July 16, 2010

The Nation promotes the anti-choice liberal meme.

A couple weeks ago, I pointed to "that trendy liberal theme: Choice won't make you happy."  Here it is again in "The Trouble with Amazon":
Many would argue that the efflorescence of new publishing that Amazon has encouraged can only be a good thing, that it enriches cultural diversity and expands choice. But that picture is not so clear: a number of studies have shown that when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse than if they are presented with a number of choices so vast as to be overwhelming. In this situation people often respond by retreating into the security of what they already know.

As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, "When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what's easiest to evaluate, rather than what's important to evaluate...the safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top."



This apparent anomaly of greater choice resulting in a narrower selection finds a corollary in Amazon's use of metrics to recommend titles based on previous purchases. The algorithms at work here are highly sophisticated and are widely credited with expanding consumer choice. Yet such metric-based systems can simultaneously increase the variety of books purchased by individual customers while decreasing the overall variety of books bought by everyone. This is because, as blogger Whimsley explains, "In Internet World the customers see further, but they are all looking out from the same tall hilltop. In Offline World individual customers are standing on different, lower hilltops. They may not see as far individually, but more of the ground is visible to someone."

The loss of serendipity that comes with not knowing exactly what one is looking for is lamented by ex-Amazon editor James Marcus: "Personalization strikes me as a mixed blessing. While it gives people what they want—or what they think they want—it also engineers spontaneity out of the picture. The happy accident, the freakish discovery, ceases to exist. And that's a problem."

95 comments:

John Lynch said...

So people are happier when being told what to do.

mesquito said...

I'm thinking a lot of people choose not to read The Nation.

Matthias said...

"when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse"

Isn't that the same as saying "When people can't dig into things that really interest them, they're more likely to be generalists?

This looks like a fantastic opportunity to try the "goose/gander" theory of policy out. I'm sure Mr. Marcus & Mr. Schartz would be delighted to be restricted to a new "limited" version of Amazon that offers them only 3 results per search.

Flexo said...

Then Borders should be booming with business since they slashed their inventories and then slashed them again. Instead, they have been on the brink of bankruptcy for the last couple of years (ever since they disassociated themselves from Amazon).

Eric Blair said...

I nearly snorted coffee onto my keyboard. Did you really use "anti-choice" and "liberal" in the same sentence?

Not all choice is created equal, apparently.

Eric Blair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
shirley elizabeth said...

We must immediately appoint someone to decide what should be in our narrower range of options for everything! I definitely don't want to make what they would consider a worse choice!

Dead Julius said...

"Liberal meme?" How is this a liberal meme?

The author of the piece seems to be pining for days spent long ago in a old neighborhood bookstore that doesn't exist anymore, having been run out of the brick-and-mortar world by the likes of Amazon.com.

He just wants his old familiar stuff back. He misses it. Poor, poor him!

This is not a liberal phenomena. Conservatives do it too. Look at how offended the conservative Establishment got when it was confronted with, for example, the atheist writings of Harris and Dawkins and Dennett and Hitchens. Conservatives pined for the long lost days when kids grew up going to whatever neighborhood church their parents dragged them to, and that was that. Now young people look out at the wide world of belief (and non-belief) available to them via modern communication and are able to choose for themselves.

It's the same mechanism whether its a religious-minded conservative or bookstore-minded liberal: Either way, they are acting grumpy and crusty by hating the fact that choice is available to others.

ricpic said...

What's so terrible about making a bad choice? If you don't make bad choices you don't learn. Always this obscene condescension from liberals regarding the common man who won't survive a bad choice and therefore must be protected from himself and steered in the right direction by the superior shits.

Fen said...

oh if only we had a Monopoly of Thought to tell us what we should be interested in....

Andrea said...

Dead Julius, we aren't offended because Dawkins and Hitchens and the rest of them are writing some sort of new, unusual view point that was different from the safe churches of our childhoods or whatever; we're offended because they're just serving up the usual package of stale, adolescent "religion sucks! take that God! Nyah nyah nyah!" that most of us left behind when we graduated from junior high.

Fen said...

Liberal meme?" How is this a liberal meme?

Liberals oppose Choice that they disagree with, while claiming they champion Choice. School Vouchers, Handgun Safety Education, FOX news, etc.

Dead Julius said...

@Andrea- Well, it's a new and unusual point of view to those who find it new and unusual, and judging by book sales and cultural attention there were lots of those people. You and your fellow conservatives must be much smarter people than those poor souls, though...

Fen said...

Now young people look out at the wide world of belief (and non-belief) available to them via modern communication and are able to choose for themselves.

Yes, and the non-believers displace all that spiritual energy into Mundane Gods like Obama and Global Warming. But the "sophisticated enlightened educated" Left has no clue why this is dangerous.

I think we're doomed to continually repeat history until the Libtards are all culled out.

mesquito said...

