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Articles published in the Richland County Bar Association's Richbar News

Freedom from Choice

Have you heard the big news? Hasbro, the maker of the Monopoly board game, is getting rid of one of the game’s eight playing pieces. In case you haven’t played for a while, the current pieces are (in order of lamest to coolest) : thimble, iron, wheelbarrow, boot, tophat, dog, battleship and racecar. We, the public, get to decide which piece gets the axe.

Obviously, the racecar is totally safe. Everyone loves it. It has wheels – which makes sense in a game that goes in a circuit – and it looks awesome. The battleship is formidable. The tophat is dapper. The boot kind of looks like the racecar without wheels. The dog has legs, and the wheelbarrow has wheels, so they both stay for circuit reasons. The thimble and iron are ridiculous; but the iron is so ridiculous that it’s actually kind of cool. There’s nothing cool about the thimble, though. Terrible. Time for it to go.

In case you’re wondering, the new choices are (in order of lamest to coolest), diamond ring, cat, guitar, helicopter and robot.

It’s nice to have a choice, isn’t it? After all this country was founded on the basic idea we should get a choice in the things that really matter. But it seems that the meaningfulness of our choices is slipping down from the cool/meaningful end of the scale (politics, livelihood) to the lame/pointless end (what kind of Blu-Ray player should I buy). While we have more choices in things that don’t really matter, we have fewer in the ones that do.

Case in point, politics. We just finished the latest presidential horserace, so don’t worry, I won’t talk about it for long. I can’t because I’m still exhausted from the “epic ideological struggle” between the Blue People and the Red People. Don’t get me wrong. I saw the ballots and I know there were actually more than two candidates. Just because they aren’t allowed to participate in debates doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It just means we don’t really know they exist until we see them on the ballot. Maybe the message we are intended to get is that they aren’t in the debates because they are not “real” candidates.

Well, at least we have a choice between the two “real” candidates, right? Well, maybe not. There’s an interesting website called www.politicalcompass.org. The site plots political candidates on an X-Y graph according to their positions. In the 2012 U.S. Presidential election, Romney and Obama were less than one space apart on a grid with 400 spaces. As “epic ideological struggles” go that’s pretty weak. So, maybe we have no meaningful political choice after all.

Or maybe it just seems that way. As lawyers, we know a little about logic (hey, we had to take the LSAT). Logic teaches us about different fallacies in our thinking — ways that we “fool” ourselves or others. One of the main fallacies is called False Dichotomy, where the arguer claims his conclusion is one of only two options. The arguer then shows that the ‘only other option’ is outrageous, and so his preferred conclusion must be embraced. The fallacy lies in the premise that there are only two choices. In truth, there are other, perhaps infinite possibilities.

If you go back to www.politicalcompass.org there’s a multiple choice test you can take. After you answer the questions, the website places YOU on the X-Y graph according to your answers. You might be shocked to find how far away you are from the person you just voted for, and how close you might be to someone you never heard of before. In other words, you might not think what you think you think. Too late for this horserace. But maybe just in time for the next.

For now, you will have to settle for deciding which new Monopoly piece to vote for. So what’s it going to be? The diamond ring, the cat, the guitar, the helicopter or the robot?

Me? I’m writing-in “Spaceship.”

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