The Qunari take away freedom. Tallis:
Is a sparrow buffeted by the wind free to choose where she flies?
In our modern society, people are supposed to have "freedom of choice" and be happy about it. Ironically, however, this sometimes make people feel anxious, uncertain and trapped in being forced to make choices. This makes them resent the constant choice-making, sometimes even giving it up if given an excuse: Real Life
can feel like a Quicksand Box
. May or may not lead the character to become Property of Love
, or even enjoy Happiness in Slavery
, finding someone else to run their life for them.
This desire can be stirred by an overly Long List
Note that this is about resenting having to make choices at all
: Resenting a Sadistic Choice
is not this trope. However, exposure to such choices might lead a character to this trope as he develops a longing for a simpler and less painful life.
While freedom from choice is morally neutral, a character who takes the desire for freedom from choice too far might become destructive
as he goes off the deep end pondering (and justifying
) The Evils of Free Will
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Anime and Manga
- In DearS, the titular characters are slaves that are genetically engineered to have an aversion to making decisions for themselves However, because of Ren's character development and her unrealized connection to all other DearS, this slowly ends by the end of the series.
- In Simoun, choice (specifically represented by the gender choice, but encapsulating other things as well) is the source of most of the main characters' internal conflict throughout the story—that not related to the Hopeless War, at least. The availability of choice is a good thing, but actually engaging in either/or decision-making erases other possibilities and hence, paradoxically, stunts potential, particularly spiritual potential. Characters sometimes attempt to go the traditional Freedom from Choice route and submit to military, political, or social marching orders, but the only actual freedom lies in a particular kind of simultaneously static and "wavering" mindset.
- Henny Youngman told a joke along these lines.
A man walked into a drugstore and asked for a package of cigarettes. The following conversation took place.
"Do you want king-size or regular?"
"Filter-tip or plain?"
"Mentholated or unmentholated?"
"Crush-proof box or soft pack?"
"Cash or carry?"
"Forget it, I just kicked the habit."
- In Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Strikes Again there is a passing reference to a "Freedom from Information Act", presumably intended as a satirical slap on the recent activities of the Bush administration.
- In Final Crisis this is one of the reasons the Anti-Life Equation is so effective. When several characters such as Green Arrow and Red Robin are freed of it, they admit that Anti-Life was "easy" and that some of it did ring true for them.
- Some interpretations of Two-Face play with this: is surrendering to the judgments of the toss of a coin simply a way for Harvey Dent to escape the moral consequences of balancing his two sides?
- In Moscow on the Hudson the main character, a Russian emigrant to the United States, freaks out when he looks for coffee in a grocery store and is confronted with innumerable different brands. In the Soviet Union, there was precisely one medium-quality brand of everything.
- The film and book "91/2 Weeks" presents an erotic variation on Freedom From Choice: a career-woman who is successful and forceful in her professional life forfeits her sexual freedom to a man, and their relationship pushes the boundaries between what is "Safe, Sane and Consensual" and what is abusive.
- City of Ember has a bit of this although, it was shown that the lot-drawing didn't actually matter (it was touted as a sort of sacred infallible system, but people could swap their drawings).
- Loki talks a lot about this in The Avengers. He's going to make humanity free from Freedom. He is called a power-hungry crazy man for it every time, including by unarmed civilians. Said civilian that stands up to him is German and is old enough to remember someone touting the same philosophy.
- Alvin Toffler's nonfiction book Future Shock predicted that in the future, everything would be customizable, leading to "overchoice".
- Dave Barry has a column or two on the same subject as Calvin's dad: "For problems concerning Extra-pulpy Vitamin-enhanced orange juice in 32oz size, press one. For problems concerning Extra-pulpy Vitamin-enhanced orange juice in 64oz size, press two. For problems..."
- Charlie Brooker did a rant about this in The Guardian, and how he wants a 'cultural diet' because he has too many films to watch.
- In the book Brit-Think/Ameri-Think, there's a cartoon comparing and contrasting Americans and British buying ice cream. The American is at a Baskin-Robbins type shop with a thousand flavors to choose from; the Brit is given the option "Vanilla or chocolate?" His reply: "You choose."