Swear to God, Julius. I haven't heard a new or interesting atheist argument in decades. Not since my dope- and beer-fueled dormroom bull sessions.

I suspect He designed our minds and the universe that way.

El Pollo Real said...

Freedom of choice is what you've got...
freedom from choice is what you want.


Devo sang about that.

caplight said...

So of course we will need our betters to pre select for us unable as we are to make the choices they bless.

edutcher said...

The more the Lefties talk, the easier it is to understand why they're all not-so-secretly hot for people like Lenin.

Dead Julius said...

"Liberal meme?" How is this a liberal meme?

Maybe because the Lefties have always thought they were anointed to make everyone's choices for them.

Conservatives pined for the long lost days when kids grew up going to whatever neighborhood church their parents dragged them to, and that was that. Now young people look out at the wide world of belief (and non-belief) available to them via modern communication and are able to choose for themselves.

And most still choose belief. It's Hell to be a Lefty.

AST said...

Or maybe it means that other people have considered the same choices and the best ones have survived the market. Stupid choices come along all the time, but they usually get killed by markets. However, that's also the idea behind appeals to "traditional values," which can be attacked as the result of oppressive patriarchy or religion. I'm pretty much on the side of parental experience as the basis for traditional values.

Where were we? Oh, yes. Choice. Choice is a good thing, unless you make the wrong selections. If you don't know the difference between good and evil, I don't know what to tell you. (Actually, I do, but I'm not going to push it on you.)

knox said...

Sometimes in the toothpaste aisle I think, "This is going a little too far...!" But otherwise, I'd like the freedom to choose from what might be even a ridiculous number of items, thank you.

Reduction in choice is a big environmental meme. Even if they don't say it directly, they intimate it all the time. [BTW, will anyone take environmentalists seriously anymore, what with the oil spill becoming just part of daily life in America? I am picturing the Norman Rockwell's "Freedom from Want" with the spill shining through the back window.]

pst314 said...

Dead Julius: Conservatives are not offended that atheists are able to publish their opinions and other atheists are able to read them. The Nation, on the other hand, is unhappy about exactly that.

pst314 said...

Too much choice? I know a number of liberals who feel that way. Some even express outrage that, say, there are so many coffee shops in the vicinity of a university or in the heart of the business district. Others express distress that there are so many choices in the supermarket. In one form or other, the delusion that "society should be planned by a wise elite" lives on.

pst314 said...

When faced by "too many choices", why can't people just stop worrying and stick with what they're used to? They don't have to carefully consider all the choices. Choose what you're used to, choose whatever's cheapest, choose what your friend uses, but choose and move on to more important things. Don't make a crisis out of it.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

This whole choices thingy reminds me of the George Carlin skit about his stuff versus your junk.

The liberals think that the choices that they make or would make are the best ones for you and everyone.

Agreeing with ricpic. People need to make some poor choices in life to learn. If it turns out to be a coffee pot instead of the choice of a husband or wife....all the better.

pst314 said...

"The Nation, on the other hand, is unhappy about exactly that."

Oops. To be perfectly clearn, I meant to write "The Nation, on the other hand, is unhappy about exactly that (existence of choice.)" The Party (and its Kommissars) should choose for us.

Nick said...

The Nation is anti-choice? I would imagine that they would describe themselves as pro-choice.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

LOL Word verification I just noticed as I hit enter....

OMINE. Oh yes. Mine is so much better than yours. My good choices and your crappy choices.

Here....let me make sure that you can only have the choice of things that I want.

But to be serious. In my profession I have learned that if I'm going to make a presentation and give my clients choices between different investments or investment strategies: we must limit the number to no more than four for most people, otherwise they get paralyzed by indecision and nothing gets done.

So I guess I'm guilty.

jayne_cobb said...

At first I thought this was about the occasional effort to try and refer to pro-lifers as anti-choice. Typically whenever I hear people use such a term I just refer to them as anti-life, it tends to shut them up.

Pogo said...

""..freedom has a twofold meaning for modern man: that he has been freed from traditional authorities and has become an 'individual,' but that at the same time he has become isolated, powerless and an instrument of purposes outside of himself, alienated from himself and others; furthermore, that this state undermines his self, weakens and frightens him, and makes him ready for submission to new kinds of bondage. Positive freedom on the other hand is identical with the full realization of the individual's potentialities, together with his ability to live actively and spontaneously."

Eric Fromm
Escape from Freedom

rhhardin said...

Choices affect people who aren't choosy.

Calypso Facto said...

"You have too many choices" is usually a precursor to "I'll tell you what's best for you." Obamacare in a nutshell. Except maybe in that case it's "I'll tell you what's best for you AND charge you for it."

ddh said...

The Nation gives us a backdoor argument for Obamacare and the rest of the President's agenda: Americans are too dumb to run their own affairs.

