I also recently decided that I'm on the autism scale. To some that might read as insensitive or improper or maybe even ignorant. That's fine. In whatever case, I have decided that; additionally, one of the symptoms of some forms of mild autism is the rapt attention paid to patterns (it is worth noting that exactly what symptoms are indicative of autism seems to vary from medical professional to medical professional, but there are some symptoms that most agree on and I haven't found "noticing patterns" to be one of those). My self-diagnosed, most likely non-existent, extremely mild almost unnoticeable case of autism leads me to draw a lot of conclusions about life.
The latest conclusion I've drawn is that our society has determined that choice is a form of absolution. If I can prove you had a choice, I can prove that you were at fault for what happened (or didn't happen) to you.
I use this when I work with children all the time. I give them a choice, they suffer the consequences (and we all know I'm big on consequences and repercussions). The point is always to teach a lesson on a)good decision making b) consequences and repercussions and often c)shutting the hell up and listening.
I see it play out sometimes when I'm talking to a friend who's upset because her boyfriend chose to spend time with his friends instead of her. The implication being, of course, he made the wrong decision and so it follows that she would be upset about this.
This line of reasoning actually works out very well. You have a choice, you make a choice and then things happen. The only person to be upset with is yourself. It is this very logical line of reasoning that often leads to me telling people that no, I won't be accompanying them to a certain place for these certain reasons because it is my choice and if I should so happen to make the wrong one the only person who gets screwed (in the not good way) is me. Period.
But what if this choice thing is just an illusion? What if it appears that an individual had a choice that they didn't really have? Can I still say they deserve whatever comes to them? What constitutes choice anyway?
My most favorite dictionary, dictionary.com, defines choice as follows:
choice [chois] Show IPA noun, adjective, choic·er, choic·est.These words "right" and "power" and "opportunity" and "option" suggest to me that choice is a big damn deal.
an act or instance of choosing; selection: Her choice of a computer was made after months of research. His parents were not happy with his choice of friends.
the right, power, or opportunity to choose; option: The child had no choice about going to school.
the person or thing chosen or eligible to be chosen: This book is my choice. He is one of many choices for the award.
an alternative: There is another choice.
an abundance or variety from which to choose: a wide choice of candidates.
something that is preferred or preferable to others; the best part of something: Mare's Nest is the choice in the sixth race.
a carefully selected supply: This restaurant has a fine choice of wines.
a choice grade of beef.
I'll tell you what's got me thinking so specifically about choice. I just finished watching a documentary called The Price of Pleasure which aims to generally explore, among other things, how choice (liberty), commercialism, sex, money, capitalism and even feminism all play together in the creation and consumption of pornography. One theme I kept hearing in the interviews with individuals I presumed to be casual consumers of porn was "choice." In one part, where the documentary brings the ATM (ass to mouth) genre up, a man who is completely anonymous (you can't see his face and his voice is distorted) explains that while it does seem to be a very disgusting thing for a woman to do, he always assumes that the women in these films choose to do it and so it's fine.
I was really appalled at his statement. Perhaps I was more appalled at the way in which I could tell even he wondered if what he was saying was true, but that the opportunity (oh look, a code word) to absolve (oh look, another code word) himself of any real responsibility (however small) in the degradation of another human being was just too good to pass up. One interviewee in the film was a former porn actor who said, "When your best choice is taking off your clothes and sticking toys in your cunt for money, I think there's a real problem with the labor system." That sort of struck a nerve with me, too. "Your best choice..."
It seems that others' choice can absolve us of responsibility, but not the individual. That's kind of odd
See the problem with the logic behind the idea that if you have a choice and you make a decision, whatever comes of it you deserve, is the suggestion that all your choices are equal. Or even that you had a say in what those choices were.
Choosing between spending quality time with your girl or your boys is way different from choosing between eating today because you got paid to take your clothes off or not eating for an indefinite amount of time because you didn't.
This also brings me around to the story of Amber Cole (I'm going to trust your google skills are as good as mine if you don't know who she is). As usual the media went straight for her and all the bad choices she made. Some bloggers even got really novel and went after the bad choices her parents made. It's just now rising up in people's consciousness to wonder what in the hell was wrong with the three boys who made some disgusting choices themselves. For whatever reason, though, generally the opinion has been that Amber Cole had a choice, she made it and now she suffers the consequences: being pseudo-famous at 14 for performing oral sex on another underage youth and having it videotaped, which I guess, if you're no longer 14, is hard to understand or really grasp how amazingly terrible that is for her and will continue to be for her for quite a while.
