Friday, January 27, 2012

true choice

"Everything's a choice."
No, it is NOT.  

Genuine choice has no unbearable penalties. If the alternative is death, breaking a religious or moral taboo, extreme poverty or extreme loss of lifestyle, loss of the relationship with a parent or child, or complete social isolation, it's not a true choice. An individual's particular phobias or extreme humiliation might also render a choice not a true choice for that person.

Yes, some people make choices that have these results. Such people are called "heroes" or "saints." The fact that we have special words to describe them marks the fact that such choices are extraordinary. This should not be used as the standard for judging basic human decency, even for "choices" with extremely serious moral consequences.

Less serious choices are genuine if the consequences are in proportion with the situation, within the framework of that situation. Getting slugged by a bully may not be martyrdom, but it's a penalty out of proportion with the value of one's lunch money.

Choices are genuine only if they are truly possible for the chooser at the time the choice is being made. If a choice requires authority, physical ability, available money, available time, or other conditions that a person doesn't have, it's not a true choice. This is not to say the conditions need to be easy, just reasonably possible within the situation.

Situations in which the only way to accomplish a goal is by agreeing to certain terms, if all means of accomplishing that goal require the same terms, are not free-choice situations. There may be a choice to do without entirely, but that's a separate choice, and in no way makes the lower-level choice a free one. This is the case with the terms and conditions of software licensing. If one doesn't click on "agree," one can't use the software at all. And often all of the alternative programs or online services for a certain task have the same terms. Opting out is not a true choice when it punishes the opter.

Terms for existing services which change and must be accepted for the service to continue can never be a truly free choice. Losing something one already has hits with far more force than not acquiring something in the first place.

True choice doesn't have to be completely fair, but it can't be completely unfair and still be a true choice.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

for genealogists, historians, and the just plain curious

The Internet Archive has views of the microfilm scans of the U.S. census, along with other genealogical records. Just leave the site search set at "All Media Types" and use the county and state name as your search terms. Alternately, you can search using the phrase, "Registers of births, etc" and the name of the state. It's completely free, with no fees or need to set up an account -- as all public documents ought to be.