Come to think of it, does Barry Schwartz and The Nation want to abolish elections to save us from the trouble of choosing officials?

Red A said...

This is true when consumers are presented with chocolate bars in retail stores. (The research they refer to was about that.)

I doubt the book market is the same. I think the liberals just realize they are losing gatekeeper status.

Pogo said...

What people really want are fewer choices in music and friends, food and baseball, health and lovers.

Mommy, please tell me what a want!

virgil xenophon said...

DBQ@6:56/

As an old Merrill Lynch/Dean Witter & Northwestern Mutual alum who's practice was limited to physicians mainly I'm in agreement with you. I also remember my Mother having a stove/oven combination with all sorts of bells & whistles in the early sixties--double oven, w. rotisserie, 8 push-button heat settings for each burner with translucent button back-lit each by a different color--lt. blue,/blue, /turq,/green/yell/orange/ to red, special burner for soups, etc. And when as newlyweds renovating our 1st home in the mid-70s and shopping for cook-tops were surprised at the limited number of features. When I mentioned this to the sales guy he laughed and said the kind my mother had were too complicated for the average cook--so they had to reduce the number of features and controls. LOL

themightypuck said...

This is a meme? Please.

edutcher said...

ddh said...

The Nation gives us a backdoor argument for Obamacare and the rest of the President's agenda: Americans are too dumb to run their own affairs.

Come to think of it, does Barry Schwartz and The Nation want to abolish elections to save us from the trouble of choosing officials?


Awww, you peeked.

chr1 said...

Last week in the cereal aisle, in a moment of unbearable anxiety, I curled up into the fetal position on the supermarket floor.

Eventually, after being exposed to the smooth susurrus of expert analysis on the market regulation needed to control this horrible situation, I recovered.

Well...that...and some serious Darwinian pop-psychological soul-searching at last week's coffee party!

Dust Bunny Queen said...

As an old Merrill Lynch/Dean Witter & Northwestern Mutual alum who's practice was limited to physicians mainly I'm in agreement with you.

I look at it this way. I am paid or contracted by my clients to help them narrow down their choices from a multitude of possiblilities. I winnow through the morass so they don't have to. If they don't want to have my help, they are free to examine through the thousands of possible choices themselves.

This doesn't mean that there are less choices. It is just that I am helping them to be more selective.

Just as we have thousands of investment options we should have as many options in other choices as the market will bear.

It isn't up to the government to decide that 8 coffee pot styles are enough, when there can be hundreds of styles and choices.

Just as it shouldn't be up to the government to decide that 8 mutual funds, or 8 styles of cars etc are enough choices, people should have as many choices as possible. If that confuses some or causes some to make bad decisions....so effing what. Should we limit ourselves as a society to the lowest common denominator because some people aren't competent, may get hurt, may make a boo boo?

I think not.

JAL said...

Yeah yeah yeah. This new doc Berwick says we have too much choice medically here in the good- old-37th-place-in-healthcare-according-to-the-UN USA.

I still can't figure that out ... the rankings were based on what we COULD have been providing based on the wealth of the country and Berwick says it's too much.

Go figure.

But according to the pro-choice champs, we poor peons need help choosing our sox. Give us black. Or white. And we'll be able to figure it out.

Mark V Wilson said...

It's a liberal meme because it's in the Nation. Why it's in the Nation is the question. And I think the answer is obvious - many liberals think there should be laws to save people from their "bad" choices and the presumed ill effects on society resulting therefrom. It's preparing rationales for choice-limiting social policies.

JAL said...

The evidence is in. Wal-Mart is moving left.

They keep cutting their inventory. Way fewer choices.

Overheard a woman talking to her husband on the baby aisle last week "They used to have everything!" (They didn't have what she was looking for.)

"Not any more" I muttered. (They have discontinued numerous favorites of mine over the last 6 - 9 months.)

Almost enough to turn me into an Amazon Prime person.

Fewer choices increase diversity?

Depends on the meaning of diversity. I this case means I shop more places.

Pogo said...

"Wal-Mart is moving left."

I noticed the reduced inventory too.
I use them less and less as a result.
Weird.

In a similar vein, I see Medicare folks getting desperate about finding a doctor. No one will take new Medicare patients. My advice is don't turn 65; you're screwed, basically.

AJ Lynch said...

The Nation's publisher, Katrina Van De Heuvel, is a trust fund baby but she is maybe the angriest ugly liberal in the country.

Christy said...

Help me fellow aged ones! Wasn't a book on this very subject published 40 years ago. And wasn't it published with book jackets in several colors to give us a choice?

Allison said...

The problem is not really a problem with choice.

It's the problem with proxies.

People make decisions based on observables, even if the criteria they really value aren't easily observable. So they use other observables as proxies.

This is rational of them.