- This trope figures heavily in The Giver. In particular, both jobs and spouses are assigned by the government.
- In the later Slave World novels, some of the enslaved protagonists are stranded in their old world. Thus they are free. But they want to go back to Happiness in Slavery, and this is one of the main reasons why.
- The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz is about how too many choices are paralyzing society.
- The Handmaid's Tale has this as a Discussed Trope. Under the rule of The Fundamentalist Republic of Gilead, women have had all their power completely stripped in every meaningful way. Some women adjust well to their new lives, and seem to truly believe that they're better off. Those who were not convinced that this trope was a good thing had it put to them another way; before they had "freedom to" do a lot of things, but now they have "freedom from" a lot of the problems that came with it, and the woman saying this said, quite sincerely, not to undervalue "freedom from". However, it didn't particularly matter if they accepted this or not, since they had no rights and no power anymore.
- In SeinLanguage, Jerry Seinfeld writes about going to the drug store for cold medicine, seeing an entire wall of cold medicines, and having absolutely no idea which one to buy.
Well, this one is quick-acting, but this is long-lasting . . . which is more important, the present or the future?
- In The Brothers Karamazov the Grand Inquisitor advocates this when speaking with Jesus, saying that he should have stripped people of free will, making them all righteous, thus everyone would get to heaven. See the Religion example below.
Live Action Television
- A Bit of Fry and Laurie did a sketch where a government minister responsible for a broadcasting deregulation bill arrives at a restaurant and the waiter pretends to be mortified that someone who put so much emphasis on variety has only been given one ordinary set of cutlery, takes it away, and comes back with a huge number of plastic coffee stirrers which he pours on the table, screaming that they might all be rubbish but at least he's got plenty of choices.
- Rome has Pompey, after losing his power and his fortune, philosophizing on how easy life is for slaves, to be free of the burden of choice and responsibility.
- Doctor Who: The Doctor, upon noticing that the human race has been enslaved yet again, muses, "I think you like it. Easy life."
- Shameless had this in series 4, when Frank was in the pub, trying to decide between his current lover Sheila, and his technically still wife Monica, because they both wanted him to decide which one he wanted to be with. He couldn't decide between them, so he elected to choose ''not to choose'. : In the end, he chose Sheila, but when she found out he was still legally married to Monica, which she didn't know before, she left him anyway, so Frank went to Monica instead, implying he had dumped Sheila and that Monica was the first choice.
- Keeping Up Appearances: this is a suggested reason why Richard stays with Hyacinth; he's fundamentally lazy person who wants someone else to run his life for him.
- Boardwalk Empire is set during a time when, among other things, women's right to vote was being discussed. This was an Invoked Trope by many of the men campaigning against it, claiming they were trying to "protect" women from the burden of making a choice. One such man thinks he's proven his point by asking his completely uneducated housemaid and a Brainless Beauty concubine their opinion of the League of Nations. Nucky clearly disapproves of the jeering Kick the Dog humiliation of the former, calls the latter a "bad example" of women's potential, and seems to support the change, possibly due to his close relationship with the Women's Temperance League providing him with many examples of strong, politically savvy women. One of several reasons why Margaret attracts Nucky's attention is that she is able to politely yet eloquently shoot down two men who gently (and extremely patronisingly,) try to explain this trope to her, pointing out that some supposedly inferior countries (like her native Ireland) already had votes for women, and showing that she was absolutely capable of making an informed choice.
- Devo's song "Freedom of Choice" is about this, with examples like a dog not being able to decide between two bones and starving to death. The refrain changes to the trope name at the end.
- "Counting Bodies Like Sheep" by A Perfect Circle invokes this in its lyrics: "free from pain and truth and choice/and other poison devils"
- In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin's dad goes on a rant about this as he's out shopping and grows increasingly frustrated with the fact that for every item he wants to buy there are countless meaningless options. The particular focus of his rant is potato chips. "What if I want less fat and less salt? What distinguishes 'Lite' from these others?" And don't even ask about the peanut butter.
