Follow TV Tropes


Freedom from Choice

Go To

Do not be a clockwork orange,
Freedom has a lovely voice.
Here is good, and there is evil,
Look on both, then make your choice.
Sweet in juice and hue and aroma,
Let's not be changed to fruit machines.
Choice is free but seldom easy,
That's what human freedom means.

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. Similarly, some persons too much used to have restriction might be Not Used to Freedom.

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. The Assimilation Plot is related, as the characters touting it sometimes presents it as the ultimate escape from having to choose. When one character makes a choice for another in one particular incident only, it's Making the Choice for You.

Compare and Contrast with The Ditherer where the character not wanting to make decisions is not out of preference but rather cause they're straight up unable to. If this is more isolated to a certain situation(s) rather than being a general aspect them, you have Desperately Needs Orders.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Being Able to Edit Skills in Another World, I Gained OP Waifus has a slave harem that's perfectly happy to have their "husband" make all the decisions. When they were free agents, their lives were crap. With him in charge, they're happy and basically live in luxury.
  • In Chainsaw Man, Denji crosses the Despair Event Horizon after being forced to Mercy Kill his Best Friend Aki, and when Makima promises him anything he wants, he requests this. This backfires immediately and horribly, as the person he just entrusted to run his life for him turns out to be the Control Devil/Horseman of Conquest. Later on while on a date with the Horseman of War, she tells Denji to shut up and let her do the thinking for them, to which he angrily retorts that he's resolved to think for himself.
  • In DearS, the titular characters are slaves who 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.
  • Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex is an interesting case. Between the events of 2nd Gig and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex - Solid State Society, she leaves Section 9 to pursue her own goals and find a sense of purpose. She had the entire infinity of the internet to explore and do whatever she desired but felt restricted by it. By the end of Solid State Society, she decides that it would be best for her to be purposefully confined to the limitations of society because it gives her more freedom to pursue her own goals.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion illustrates this with a pencil-drawing of Shinji floating aimlessly in white space. Then someone "draws" him a floor and shows how, with that restriction, he is actually freer.
  • 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?"
    "Soft pack."
    "Cash or charge?"
    "Forget it, I just kicked the habit."

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: 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 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 George W. Bush administration.
  • In Eight Billion Genies, some people suffer from "wishlock", where they are unable to make a wish because thinking about making a wish causes paralysis from the other wishes they don't make.
  • 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.
  • Judge Dredd: One storyline has a pro-democracy group want to end the reign of the judges. Dredd is just about the only member of Justice Department to want it to go ahead, citing the massive riots that would occur if repressed. The movement goes ahead, instructions on how to vote from home are broadcast, the vote is carried out... and the Apathetic Citizens of Mega-City One don't disappoint, voting to keep the judges by a landslide, Judge Dredd citing the trope as the reason.
  • A two-part storyline from issues #42-43 of the Invader Zim (Oni) comics features the Plim, a species that have spent so long having everything in their society handled by automated systems that they lack any sort of initiative. As such, they hate the thought of deciding anything on their own to the point of it making them scared and uncomfortable, so they just do whatever they're told.
  • Nemesis the Warlock: After Torquemada has come Back from the Dead as a result of time travel, he finds that Termight has become a peaceful, freedom-loving society in his absence instead of the tyrannical, dystopian nightmare that it was under his rule. This trope comes into play when Torquemada tries to convince his former followers to reinstate him as Grand Master. His friendlier successor Mazarin tries to rebuff him but finds that his minions have all sided with Torquemada.
  • X-Men: Once cited by Spiral as an excuse for her own Happiness in Slavery to the sadistic and abusive Mojo.

    Comic Strips 
  • 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.
  • In one Cathy strip, 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.

    Fan Works 
  • In Dæmorphing, much of the appeal of infestation to Mr. Tidwell is that he just lost his wife and alone struggles trying to manage his emotions and his life. As soon as Illim shows remorse, Mr. Tidwell forgives him completely and their relationship becomes codependent.
  • Different manor” makes this the main reason Harry submits to Daphne Greengrass, as he's become tired and frustrated at the stress of his responsibilities as the "Boy-Who-Lived" and finds that he prefers submitting to Daphne and letting her make the important decisions.
  • Discussed in Eleutherophobia: Ghost in the Shell. Bonnie tells Tom that she's having a hard time deciding what kind of jam to buy, now that she no longer has a Puppeteer Parasite to choose for her.
  • In No Good Deed, Snape (being under house arrest) sends Harry grocery shopping. One of the items on the list is Greek yogurt. Faced with three different kinds of several brands and no idea which one Snape would want, he decides to buy one of each.
  • In Nukume Dori, this is one of the more interesting parts of Subaru and Seishirou's budding relationship dynamic. Seishirou is regularly shown as being the one who chooses many of their activities, including where they go on their 'dates' down to deciding what Subaru eats and drinks by ordering for him when they go out. Interestingly enough, the only time when this chafes on Subaru is when he and Seishirou are fighting over whether or not he should save Matsumoto's life. Subaru seems to draw a firm distinction in his mind between Seishirou taking care of him as part of their relationship, and the Sakurazukamori using this as a tool to be condescending and belittle his choices.
  • In Webwork, it's speculated in-universe that this is at least part of why Jumper is such a Sycophantic Servant; by being an obedient minion, she's spared the difficulty of having to make decisions for herself.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 9½ 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.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • In Mixed Nuts, Philip tries calling a newspaper:
    "Thank you for calling the Los Angeles Times. If you would like to order a subscription, please press 1. If your newspaper did not arrive this morning, press 2. To place a classified ad, press 3. To speak to the editorial desk, city desk, national desk, international desk, sports desk, metro, view, or calendar sections, press the first three letters of the desk you desire, followed by the star key in the case of the first three or the pound key in the case of the latter five."
  • In Moscow on the Hudson, Vladimir — 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.