As there are more choices, it may become more difficult to find good proxies, or at least, to find good ones as the items increase. Picking what others did is a very reasonable proxy, especially on something like Amazon.

Oligonicella said...

mesquito --

"Swear to God, Julius. I haven't heard a new or interesting atheist argument in decades."

Lay a new theist argument on us.

John Lynch said...

People were happier with no internet and three networks.

themightypuck said...

Atheism is the null hypothesis. Parsimony begins with it. It needs no argument. At least according to a pretty solid epistemology. Kierkegaard knew this. God is a leap of faith which is a terrible conundrum for those who want Kantian consistency. The best way to sell God to an atheist is to use the Mitch Daniels empirical formulation. It ain't great, but it beats ontological proofs and whatnot.

Fen said...

Too much choice? I know a number of liberals who feel that way

Yup. Just like the feminists who found their new-found liberties to be daunting, the Left is always in need of a Strong Hand: Stalin, Hitler, Che.

The Nation's publisher, Katrina Van De Heuvel, is a trust fund baby but she is maybe the angriest ugly liberal in the country.

I remember this hack. She's the one who enunciates "process" as "PRA [pause] cess". Maybe someone told her it made her look more intelligent.

Zach said...

It's odd that they would try to apply the paradox of choice to bookstores, because that's an example where more choice is unambiguously better.

You know what tiny bookstores are like? Airport bookstores. John Grisham, Sue Grafton, Clive Cussler. Bestsellers and thrillers. A bookstore needs to have a couple of floors before it makes economic sense to put in interesting books with limited appeal.

I do have my problems with the Amazon recommendation system -- it usually offers books that are exactly the same as the last book you bought from them -- but you should never mistake the implementation of an idea with the idea itself.

Seven Machos said...

All I can think of here is Tom Wolfe. I don't remember the essay, but he pointed out hilariously that any average Joe in America can have a house and a two-car garage brimming with power tools and a jet ski. How do you rally the proletariat in such a society?

Obviously, you can't. Thus, you see so many plaintive leftist authors basically urging that there be less choice -- less abundance. The subtext is so clear: We speak for the little people who are too busy doing their own thing and wailing with it to care about us.

mesquito said...

Lay a new theist argument on us.

Why?

HDHouse said...

shirley elizabeth said...
We must immediately appoint someone to decide what should be in our narrower range of options for everything!"

is Dick Cheney busy?

John Lynch said...

Less choice=poverty

Doesn't it?

Paco Wové said...

"Less choice=poverty

Doesn't it?"


But we will be so much richer in spirit, when we don't have all those icky material goods to distract us.

deborah said...

"But we will be so much richer in spirit, when we don't have all those icky material goods to distract us."

Where does the word conservative come into this discussion of abundance?

I'm all for three-story bookstores and a zillion ice cream flavors, but is there a point at which we should draw back?

mec2dfw said...

There is nothing wrong in noting that a great variety of choice can lead to difficulty in making a choice, or in choice-grouping. It is a well known behavior.

If on the grocery store shelves you put one hundred flavors of jam and jelly, people will often have a hard time making a choice - and sometimes make NO choice. And when they do choose, they often cluster around familiar default choices - grape, strawberry. Same goes for menu items - too many menu items, and people have a hard time choosing. And when they choose, they often play it safe with familiar items.

What is a problem is the observer assigning the notion of BETTER or WORSE to the choices - this involves making a subjective value judgment, that all too often with leftist busybody statism, ISN'T THEIR GOD DAMNED BUSINESS.

What you have is the conflation of the abundance of choice conundrum with the desire of statist leftist oligarchs to make choices for you - having a hard time making a choice? Let the gubmint choose wisely for you...

jelink said...

Someone posted about being an investment advisor to doctors, boiling down choices for them so they could make rational decisions. Well and good.

But the liberati would have you think THEY can do the same for the masses, when the government clearly cannot deal with the world dynamically the way that investment advisor does.

For example: the competent investment advisor will find it in his best interest to spot NEW choices his clients might consider in order to maximize their returns.

By helping his clients do better , and he and his business prosper as his reputation for spotting new opportunities grows.

The gummint drone has no such incentive. If he's already limited the choices why should he bestir himself to look for new and possibly alternatives?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I'm all for three-story bookstores and a zillion ice cream flavors, but is there a point at which we should draw back?

Do so then. That is YOUR personal choice. Why should your preferences limit mine?

And...if enough people do not make the choices for the Kiwi jam over the familiar Grape Jam, then the market will stop carrying the product. Free market forces will dictate the success or failure of the multiple choice options that we have.

However, just because some people are unable to decide to make a change and give Kiwi a try over Grape, doesn't mean that the Government should remove the choice to try something different from the rest of the population.

