We choose to make the choices we make, but why do we make some of them?
Wondering in Wapakoneta
My Dearest and Loyal Wapakonetan,
Judging matters from an entirely honest and objective third-hand perspective, I would be obliged to say that, to my optically perfect and unjaundiced eye, most human decision-making is driven by an absurdly puckish flair for self-destruction and an unspoken (and perhaps unspeakable) compulsion to husband, breed, and widely disseminate Misery.
Ha HA! I jest; while humans are certainly self-destructive and miserable, their grim tendencies far from obtain the baroque, cyclopean glory hyperbolically sketched above. You are not, after all, eels (oft described as the "chubby adolescent girls of the sea").
In truth, Choice perplexes sentient beings of all stripes (including yourself, monkeys, and, to a far lesser degree, even me) because we fail to properly identify its origins. We take ourselves to be rational and to arrive at our biases and conclusions through a fair and hard-won process of rhetorically balancing the Pros against their insurgent Cons.
But, this clear and simple process is simply not the case. Although certainly less dramatic, you and I are largely no more rational than those hormonal boy-crazy eels, with their terrible music and life-size posters of noted exsanguinist Edward Cullen. Researchers largely divide human reasoning (such as it is) into two camps: System 1 (which is lightning swift, emotional, and intuitively persuasive) and System 2 (which is slow, methodical, and often right, but likewise unattractive owing to its nasal voice, grating laugh, and poindexterian spectacles).
For the exempli gratia, imagine that you have elected to take a midnight promenade in the streets of your local economically devastated major US urban center. You espy, skulking within the darkened alley you had planned to traverse, a small clutch of sniggering adolescents passing among themselves a bottle of steeply discounted malt liquor and several clumsy cigarettes of sloppy construction and suspicious provenance. System 1 reasoning—that of the Loud-Mouthéd Gut—immediately and bellowingly opines that is is simple suicide to enter the alley, and demands that you circumnavigate the long city blocks, thus keeping you upon the wide, well-lit, and oft traveled boulevards, despite the presence of horses, mountebanks, the constabulary, and the dread Spring-Heeled Jack, still loose upon the streets of Baltimore after all these years. Moments later, your System 2 reasoning—the Pocket-Protected Nerd within—has finished dispassionately evaluating the situation. As the street lights gleam from his heptafocal spectacle lenses, he points out—quite rationally and in accord with your lifetime of personal observation—that these self-medicating teens are, in truth, nought but boisterous and self-aggrandizing pupae, with just the barest sliver of hard-won experience separating them from their sniveling, bed-wetting SpongeBobbéd larval selves. They are long on bluster and short on useful and vital experience of this world, and unlikely to be armed with any item more impressive than a flick knife, bent bodkin, or woefully inadequate and inaccurate zip gun. In sharp contrast to the loud, fearful, and superstitious blubbering of System 1, System 2 rubs his clammy palms and insists that you circumnavigate the block and quietly—oh so quietly, so nonchalantly—glide through the alley's rear, ink the waters to temporarily confuse and blind these young inebriates, then club and tear them with the berazoréd ends of your hunting tentacles whilst slicing tasty strips of tender young flesh from their abdomens with your snipping beak. System 1 whimpers and quails, but the dark logic of System 2 never leaves meat on the table.
This is why we make the choices we make: either we succumb to the reflexive cowardice of System 1's swift and fearful whining (which, it bears note, is often right and good advice in this world of predators and prey and short warning on decisions with long and painful consequence) or we invest a further moment of inaction—perhaps even a mortal moment—in hearing our System 2's cold and heartless counsel (which, at the risk of death, often delivers to our bellies an extra life-sustaining portion, or lines our pockets with that much more vital lucre).
It is well met that you should ask this matter during this time of the year, a season of regret and resolution. I would suggest that, as you honor the death of Year Past and open to snarlingly embrace the unavoidable arrival of the Year Ascendant, you resolve to finally sort apart, in your own life, the jabbering of System 1 from the eery, nasal, and somewhat pedantic counsel of System 2. As decisions freightrainishly close upon you in the dark of the night, work to hear and dismiss System 1, so that you might patiently wait and bend your ear to the eldritch calculations of System 2. If you are not devoured by bears, robbed by sharks, taxed, jailed, waylaid by cutthroats, or besought by the inequities of children (all problems in whose resolution the swiftness is tantamount and with whom System 1, in has panic, thus excels at expelling), then it is assured that you will finish this New Year with a fuller gut and wallet than you did the last. There may even be some small sliver of happiness found in the mix; after all, you never do know how things will turn out in the End.
In this Darkening Old Year I Remain,
Your Giant Squid
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