Need to get a new winter coat. After many years of service, my gorgeous, warm, swishy black cashmere, is still warm and swishy, but is only gorgeous to the eyes of the heart and of memory: viewed objectively in the (very) cold light of day, it’s well past shabby. The nap has worn off the front placket and the French seaming, the lining has torn and dips below the outer hem, the underarm stitching has come apart. The pockets have holes and the top button has gone walkabout and doesn’t look like returning. I know exactly the style I want to replace it – a semi-cape – and I’ve found a beautifully-cut and trimmed coat in that style and in my price-range. However (there’s always a ‘but’, isn’t there?) it only comes in grey or a peculiar mustardy brown. Neither of these are colours that suit me. That, in a nutshell, is the illusion of choice: that choice will get you what you need, when you need it, in the form that you need it.
So I have a decision to make: am I going to settle for a choice, or am I going to keep on looking for what I really want, even as the snow falls past my window?
I see further problems with ‘choice’. Choice is passive and one-off – one is offered choices and has only to select from amongst them. Decision, by contrast, is active and iterative – one has to research options, decide what factors are relevant and what weight they should be given. It is – or has potential to be – an in-depth process, while choice is unavoidably superficial.
Somebody who is, for example, in need of care may not ‘choose’ to use a residential facility, but they may decide that in their particular circumstances – for example their carer being too ill with a bad bout of ‘flu to be able to provide the care needed – that it is appropriate to arrange (or at any rate, acquiesce to) it.
One reason I prefer to frame option-selection as ‘deciding’, is that ‘choice’ sounds somehow more irrevocable. Decisions can be revised. Choices, once made, have an aura of having to be stuck to – ‘Yer pays yer money and yer takes yer choice’.
But someone who has decided to use residential care at a given point, is still able to decide, later on – maybe when their carer has recovered their health – that they would like to do things differently now; return to how things were before, or request additional support at home. They can do what they did before: make a decision appropriate to the current circumstances. People tend to invest personally in decisions, but not in choices. I could choose that dreary grey coat, or the peculiar brown one, but I wouldn’t like either of them.
I suspect this is why government bodies are so keen on ‘choice agendas’. They give the illusion of autonomy being conferred upon the choosers, whilst actually forcing pre-chosen cards into their hands, Derren Brown-style: smoke, mirrors and illusion. So I am supporting the LB Bill, which is offering people with disabilities the right to decide for themselves, with impartial, non-directive support if needed, where and how they will live, instead of having to pick from a limited menu of ‘choices’.
And the coat? Well, I could choose the grey, which will wash all the colour out of me. Don’t think it is fair on the good folk of N— for a figure like a corpse in a grubby winding-sheet to be seen stalking amongst them. The brown is fresh-cow-pat colour. No way. So I’ve decided that anyone who hoves within visual range of me will just have to put up with the tatters of the black cashmere. It’s in everyone’s best interests.