Someone posted about being an investment advisor to doctors, boiling down choices for them so they could make rational decisions

You are combining me and virgil. The difference between us, as advisors, and the government as the controller is that we, advisors, don't remove the choices from the sphere of possiblities. Instead we are paid/compensated/tasked by our clients to narrow from the universe of variables to those that are best suited for our INDIVIDUAL client's needs.

Which part of the universe of choices is right for one client may be completely different that the selection for others.

When the government limits our choices....no one gets the proper mix of investments or the best tasting jam for their individual preferences.

pumping-irony said...

Gee, that means the old Soviet way of doing things was the best of all worlds, then. The state chose for you. Like it or lump it. Why confuse the masses with choices? Too bad the effing place fell apart, eh? Whatever the reason, I'm sure it wasn't due to that.

SukieTawdry said...

I will admit there are times when I find the vast array of choices oppressive. However, don't even think about taking them away from me.

I rate the stuff I watch at Netflix and they make recommendations based on that. I've found any number of their recommendations quite worthy.

Penn said...

Those who jump on the bandwagon of 'let experts pick for you' haven't yet figured out that the cognitive biases that make it impossible to make a strictly 'rational' choice nonetheless make perfect evolutionary sense. We would not have generated a continuous 100,000 year trajectory of increased productivity.

JorgXMcKie said...

After some years of observance and thinking, I've come to the conclusion that what Ann calls a "liberal meme" is exactly that but it reflects a deeper held belief found basically among those who profess to be on the Left.

That is the idea of a general 'perfectibility' of the human condition. This takes the form of insisting that "if only we [or some experts] know enough we can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of human life in every way so long as the correct choices are made."

Thus we get hard Marxism and various forms of centralized control, because when many, many [hundreds of millions] of people are all making 'choices' and those 'choices' vary, then obviously some or many or most of those choice must be wrong. The thing to do then is to remove choice from individuals [except some experts] in the name of 'perfecting' human life.

I find it remarkable that the Left who embrace an atheist form of Darwinism reject the exact same process in human behavior, *and* continue to embrace the anti-Darwinist ideal of perfectibility.

El Presidente said...

There will still be plenty of choices they will just be made by your betters.

Insufficiently Sensitive said...

"..it also engineers spontaneity out of the picture. The happy accident, the freakish discovery, ceases to exist. And that's a problem."

That's only true if the 'discoverer' is so restricted in life that she uses Amazon (or some other gatekeeper) as an EXCLUSIVE source of information.

Any normally curious human, who hasn't had the inquiry bullied out of him by reading the Nation or whatever, will still be open to happy accidents and freakish discoveries.

Widen your reading, o ye intellectoids - don't depend on the Nation for more than 2% of your information intake.

Michael said...

when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse than if they are presented with a number of choices so vast as to be overwhelming.

This misstates decision theory. When offered a plethora of options, the subject has a tendency to make NO choice at all. This is important in medical decision making.

The New England Journal did a study of this with NSAIDs for arthritis a few years ago. When given a prescription by the doctor and no choice as to which drug of that class is ordered, the patient is MORE likely to get the prescription filled and take the medicine.

If the patient is given a number of options, say three, they are less likely to choose any and are less likely to take any of that class of drugs, many of which do not require a prescription.

"The Nation" needs to choose a book on decision theory and medical decision making and read it.

BW said...

So we should not afford pregnant women the choice of having an abortion or not. Having two such options would lead to a worse decision than having but one. Hmmmm, which "choice" should we allow women to have?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

So we should not afford pregnant women the choice of having an abortion or not. Having two such options would lead to a worse decision than having but one. Hmmmm, which "choice" should we allow women to have?

Of course they should have the choice.

Just as I should have the choice to NOT have to pay for or subsidize their choice.

Ritchie The Riveter said...

They say that since the government put men on the moon
That they'll handle all this stuff just fine ...
But I recall all the effort that it took to put 'em there
Just a half a dozen times ...

What makes our leaders think they can even come close
To gettin' all the answers right ...
When the answers have to be right over each and every one
Of three hundred million lives ...

Despite their erudition ...
And academic pedigree ...
The Best and the Brightest look instead
Like a box of dim bulbs to me ...

They can barely handle stuff that's one-size-fits-all
Let alone for you specifically ...
The Best and the Brightest look instead
Like a box of dim bulbs to me ...
Like a box of dim bulbs to me ...

Cognitive Outlaw said...

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, "Is it good, friend?"
"It is bitter – bitter", he answered,
"But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart."

---Stephen Crane

cf said...

This reminds me of NPR's action in March, right after our Overseers took our health choices away.
They decided it was suddenly time to drop "pro-choice" as a description and use "abortion-rights supporter" instead.

Indeed, "pro-choice" has become an inconvenient phrase for liberals. Ha Ha ha haha.

RJ said...

As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, "When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what's easiest to evaluate, rather than what's important to evaluate...the safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top."