- There's a Cathy strip where Cathy tries to order a quick cup of coffee, only to have the barista rattle off a remarkably Long List of all the coffee drinks they offer and all the optional seasonings and so on. Cathy has a meltdown and the barista tells the manager it was caused by "coffee overload." The manager suggests that Cathy might like a soothing cup of tea instead and begins to list all of the different teas they offer.
- The paradox of Buridan's Ass, which posits that an ass presented with two equally available sources of food and water would die because it lacks a reason to select one rather than the other.
- In LDS theology this is was a large part of what got Satan kicked out of heaven. The purpose of mortality is to come to Earth in order to make choices for ourselves, with the risk that we might make wrong choices and not return to live with God. Satan and his followers were kicked out because Satan's plan was to remove free will and force everyone to make the right choices. This would mean, in theory, that everyone would be able to return with God. All he wanted in return was to be placed above God. Then they started a war when they didn't get their way.
- The Futurama episode where Lrr is going to eat Leela as a public spectacle. His exchange with the waiter goes as such:
Waiter: That comes with soup or salad.
Lrr: Uh, salad.
Waiter: Ranch or vinaigrette?
Lrr: (growling) Vinaigrette...
Waiter: Balsamic or raspberry?
Lrr: [pulls out directed-energy weapon and vaporizes waiter]
- It's one of the things Mad Stan rants about in Batman Beyond.
- Among art and design circles, a customer stating that the artist has "Total Artistic Freedom" for a project is often seen as being synonymous with "I have no idea what I want, so cook something up yourself". Since such customers also tend to be quite unpleasable, artists can be understandably wary of not being given stricter guidelines.
- In general, when designing any open-ended project, just putting in guidelines, even though there are still no rules, makes there seem like there is structure. Compare the classroom version of this "Submit an art portfolio of your choice of paintings by the end of semester" versus "Submit an art portfolio of at least 15 paintings by the end of semester. Choose at least three mediums (water-color, oil pastel, and colored pencil for instance)." If a painter wants to do more than 15 paintings, sure. If they want to do just one painting of each medium and the rest are all water-color, the teacher doesn't actually care. But the artist has now been given enough of a direction, that they can actually make the decision.
- Depending on the lecturer, a term paper for a university class may not be limited by a topic or question. Some students prefer these, as it gives them a chance to show their knowledge at an area they know. Others bemoan the likelihood that their preferred topic or question will not match the lecturer's standards and make it more likely for them to fail.
- This is a common cause of the "Quarterlife Crisis": young people out of high school or college can feel overwhelmed or depressed by the amount of major life choices they face.
- A common way for dictators to justify their rule.
- Perhaps not surprisingly, this was a part of the Nazis' ideology. They replaced freedom of choice with the fuhrerprinzip (leader principle), i.e. obedience to higher authority, with the Fuhrer's word being above all law (this was partly an outgrowth of Germany unifying with Prussia at its center, with Prussia's strong military culture seeping into the rest of the country, especially through education). It was thus felt that if people were obeying orders, nothing they did could be wrong. Therefore when Nazi war criminals used this defense at Nuremberg it was not entirely self-serving or cognitive dissonance-they really believed that.
- According to Wikipedia's article on "Freedom of Choice", a social experiment determined that there's kind of a "sweet spot" when it comes to freedom and the ability to make choices. While in general, the ability to make choices (and to make choices that lead to more choices) is considered a good thing, having an abundance of choice requires both a thorough understanding of the choices and potential consequences and the ability to cope with consequences. People who lack either of those may find themselves happier within this trope, where decisions are made for them.
- Related is the concept of overchoice, first introduced by Alvin Toffler in 1970 - while most consumers would prefer having several choices over only being given one option for a given product, give them too many options and their overall happiness with their choice starts going down again. There is an experiment involved a supermarket issuing coupons for jam. The same supermarket, the same price, the same days of the week; the only difference was the number of different flavors of jam for sale on the shelf - one week had 3 flavors, another week had 24. Total sales of jam were significantly lower the week there were 24 flavors on the shelf because trying to determine the best choice out of 24 options was much more mentally tiresome for shoppers than picking the best out of 3 options, and those shoppers just ended up not buying any jam at all.