Amber had choices. She did. She made the wrong one. But there's more to choice than looking at A or B and picking the prettier one. When we make decisions we have a lot of things to consider. Not just consequences but end goals and wants; dreams and hopes; plans. For some folks the plan is to eat today so the choice has to be whichever one will bring food. That seems to be something more of us can understand. But what about the hope to be liked? Or appreciated? If you're 14 and you see that the people you perceive as being liked or appreciated in a manner you want to be liked or appreciated perform oral sex (or other sexual favors) for guys, AND the specific person from whom you want attention and love gives you very specific things to do (perform oral sex) to get love from them, then I suppose I can see why Amber Cole thought that was her best choice. When you're no longer 14, it can be hard to remember how pressingly important it was to be liked and appreciated by your peers and if you've never been a 14 year old girl who may or may not find the attention of boys to be a confidence booster then you really won't ever understand why performing oral sex on a boy while being videotaped seems like the best choice.
This choice thing has also played out in the conversation about the 99% where the ignorance of those who are more fortunate shows up every time. Recently an article in my alma mater's school newspaper had a more than a few people feeling a little disgust. In an article titled We Are the 1%, the author argues that the individuals who attend this Top 20 ranked school are apart of the 1% because statistically speaking most of them have scored consistently higher than others on tests, and worked harder and done more to be able to reap the rewards of a Top 20 education. He says,
I guess the loudest members of the Bottom 99 percent are just resentful because we worked hard while they were out having a good time. If they really want to climb the social ladder, what they should be doing now is working hard, improving their lives and join the ranks of the top 25 percent, who still have it very good (if indeed they aren’t already a part of that group). Even the bottom 25 percent still has it relatively good in America, compared to the lower class in many other countries.The point of course being that those who don't make the cut, however you're slicing the pie, have only themselves to blame. They chose not to work as hard. They chose not to do as much. They chose to be at the bottom.
This is the epitome of institutionalized racism. And though this article wasn't about race, didn't argue specifically that the reason black unemployment is so high is because black folks are lazy; didn't say that women make less than men in 2011 because men are better, the prevailing notion that those who don't have don't have because they didn't work hard or pull themselves up by the bootstraps is there front and center and it's that same argument -- which is really about choice -- that has kept a lot of good things from coming to those who deserve it most.
It's not a choice when you're choosing between bullshit and bullshit. It's not a choice when your short-term well being (physical, emotional; perceived, actual) is on the line. It's not really a choice when your predicament of having to choose is ultimately through no fault of your own. It's also not valid to use someone else's shitty choice options to absolve yourself from responsibility of what happens to them. Just because I had two options doesn't mean they were fair options and doesn't mean I deserve whatever happens to me. Sometimes you do the best you can and still end up with nothing to show for it but two really bad options and one big decision.
I do want to circle back and make it clear that I don't think that pornography consumers are evil people (although some of this shit y'all be watching is absolutely horrifying and I say that with an open mind) and I don't necessarily think that just because you enjoy seeing a man (forgive my graphic words here) shove his penis so far down a girl's throat that she gags repeatedly and her eyes almost pop out of her head, you're therefore responsible for whatever mental and emotional if not physical toll that takes on her body (though I do think you're odd, I'm not going to lie). I also don't mean to suggest that these aren't grown ass individuals participating in grown ass activities. But just because all of that is generally true, that doesn't change the fact that someone has to bear the consequence -- for consequences ALWAYS come from choice. And with that being the case, doesn't it seem to always go that the person who usually bears it is the weakest (either by circumstance or relativity)? The one with the most to lose?
I also want to be clear that while I don't at all think that what has happened to Amber Cole on a public scale is acceptable, she did make a choice that even at 14 she should've known better than to do (teens do have a hard time thinking ahead, that's scientific). So did those boys and it's really shitty that they're not being publicly "spoken to" in the same manner as she is.
And yeah, some folks have made some really bad decisions all on their own that keep them out of the 1%, or even the upper parts of the 99%. That doesn't mean to me, however, that those who have benefited from that shouldn't bear some of the responsibility of bringing all this stuff back to some sort of equilibrium.
I'm still left wondering, though, what is choice? If not an opportunity for absolution and not always rainbows and butterflies what is choice really all about? Exercising a right? Showing your power of your own situation? Is this how we know the difference between a choice (time with your boys or your girl) and a non-choice, choice (eating because I got naked or not eating because I stayed clothed)?