This man is a fool. If you think about it for even a few seconds, it's obvious that when you have fewer options, then ALL of those options will be in the "safe, highly marketed" category. ALL of them. The extra choices are always the ones that are outside the "safe, highly marketed" category.

Think about it in terms of books. If somebody really likes mysteries, but the selection of mysteries is limited, they will try other categories (typically choosing, surprise surprise, the safest of the safe.) If there are lots of mysteries to choose from, then they will choose lesser known and esoteric mysteries, rather than branching into another category. So while the breadth of their knowledge might be less, the depth will be greater. This is a bad thing? What is more interesting, more diverse - a nation of jacks, or a nation of masters? I say the latter.

Also, what mec2dfw said. Those extra choices are there because some people want them. If you don't like it, too bad. It's none of your damn business.

Patm said...

I'm really starting to hate these people. 40 years of "choice is supreme" then they get into power and suddenly choice is bad for you; the little people don't need it.

And the little people can vacation at tar-balled beaches, too.

AST said...

After reading Glenn Reynolds take on this post, that line, "when people are offered a narrower range of options, their selections are likely to be more diverse" sounds like liberal koan, or a line from Orwell, "less choice, more diversity," and diversity is good, right?

This will surely be taken out of the context of retailing and applied to politics, if the history of postmodernism is any indication.

Evil Red Scandi said...

Personally, I've found that buying things online (especially books) where there are plenty of user reviews has cut my "buyer's remorse" on purchases down to just about nil. I actually feel free to be a bit more adventurous and purchase things I might not have taken the chance on otherwise.

The Ghost said...

On the surface, they have a point. The decline of bookstores is a sad trend that robs us of one of the most integral parts of choice: browsing. Wandering the aisles, letting titles and covers catch your eye, picking up whatever you fancy, holding the actual item and reading the back or part of the book.

Amazon offers nearly infinite diversity of choice, yet hardly anyone buys anything there that they didn't go there specifically to obtain.

Plus there's an implication of quality at a bookstore. The experts and tastemakers involved - the store chain, the publishers - mean that works sold there are likely to be better than the infinite selection to be had at a no-longer-theoretical infinite bookstore.

So what happened? Well, for one, those experts and tastemakers took too seriously their own power and less seriously their responsibilities to offer "the best" of a diverse selection. (Like in other industries I could mention.) During the entire Bush administration, the only political literature to the left of James Carville available at Borders and BN were a few PJ O'Rourke leftovers. The entrance displays were basically rented to the DNC for 6 years.

I've lost count of how many books I've ordered from Amazon because I know the stores won't carry it. Not just politics; Internet culture especially is an untouched topic. Without starting an argument over specifics, it's fair to say that retail chains became bookstores for the person who informs his worldview by watching CBS News and reading the New York Times. The impetus that governs every other retail business, "carry things people would want to buy from us when they see it," was replaced by "carry things we want people to buy from us when they see it."

PD Quig said...

A thought on Americans being too dumb to choose for themselves:

53% voted for Obama.

I rest my case.

Jum said...

The author's central premise, which he apparently feels is so obvious as to need no explanation, is that, 1) people are stupid, and 2) they need "experts" to tell them what to do.

Otherwise known as the "Democratic Party Motto".

Scott M said...

As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, "When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what's easiest to evaluate, rather than what's important to evaluate...the safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top."

One wonders how ol' Barry there would think if someone applied his logic to the job market. Why have such a wide, diverse workforce to choose from, as the liberals have pushed for decades, if having that wide, diverse set of applicants makes employers choose poorly?

I'm going to just venture a guess that Barry is a tool with too much time on his hands and leave it at that. I also suspect he's got an issue with personal responsibility, the inevitable hand-in-hand that always comes with unrestricted choice.

CTaylor said...

"So we should not afford pregnant women the choice of having an abortion or not."

Of course they should have the choice to get an abortion. Or to toss the newborn into the trash. Or to wait until the kids are 4 years old and then drown them in the bathtub. Of course I believe they should then be put into prison for murdering another person, but nobody said choices didn't have consequences.

Don't pretend to be so stupid that you think conservatives generally disagree with abortion because they want to limit womens choices in birth control. Prolife people believe that even an unborn baby is a seperate person and therefore killing it is murder. Others believe that an unborn baby is just a part of the mother and if she wants to cut it out then it is her business. The debate is about whether the unborn baby is a baby or just part of the pregnant woman. If you really believe the debate is about whether women should have access to various birth control methods or not, then you're too stupid to posting. If you really believe the rest of us are stupid enough to be convinced that prolife people are just wanting to keep women barefoot and enslaved in the kitchen then you are too arrogant to be taken seriously. If you're going to hijack the thread at least do it with an honest argument.

Dudley Do-right said...

Limiting the type of information people have access to, has been underway in the library world for decades, I'm convinced.