  • 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."
  • The Books of Ember have a bit of this, although it's shown that the lot-drawing doesn't actually matter (it's touted as a sort of sacred infallible system, but people can swap their drawings).
  • 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.
  • "The Dice Man" by Luke Rhinehart (pen name of George Cockroft) tells of a lapsed Buddhist psychiatrist who begins living his entire life based on random choices generated by throwing dice, this circumventing this phenomenon.
  • Alvin Toffler's nonfiction book Future Shock predicts that in the future, everything will be customizable, leading to "overchoice".
  • One of the neologisms defined in Douglas Coupland's Generation X is "Option Paralysis: The tendency, when given unlimited choices, to make none."
  • This trope figures heavily in The Giver. In particular, both jobs and spouses are assigned by the government.
  • The Kindar in the Green-Sky Trilogy have their professions decided for them at the age of thirteen.
  • Discussed in The Handmaid's Tale. Under the rule of the theocratic 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 the Heralds of Valdemar book Arrows of the Queen, 13-year-old Talia is offered her 'choice' in an Arranged Marriage — a younger man's first wife or an older man's underwife. One of her own father's underwives tells her that the second option is nice because she'll never have to make a decision.
  • The Licanius Trilogy features Augurs, powerful wizards who can see the future. Their visions always come to pass and are made public, both to warn others and to free them from choice.
  • The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz is about how too many choices are paralyzing society.
  • 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 later Slave World novels, some of the enslaved protagonists are stranded in their old world — thus, they are free. However, they want to go back to Happiness in Slavery, and this is one of the main reasons why.

    Live-Action TV 
  • A Bit of Fry and Laurie: In one sketch, a government minister responsible for a broadcasting deregulation bill arrives at a restaurant. 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.
  • Boardwalk Empire is set during a time when, among other things, women's right to vote was being discussed. This trope is invoked by many of the men campaigning against it, claiming that they're trying to "protect" women from the burden of making a choice. One such man believes that 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 patronizingly) try to explain this trope to her, pointing out that some supposedly inferior countries (like her native Ireland) already have votes for women, and showing that she's absolutely capable of making an informed choice.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Age of Steel", the Doctor — upon noticing that the human race has been enslaved yet again — muses, "I think you like it. Easy life."
  • The Golden Girls: This is Stan's Russian cousin's problem with America: freedom of thought only leads to confusion, but if there's only one road, nobody gets lost. She comes around after reading Vanna White's autobiography. It's a hell of a book.
  • The Handmaid's Tale: As with the book, "freedom from" is extolled by Aunt Lydia to the Handmaids over "freedom to" in the "days of anarchy" before Gilead.
  • 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.
  • In the The Mandalorian episode "The Believer", an Imperial officer named Valin Hess voices approval of a belief similar to this. Hess says that while everyone says that they want freedom, what they really want is order, with the clear implication that people will ultimately gladly sacrifice freedom for order, stability, and predictability. Furthermore, he believes that the terrorist campaign which the Imperial Remnant is waging will destabilize the New Republic to an extent that people will welcome the Empire and the order it promises back.
  • 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.
  • Shameless (UK) has this in series 4 when Frank is in the pub, trying to decide between his current lover Sheila and his technically-still-wife Monica, because they both want him to decide which of them he wants to be with. He can't decide between them, so he elects to choose ''not to choose'. In the end, he chooses Sheila, but when she finds out that he's still legally married to Monica, which she didn't know before, she leaves him anyway, so Frank goes to Monica instead, implying that he had dumped Sheila and that Monica was the first choice.
  • Supernatural: The angels tend to default to subservience and are confused by the concept of free will, since they were designed to be obedient soldiers in The Armies of Heaven. God abandoned them, but Michael picked up the slack for millennia. Then after the archangels are locked up or killed, Heaven falls into chaos. In season 13, Lucifer suggests that the few remaining angels make him Viceroy of Heaven since they need a leader. They quickly oblige.
    Castiel: You are free now, all of you! God gave you free will!
    Angel: But what does he want us to do with it?

  • Devo's song "Freedom of Choice" from 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"
  • U2's "New York" (from the album All That You Can't Leave Behind) includes this lyric:
    "In New York freedom looks like / Too many choices"

  • Dave Barry has a column or two on the subject: "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.

