Making Choices

The purpose of this article is to explore the making of choices, a subject that is not nearly as simple or commonplace as it may seem.

Choice and Power, You, My Liberty Quotient and the Corpocracy’s Power Elite

Choice and Power. To state the obvious, more powerful people can make and have implemented monumental choices whenever they choose to do so. In stark contrast, how many different choices can a homeless person make?

You. Now, think of yourself. You chose to read this article. How many choices did you make, say, yesterday? Probably a lot without even you’re recognizing you were choosing among alternatives.

My Liberty Quotient. Reading the Declaration of Independence somehow gave me the idea to create the concept of the “liberty quotient.” Here is what it looks like:

Liberty quotient = # choices freely made/# desired choices prevented

The bigger the numerator is than the denominator obviously denotes the person’s liberty quotient is higher, signifying greater freedom to make and fulfill desired choices than a person with a lower quotient.

U.S. Corpocracy and Its Power Elite. Not a democracy, the U.S. corpocracy is simply the collusion between two sets of power elite; the superior set of titans in selected industries such as the war and related industries who tell the subordinate government power elite what to buy, what to do and what to say. The titans’ liberty quotients are obviously sky high. In a true democracy the liberty quotients among the populace would be more evenly distributed, certainly not skewed toward a small portion of the total population. And minus the overwhelming power of the elite, there would be no poverty and peace, not war, two fantastic choices realized.

Good Choices and Hubris

Most of us who have the means to do so probably make hundreds of choices every day. We may not be aware of habitual choices, like whether to get dressed right away after getting out of bed. But there may be some deliberate choices where the outcomes are good, and we feel very good about them. For example, when I pick the right golf club and hit the ball onto the distant green close to the pin, I am elated, even ecstatic! It is a natural feeling some call “hubris,” defined by Merriam-Webster as “exaggerated pride or self-confidence.” Now, I don’t like including “exaggerated pride” in the definition. Why not instead, for instance, “quiet pride” or “modest pride.” Or why not call hubris a “virtue.” We can go all the way back to the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle, who claimed that “Pride, then, seems to be a sort of crown of the virtues; for it makes them greater, and it is not found without them.” ((Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, c. 350 B.C.)) That suits me just fine.

Yet, there is something troubling to be said about “exaggerated pride,” the kind of hubris that can get a person in a heap of trouble. Take Napoleon Bonaparte, for instance. From his previous victories he came to believe he was invincible, and so he marched his army on a campaign to conquer Russia. Instead, he lost the battle and his entire empire that he had amassed. The danger of hubris has also been cemented in mythology. Remember that Icarus was roasted by the Sun in his flight to get intimate with it.

Not everyone, however, believes that hubris even exists. I know of three people who claim hubris does not exist as a human feeling at all. It is in their mind simply an artifact or false conclusion from research by others they cite and then follow up to “prove” with their own experiment. The three are professors at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. They conducted a massive, and I do mean massive, study involving a series of 17 experiments conducted on 10,825 subjects proving, so they claim, their point that hubris is not a human feeling. ((Klusowski, J., Small, D.A. & Simmons, J.P. Klusowski, J., Small, D.A., Simons, J.P. “Does Choice Cause an Illusion of Control?” Psychological Science, 32, 159-172, 2021.)) Good gosh, my doctoral research eons ago involved less than 100 subjects!

I must tell you about their believe-it-or-not experiment. The authors’ rationale for their herculean efforts was their claim that the findings reported in the research literature that choice creates an illusion of control stemmed instead from poorly controlled experiments that allowed subjects to believe that different choices were not equal in their chances of succeeding, thus creating a sense of control. To avoid that happening again, the experimenters contrived and tightly controlled their experimental designs to present subjects with choices having equal chances of succeeding, thereby presumably ruling out the possibility of creating a sense of control. Two of the experiments, for instance, were having subjects play the lottery and choose which chocolates to eat. In the end, the experimenters concluded that the illusion of control reported in others’ studies had been an artifact.

To me, the experimenters’ conclusion that hubris is not a real feeling of human beings based on their lottery and chocolate games is counterintuitive and absurd considering Aristotle’s, Napoleon’s, and probably zillions of other peoples’ experiences down through the ages along with my own experiences (I am joyous, e.g., when my golf shot from a distance goes in the hole). Furthermore, the experiment was doomed from the start by lack of what is called “external validity,” that is, to be externally valid, experimental findings must be found in real, outside the lab, life. Imagine, for instance, getting a CEO of a powerful corporation or a powerful member of Congress to choose chocolates in a lab!


1. The making of choices is not nearly as simple or commonplace a phenomenon as it may seem.
2. More powerful people can make the most consequential choices.
3. My “liberty quotient” is a way to calculate a person’s freedom to make choices.
4. Hubris, or elation over having made a good choice is very real and tangible contrary to what some experimenters in the lab might tell you.

Gary Brumback, PhD, is a retired psychologist and Fellow of both the American Psychological Association and the Association for Psychological Science. Read other articles by Gary.