I first noticed it at the University I attended. The musty old libraries of my undergrad years were overflowing with interesting, readable books on a variety of topics. If I'd had the time, I'd have lived in those book stacks. You didn't have to know what you were looking for, it almost literally fell into your hands. I'd get sidetracked for days reading some accidental find.

Along comes a big library renovation project. The University rebuilds the various libraries over a number of years. Impressive edifices sprout in various campus locations. I go back for grad work and can't find anything worth reading when I peruse the stacks. Where did it go?

Fast forward a decade or two and I'm working in a small town in Indiana. The Library's in the old jail. I visit it and find an amazing selection of books with plenty of excellent historical reading. I fall in love with the place. The racks are overflowing with things I'm eager to put on my reading list.

Along comes a big municipal library renovation project. They close the old library and spend untold millions building a 3-story edifice that consumes the better part of a block and includes a museum. But, in the interim, the decent books disappear. When the place is re-opened, the racks are full of romance, sci-fi, and action novels....most of them paperbacks. Oh, and lots of self-help books. History books? They were moved to the "Central Library" in Muncie. If you want one you must request it.

I retire and move home to NYS. They're doing the same thing in my hometown. A guy I grew up with is heading the library renovation project. Visited the place once. Racks full of pablum. What's the point of even getting a library card?

So this is nothing new. The libs don't want us exposed to certain types of information. Historical information and analysis is especially dangerous to their agenda. They've conquered the library systems on the municipal and university levels. They did it by getting people to think libraries meant buildings, not a wide selection of good informative reading. Now they're doing the same thing with Amazon. According to the 'meme' a bookstore must be a building at the mall or downtown where (for obvious reasons) only a limited selection of popular titles are sold.

jamboree said...

I'm so sick of this. It's so simple. People's expectations have been raised. It is easier to become disappointed under those conditions. So what? It's still better. If you want to try and go back figuratively to the time when your Mom was offering you a false choice between "mac n cheese or a pocket" for your own peace of mind, by all means, give it shot. You won't be successful. You can't go back.

OTOH, you still have the very limited choice between dems and republicans on the political menu that mimics the false choices of childhood.

Happy?

Didn't think so.

John Lynch said...

Capitalism gives us lots of choices, therefore choices must be bad.

Poverty is a lack of choices. Funny how liberals have lost sight of that.

raf said...

He complains about too much choice and also about people arbitrarily reducing their range of choice according to an efficient algorithm (i.e., "easy to evaluate") Ease of evaluation can be achieved by giving primacy to a few important (to you) factors. He doesn't really object to rhe range of choice, he is disturbed that people reduce their choices in ways he disapproves of.

Perhaps ther reason people select more "diversely" in a restriced-choice environment is because they have trouble finding stuff they really like. Of course that wouldn't matter if it is stuff I think they ought to like.

Come to think of it, he is proposing the same cultural model offered by a strict religious community. I wonder if he really approves of that?

M. Simon said...

...we're offended because they're just serving up the usual package of stale, adolescent "religion sucks! take that God!

Religion doesn't suck. It is the priests I worry about.

jr565 said...

As Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, explains, "When the choice set is larger, people tend to make worse choices. They choose on the basis of what's easiest to evaluate, rather than what's important to evaluate...the safe, highly marketed option usually comes out on top.


It seems that Barry is assuming there is a right choice.
How is Barry determining which are the better and worse choices. Why is what's easiest to evaluate a worse of a criterion in choice than what's important to evaluate? If something is hard to evaluate, then many could argue that its not a good choice to choose that thing (as it's worth is hard to determine)
And why is the safe, highly marketed option the worse choice than the badly marketed less safe option? It sounds like Barry is determining what is and isn't a good choice, as well as the value of the criterion that should be used to determine a choice. And I don't know if Barry should be the one making that determination (since his determinations are based on his own bias), or if that determination could even be made.

traditionalguy said...

JR565... If God is a super computer mind with a personality, then choices must be simple for Him. The complexity of stuff from our eyeballs to weather patterns seem to hold together for a season, but then are removed and reset with a new enumerable set of material facts. I posit that is the reason temporary men seek counsel and comfort from an eternal God.

Robert Cook said...

"I haven't heard a new or interesting atheist argument in decades."

Actually, there is no need for an "atheist argument." Those who propose the existence of a supernatural realm, of a god who willed the universe into existence, etc., are the ones required to present a convincing argument for their thesis.

To date, (going back thousands of years), no such convincing argument has been presented.

Robert Cook said...

Dudley Do Right proposes that libraries are culling their inventories of useful, interesting, or esoteric volumes in service to their "liberal agenda" to dumb down the citizenry, to prohibit their ability to find information that will give the lie to "The Big Lie," we must assume, of the liberal nanny-state.

As he rather hysterically puts it:

"The libs don't want us exposed to certain types of information. Historical information and analysis is especially dangerous to their agenda."

