Seeing the Choice: Re’eh and 2020 Election

The Paradox of Choice – Why More Is Less is a 2004 book by American psychologist Barry Schwartz. In the book, Schwartz argues that eliminating consumer choices can greatly reduce anxiety for shoppers. He writes:

Autonomy and Freedom of choice are critical to our well being, and choice is critical to freedom and autonomy. Nonetheless, though modern Americans have more choice than any group of people ever has before, and thus, presumably, more freedom and autonomy, we don’t seem to be benefiting from it psychologically. (The Paradox of Choice)

On some level we suffer from having too much choice. There is no doubt to me that this is part of the peril of democracy. Our elections demand that we make choices. Throughout history we have been tempted by strongmen who horde power for themselves with the promise that they will make the right choices for us.

I got to thinking about this in the context of the start of Re’eh, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

See, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you shall hearken to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day;and the curse, if you shall not hearken to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside, out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which you have not known. ( Deuteronomy 11: 26-28)

The Torah is asking us to see the impact of all of our choices. Sight is central to the human conception of causality. Before us are always choices to be made between blessings or curses. At the same time we are empowered to make choices and we are held responsible for the consequences of these choices. The Torah does not leave open the possibility of a pareve , neutral, choice. We are being asked to have the vision to realize the consequences of all of our choices. We are forced to get past the analysis paralysis. We need to live and be happy with our choices.

I was thinking about this idea of choice this week with Joe Biden’s selection of Kamala Harris as his running mate. This is a historic moment to have a woman of color on the ticket. In the context of our Torah portion it is striking to realize the role that sight plays in our perception of race.

Biden and Harris Make First Appearance as Running Mates as Trump ...Donald Trump and Mike Pence: Tensions at the top

Now that we know who is running we need to make a choice. On one level we need to make sure that we all have access to the polls. Democracy will only work when we all get to make that choice in the act of voting. Trump’s profound narcissism makes me afraid that we will not see a peaceful transfer of power when he is done his presidency. We cannot stand idly and tolerate Trump’s various efforts to suppress voting.

On a deeper level we need to choose to not outsource our lives to tyrants or religious fanatics who are anti-Choice. Their offer is to trade autonomy and freedom for psychological well being is a lie. Under the Trump Pence administration we have seen a dramatic reduction or autonomy and freedom and a skyrocketing rate of Mental Health issues.  This does not seem to be a good choice.

May the choice me make on November 3rd be for a blessing.

-also on choices :Slow Choices

#rabbisforbiden

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