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Regret is the Perfect Emotion for Our Self-Absorbed Times by Judith Shulevitz


Psychologists suspect that we regret more than we used to, because we make more choices than we used to. Economists spend a great deal of time nowadays trying to quantify both regret and “regret aversion,” because second thoughts, and the fear of having them, can have a volatile effect on markets. French novelist Michel Houellebecq likens our floundering in the face of proliferating goods and services to purgatory, “an endless wandering between eternally modified product lines.” So maybe the cold liberty of individual choice is God’s judgment upon our insatiable culture. But more effable causes have also wrought this brave new world, more of them than I can itemize without writing a book. (In any case, it has been written. It’s called The Paradox of Choice, it’s by psychologist Barry Schwartz, and everyone should read it.) There’s the deregulation of utilities and media; the supposedly empowering transfer of decision-making from experts to ignorant laypeople like me; and most of all, the rise of the free-agent approach to labor relations that requires the perpetual crafting and maintenance of Brand Me.

And yet, although the list of choices required of even a minimally functional person is now very long and very tiresome, its lengthiness alone doesn’t explain the psychic torment it can occasion. So here are a few theories about that. First, regret hurts because we venerate competence. Personal success is as much an American fetish as freedom of choice, so we feel duty-bound to make the kinds of decisions that lead to the best possible outcomes—to maximize our utility, as the economists say. If you subscribe to the cult of competence, it will feel like a bigger sin to sabotage yourself than others. The shame you suffer when caught doing something wrong will have less to do with having violated someone’s trust than with knowing you now look stupid or crazy.



Despre Claudiu Degeratu
Expert in securitate nationala, internationala, NATO, UE, aparare si studii strategice

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