Do we need to restrain our survival instinct?
Most of us don’t like it when others make decisions for us — we prefer to make our own choices. But even when we do make decisions autonomously, sometimes it is as if the process is being hijacked.
Imagine you’re visiting a new restaurant in town that is all the buzz. As you are shown to a table, you are given a menu, but unfortunately it is not quite clear which dishes are vegetarian, which are gluten free and so on. You beckon a server and tell her your specific constraints. “That’s fine,” she says, and disappears with the menu. You are not quite sure what to think, but a little later, she appears with a dish that, she announces, meets all your requirements.
Making our own choices
Too baffled to react with anything else than “thank you”, you decide to start eating, and find it is actually quite a tasty version of one of your favourite meals. You had spotted it on the menu earlier, and had you known that it fitted your constraints, you would very likely have chosen it yourself. Yet there is something odd, and frankly, off, about what just happened. You have ended up with a good choice, but you did not make it yourself. And that grates: we want to make our own choices, in the way that we want.
A somewhat far-fetched thought experiment, perhaps, but sometimes we do rely a lot on others for our decisions. If our car breaks down, we need to trust the mechanic’s assessment whether the part can be repaired or must be replaced. When we are unwell and the doctor determines our ailment and prescribes a course of drugs, most of us are not remotely qualified to verify the diagnosis and weigh up the proposed treatment against other possibilities. Sometimes we need to make choices that require expertise we do not have. But if the cost of fixing our car is high, we would still expect to make the call whether we get it repaired or whether we scrap it. Likewise, if there are multiple treatment routes for a serious condition, we would definitely not want the decision to be made behind our back.
The experts can then give us the evidence and make sure we understand it, so we can consider the trade-offs and make up our…