What’s Up

…with this?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Ms. Salecl, at the fast food chain Subway we have to make half a dozen decisions before we can finally enjoy our sandwich.  Is that what you mean when you speak in your lectures about the “tyranny of choice?”

Salecl: I try to avoid places like Subway, and if I end up there I always order the same thing.  When I speak about the “tyranny of choice,” I mean an ideology that originates in the era of post-industrial capitalism.  It began with the American Dream—the idea of the self-made man, who works his way up from rags to riches.  By and by, this career concept developed into a universal life philosophy.  Today we believe we should be able to choose everything: the way we live, the way we look, even when it comes to the coffee we buy, we constantly need to weigh our decision.  That is extremely unhealthy.


Salecl: Because we constantly feel stressed, overwhelmed and guilty.  Because, according to this ideology, it’s our own fault if we’re unhappy.  It means we made a bad decision.

Say, what?  Whose fault is it, then?  Who made the bad decision for us sheep?  Government?  A neighbor, sticking a gun in our ear?

She went on in this interview:

Salecl: …I don’t criticize political or electoral freedom, but capitalism’s perversion of the concept: the illusion that I hold the power over my own life.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: But I do have that power.  I can decide for myself what I want, even if the thought stresses me out.

Salecl: Not at all.  A friend, who’s a psychologist, told me about a patient once: a woman who was well educated, had a good job, a house, and a loving husband.  “I did everything right in my life,” said the woman.  “But I’m still not happy.”  She never did what she herself wanted, but what she believed society expected from her.

And whose fault was that?  Oh, wait….

She repeated her theme in a TED presentation:

In our post-industrial capitalist age, says Salecl, choice, freedom and self have been elevated into an ideal—the ideal.  But the flip side are increased feelings of anxiety, guilt, and inadequacy at facing the possibility of not “making it”—that is, not reaching the ideal.  What’s strange, says Salecl, is that increasingly people turn this anxiety inward, indulging in self-critique, rather than social critique.  Ultimately this has made us unable to move toward social change; our abundance of choices has made us politically passive.

Leave it to a Liberal, politically passive and entirely dependent on a Know Better Government to tell him what to do, to be so confused by the choices available to him that he’s uncomfortable with them.  And then to project that weakness onto everyone around him.

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