The Fear of Making Decisions
Humanity craves but dreads autonomy, Walter Kaufman.
My title and subtitle come from Walter Kaufman’s 1973 book, Without Guilt and Justice, with the subtitle, From Decidophobia to Autonomy. Decidophobia could also be thought of as the fear of Being Wrong, which is the title of a 2010 book by Kathryn Schulz.
Kaufman says: The autonomous individual does not treat his own conclusions and decisions as authoritative but chooses with his eyes open, and then keeps his eyes open. The fear of being wrong causes people to fear deciding. But as Harvey Cox points out, not to decide is to decide. In other words, you can’t avoid making decisions. Making decisions is part of every day life. Which means that you can’t avoid autonomy: the ability to make your own decisions without being controlled by anyone else.
In Being Wrong, English philosopher Roger Bacon was quoted as saying: All error could be chalked up to just four problems: The tendency to cover up one’s own ignorance with the pretense of knowledge; the persuasive power of authority; blind adherence to custom; and the influence of popular opinion. Three hundred years later, Francis Bacon (no relation) called his four sources of human error: The idol of the Tribe, widespread cognitive habits; the idol of the Cave, chauvinism; the idol of the Marketplace, the influence of public opinion; and the idol of the Theater, false doctrines.
The sources of being wrong are varied and found everywhere, coming from both social forces and individual cognitive ones. Nietzsche points out a common individual one: A very popular error: having the courage of one’s convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one’s convictions. Decision strategies that preclude uninhibited self-criticism are not helpful.
I can’t help pointing out that having an attitude of positive uncertainty would help in this very popular error. Positive uncertainty would help you to realize that your conviction may not be true. And therefore, in need of review. The fear of making decisions, because you might be wrong, is an erroneous fear, because you can’t avoid deciding. And not to decide could also be wrong.
Because we don’t experience, remember, track, or retain mistakes as a feature of our inner landscape, wrongness always seems to come at us from left field — that is, from outside of us. But reality could hardly be more different. Error is an inside job. Nobody but you can choose to believe your own beliefs, Schutz.
The fear of being wrong, decidophobia, would be a limiting factor in deciding. Decision making is usually risky. It often requires choosing an option that you believe, but do not know for sure, will lead to a desirable outcome. Deciding cannot be avoided. To decide and not to decide are both decisions, and both could be wrong. What I would recommend, of course, is to decide with positive uncertainty. In this case being wrong is not a catastrophe, because it was always possible and partly expected.
If at first you don’t succeed, you are running about average, M. H. Alderson.