  • 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 (real donkeys choose it at random).
  • In Jean-Paul Sartre's interpretation of Existentialism, he states that humans are "condemned to be free" — meaning that we are forced to make choices without knowing the "rules" of life or having a way to work out how to make the best choice. The real sticking point is that there's one choice we're never allowed to make: to not choose.

  • In Mormon theology, this is 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 to God. All he wanted in return was to be placed above God. Then they started a war when they didn't get their way.

    Video Games 
  • During one of the Truth-sessions of Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood, you can hear how one of the modern descendants of the Knights Templar describes how they will provide mankind freedom from democracy and choice, and all base and material desires for good measure.
  • Dragon Age:
    • This is the central principle of the Qun. It's remarkably popular with other races, mostly because the various human, dwarven, and elven societies tend to be corrupt, prejudiced, and unequal enough that meaningful choice is an illusion for most citizens anyway, and at least the Qunari will offer you genuine respect regardless of your allotted role. As stated by "Ketojan" and canto 4 of the Qun, the Qunari believe that the only choice that matters is that of one's existence. The Qun believe people are who they were born to be, that if the self is suffering it will only bring suffering to the world. If so, they have the choice to reject their existence if they so wish. Hawke is understandably perplexed how anyone who desires to continue living, could not question a philosophy that would cause them to kill themselves simply for falling outside of its bounds by accident.
      Tallis: Is a sparrow buffeted by the wind free to choose where she flies?
    • Several mages enjoy being under Templar rule. Finn, for example, says that he hated being outside and is only convinced to leave the tower because of his interest in the eluvian.
  • According to Tabitha in Fallout: New Vegas, the Super Mutants long for this situation, given that her main selling point for "Utobitha" is to not have to think for yourself. Granted, these are Fallout 3-style Super Mutants she's talking about, who aren't too good at that sort of thing. The more intelligent 1 and 2-style Super Mutants live in places with a bit more freedom.
  • Persona 5:
  • During the first Autobot mission in Transformers: War for Cybertron, Megatron announces via hologram that the Decepticons will release the citizens of Iacon from the burdens of freedom and choice, citing that his will is the only guidance they shall need.
  • In Warframe's climactic story quest, "The New War", the Sentients overrun the Origin System and install Ballas as the ruler of the empire-slash-cult of Narmer, enforced through mind-controlling Narmer Veils. At the beginning of his Villainous Breakdown, as he rages over the existence of the few people still able to oppose him despite now ruling a system-spanning empire, Ballas furiously claims that the people of the system "wanted to kneel" as they sought the comfort of being told what to think.

    Web Video 
  • Not Just Bikes: Jason mentions, with deep annoyance, how certain parts of North America seem to be full of people who are furious at the idea of being given a choice to walk, bike or take public transit rather than have to drive in traffic arguing that their freedom is being taken away by being offered infrastructure that gives them more choices (without removing cars from the equation).

    Western Animation 
  • This is among the things which Mad Stan rants about in Batman Beyond.
    Mad Stan: Look around, Batman! Society's crumbling! And do you know why?
    Batman: Too many overdue books?
    Mad Stan: Information overload, man! As a society, we're drowning in a quagmire of vid-clips, e-mail, and sound bites! We can't absorb it all! There's only one sane solution: blow it up!
  • Referenced by Mr. O'Neill in Daria in the episode "Write Where It Hurts", in which he tries to help Daria with a story assignment that she's having trouble with by restricting her to a particular topic. It doesn't work any better than all the other tricks she tries throughout the episode, though.
  • In the Futurama episode "The Problem with Popplers", Lrr is about 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]

    Real Life 
  • 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.
    • One study compared the artistic merit of three groups: the control group wasn't given any directions, the second group was told "be creative," and the third group was told something like "for example, tear or fold the stickers to make a collage." The instruction to "be creative" with no constraints was no more effective than the control group, while the group that had an actual guideline to work with/against wound up being significantly more creative. Similarly, it's harder to face a blank page with absolute freedom than to write for a prompt (hence the popularity of prompts and fic exchanges) — the constraints turn out to be liberating.
  • 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 authoritarian rulers and totalitarian dictators to justify their rule regardless of whether the general populace would like it or not.
  • Perhaps not surprisingly, this was a part of the Nazis' ideology. They replaced freedom of choice with the Führerprinzip (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. As the number of pairwise comparisons the brain has to make increases quadratically with each additional option available (with only three options the brain has to make three comparisons, a fourth ups it to six, a fifth requires ten, and so on), people who lack either of those may find themselves happier within this trope, where decisions are made for them as overchoice seeps in. 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.
  • Some of the supporters of traditional gender roles and expectations (in particular, certain religious leaders), say that women are "oppressed" because they are (supposedly) overwhelmed with all the choices they have, or are unsatisfied with life because they picked options other than what's (supposedly) "natural."
  • This video, a lecture given by Professor Renata Salecl (illustrated/animated by an unnamed artist) describing how daunting freedom can be for people who were raised in a state that used to make most of their decisions for them or provided them very few choices (she grew up in Yugoslavia).
  • Dependent Personality Disorder is the psychological term for the disorder in which a person feels they need this, even for small decisions.