Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Pessimism about choices

Pessimism about choices can be a very destructive thing, often causing people to get trapped in an area of their lives, be it work, school, relationships, or whatever else. 

What the phenomena feels like is something like this: for some reason the world around you is broken, such that you know how you'd like it to be (i), but you also know that for X, Y and Z reasons it will never be like that, and so to avoid the worse case scenario (ii), you must accept a painful middle group (iii). 

(i) how you want it to be.
(ii) the thing to avoid
(iii) the painful middle ground that lets you avoid (ii)

For example: a person who feels trapped in a bad job (iii) might know they want to do some fun thing with their life instead, like be an artist (i), but not seeing how that'll be possible for them, accept (iii) as a way of avoiding the unpleasantness of having no financial security and maybe even risking homelessness (ii). 

(i) doing something fun for work.
(ii) no financial security
(iii) trapped in a bad job to avoid (ii)

The trouble is this way of thinking about it is biased towards pessimism. The three options are coloured: 'can' or 'can't'. (i) is 'can't' because of these X, Y and Z reasons. (ii) Is 'can't' because it's so terrible that it has to be avoided. And (iii) is the only 'can'. All the pressure is then naturally on accepting (iii) simply because it's being presented as the only option. 

But not everyone who faces this kind of 'bad job' situation falls into the pessimism trap. There is another more pragmatic and optimistic mindset to be had.

It looks something like this: you want to make a choice between two options, (a) staying in your bad job for financial security or (b) doing X thing you find fun for financial security. You see that you prefer option (a), but the problem is you only know how to make option (b) happen.

(a) staying in your bad job for financial security
(b) doing X thing you find fun for financial security.

This creates an unsolved situation in which one is tasked with getting their knowledge of creating (b) on par with their knowledge of creating (a). And it only has to be 'on par', not 'better than', because knowledge level is the only advantage (a) holds over (b).

We can see here that although the rationale has been changed only slightly, we are now under a very different pressure than before. Rather than the pressure to accept (iii), we have the pressure to learn more and accept (a)/(i). What has changed?

The first change is in how (ii) is handled. Both (a) and (b) are assumed to resolve the problem that only (iii) is assumed to solve previously. This is a mistake in how the pessimist presents the three options. This is important because it removes all appeal to (iii)/(b). When looking at (a) and (b) it is immediately obvious that (b) has no advantage over (a), while when looking at (i), (ii) and (iii) it falsely appears as if (iii) is some kind of 'golden mean'.

The second change is that, free from the mess of thinking there might be a sense in which (b)/(iii) is better than (a)/(i), one can focus solely on the real problem. The problem is not one of preference and compromise, but one of information, namely how to get more on it (a)/(i). 

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