Victoria Sherborne argues strongly in favour of choice, whereas Tim Parks has travelled reservations about the benefits it is supposed to bring.

I believe that the increased variety of choices available to us can backfire. While both Victoria Sherborne’s and Tim Parks’ arguments are highly germane to the question asked, I am of the opinion that Park’s arguments are more grounded in reality and reason than Sherborne’s sanguine remarks.


Sherborne propounds the benefits of more choices: each person is able to assert his individuality and define themselves by their choices. Despite these advantages to the individual, they ultimately are to the detriment of society. A pertinent example would be that with the abundance of choices in career, it would not be a surprise for a child to decline to inherit his parent’s business, albeit it is a successful one. In Singapore, many hawkers have made good money from their line of work, able to afford luxuries such as driving a Mercedes or sporting a Rolex. Yet it is not often nowadays for a child to continue with their parent’s business, perhaps because they did not inherit the aptitude for the job. Be that as it may, the choices available to children in educational and career pathways have made them increasingly geographically mobile, weakening the sense of belonging and community. As individualism takes centre stage, the shared experiences of members of society bow out, resulting in the weakening of the traditional institutions of the nation and the family.


Parks posited that choice is problematic, that the burden of deciding is too much for the individual man. The vast range of choices presented to people today places an immense amount of stress on them. From where to live, to what to study and who to marry, these are choices of lasting importance that every individual must make. If things go well, the individual takes all the credit. However, if things go badly, the individual is in a crueller place than ever before; for it seemingly means there is no one else to blame but they themselves. Failure then become a terrible judgement upon the individual. As the individual begins to factor in the far-reaching consequences of his choices, he falters with indecision. Mr Chan Chun Sing, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, sought to address this in his recent speech at Temasek Polytechnic, on how in a world where choices abound and searching for meaning may lead to failure and disappointment, “finding meaning will always be inferior to giving meaning (to) all that you do”. The proliferation of Reddit forums and the burgeoning KiasuParents website, dedicated to searching for help in selecting educational and career paths, are symptomatic of the fundamental problem of choice.



Parks also asserts that some people flee from such bewildering uncertainties into situations where their choices are made for them. This is true – as the choices of how to live one’s life multiply, so do the uncertainties of life increase. While it may be a cause for celebration that society at large is now more “tolerant” of other people’s choices, conversely this also means that the collective answers to ethical conduct have become weaker and less specific. Society is no longer confident that it has satisfactory answers. In my society, the numbers of reported depression cases have risen (1800 new cases as of 2016); suicide cases have also escalated, underscoring the mental anguish individuals suffer, bereft of the authoritative guidance and communal solace that the determining influence of society once provided.


Nevertheless, Sherborne’s arguments are not entirely invalid, and thus bear some merit. The unique ability of mankind to discriminate and deliberate sets our species apart from unthinking beasts should not be squandered away; instead it should be well utilised in the democratic process of selecting what is best for society. Surely it would be better to have the collective wisdom of mankind maximising the societal good for all, instead of frittering away our smarts on wasteful individual competition.


In conclusion, I agree with Parks to a large extent that the increased degree of choice is detrimental to both the individual man and society in general.