It seems infinitely more reasonable to me to assume that libraries are cutting hours, shrinking inventory, stocking lots of popular fiction and other such populist materials as simultaneous cost-cutting and audience-building tactics. Public funding for libraries is precarious--though funding for war and murder never is, curious that--and if libraries stocked with arcane historical tomes and books of abstruse philosophy don't attract the punters to use the facility, why take up shelf space with such materials? If popular fiction draws more users to the library, those who must strive to keep libraries alive at all must make those hard (and unfortunate and bad) choices.

In the same way, as government funding for PBS (formerly NET) is continually whittled down--a result of the activism of conservatives--we find fewer serious public affairs and educational programming left, in favor of popular favorites like ANTIQUE ROADSHOW or THIS OLD HOUSE or shows presenting performances of popular music of various recent eras (pop, big band, etc.), as this is what is hoped will attract viewer donations.

It's called "letting the market decide" (or "surrendering to what people want rather than what they need") and it nearly always brings about corruption and deterioration of what is available. TLC ("The Learning Channel") and BRAVO channels on cable, for example, used to present programming focused on arts, literature, the sciences, etc., whereas now they present material such as THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF...; JON AND KATE PLUS 8; POLICEWOMEN OF MARICOPA COUNTY; KATHY GRIFFIN: MY LIFE ON THE D LIST; TOP CHEF; THE WORLD'S TALLEST/FATTEST/FREAKIEST PEOPLE and reruns of old movies or syndicated episodic television. The History Channel, rather than present serious historical programming, fills up much of their schedule with dramatic movies, PAWN STARS, ICE ROAD TRUCKERS, or shows about UFOs, and Court TV, (now TRU), which originated to broadcast court trials in real time, as turned to sensational programming such as TOP 20 MOST SHOCKING, OPERATION REPO, BAIT CAR, and the like.

Give the people what they want, and they'll usually choose shit.

Robert Cook said...
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Robert Cook said...
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Robert Cook said...

I don't see how the article linked to can be read in any way, shape, or form, no way, no how, as revealing a "liberal desire to limit choice."

Such a reading seems a paranoid and willful misreading.

The article laments, in fact, the lessening of choice that results from the rise of Amazon as America's bookstore and the concomitant loss each year of more and more independent bookstores. The article discusses Amazon's relentless price undercutting and bullying tactics (mirroring Wal-Mart, who, it seems, is moving to compete with Amazon in the field of book-selling), as well as its metrics that recommends books to customers based on their past purchases, and he suggests this reduces the serendipitous find and reduces choice. The article refers to "studies" that suggest broader choice is problematic for buyers, but this is not the point of the article or the assertion of its author. We can certainly wonder about those studies and ask to see them, the better to ascertain their methodology and findings, but such studies, if accurate, hardly point to a "liberal desire to reduce choice," but instead are revelatory of human nature.

Moreover, it seems to me that the mass economies of the age, the supposed "magic" of the free market, brings about less and less choice, which we see with more and more movie theaters exhibiting the same eight or ten current popular blockbusters, radio stations all playing the same (more and more limited) playlists, and the disappearance of mom and pop stores in all markets, replaced by chain stores selling us the same fast foods, shoes, clothing, and other consumer goods everywhere in the country. When I moved to NYC years ago, the city was replete with independent theaters and bookshops, while now we're like any other city, with Barnes and Noble as our predominant bookseller, and AMC/LOEWS as our predominant movie exhibitor. There are a few hardy souls left still operating precious indie bookshops, and theaters such as FILM FORUM and ANTHOLOGY FILM ARCHIVES, but their dwindling numbers starkly reveals the reality that the "market" has destroyed our actual choices.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld said...

The "paradox of choice" meme crops up mostly on the Left these days. I think it betrays a certain amount of nostalgic pining for the old mass culture days that began to break down after the 1970's. Until then there were the NYT, the networks, and a few big magazines. Coincidentally, most of these were safely dominated by liberals of one sort or another. The rise of cable, and eventually the internet, blew the stranglehold of the old institutions to bits. And the left has never quite come to terms with the passing of that era.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld said...

BTW, the old, sainted independent bookstores had pretty limited choice.

And before multiplexes the choice in movies was even more limited. I grew up in a small town with one, one-screen theater; if you didn't like what was playing, tough. Those old movie palaces from the 20's and 30's would seat a thousand or more for one film; if you didn't like what was showing, tough. These days you've got NetFlix and can see anything in the entire film library, and the multiplex often shows some relatively recent foreign or indie flick.

The radio stations would seem to be a rebuttal of the paradox of choice. In the modern era they consolidated to a few well-defined formats so listeners would know what to expect. Huzza, give the listeners fewer choices and make them happier! The problem is listeners responded to their restricted choices by defecting in droves, often to self-programming in the form of CDs, and more recently iPods. They even started paying for radio that offered them more choices.