Michael Eriksson's Blog

A Swede in Germany

Overruled choice

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And yet another few words on choice (see [1], [2], [3] for earlier entries):

Sometimes we have, or should have, a choice and we make that choice—only to have someone else overrule it. This was first brought to my mind again by seeing one of my recent posts altered by WordPress and its absurd handling of “Wordpress” vs. “WordPress”. I very deliberately write this name/word with a “p”; however, WordPress illegitimately and user-hostilely alters this “p” into a “P”. Correspondingly, chances are that the reader sees four variations of “Wordpress” in the two preceding sentences, out of which one is correctly spelled with a “p”, because the whole word is in quotations marks (which have so far prevented this illegitimate change), one is correctly spelled with a “P”, because I put it there for contrast, and two incorrectly and illegitimately with “P”, because the correct “p” was altered without my doing and without my consent. (Also see [4] for a variety of other absurd distortions by WordPress.)

This might be seem trivial, but it shows a very harmful attitude—and other examples abound.

To just remain with texts, we have cases like Twitter (at least, pre-Musk) manipulating messages by users; over-aggressive auto-correction/-suggestion distorting messages in a sometimes humorous, sometimes harmful manner;* over-aggressive automatic censorship in forums;** and, as I describe in [5], German police officers replacing coherent texts and other claims with the nonsense of a high-school dropout.

*I can only recommend turning these off. (“Hey, honey, I just kissed your sister. MISSED! MISSED!”)

**Notably, the type that stars out letters in certain words, e.g. by replacing “cock” with “c*ck” and “ass” with “*ss”. This is ethically dubious to begin with; and, more pragmatically, the victims of this include roosters and donkeys, and, in extreme cases, the likes of “cocktail” (“c*cktail”) and “Hancock” (“Hanc*ck”). Some star out the entire word and have no sense of word boundaries—whatever you do, do not write a text about an assassin assaulting and assassinating the unassuming passport-assessor’s assistant in a massive massacre—or you will look like a complete arse.

Consider a few non-text cases:

  1. I have read about (but do not remember the names involved) a museum dedicated to a single artist, that was set up in a particular house with a particular set of paintings in a particular configuration by the artist—with the non-negotiable stipulation that this setup must remain unchanged, house included. Long after the artist’s death, the board (or whatnot) of the museum decided to move the paintings to another building in another configuration because the old building would be too small to meet demand. (Not to mention: allow all of the potential profits to become realized profits.)

    A similar case can be argued for the Nobel Prizes, which are often given with little regard for the original stipulations* and to at least some** that Nobel would have strongly disapproved of.

    *The Peace Prize is a common sinner, to the point that it is not necessarily awarded for anything relating to peace… Note e.g. the ridiculous award to IPC and Al Gore. Also note a general trend to use the Prize as a means to send a political message, rather than to reward the winners. Last time around (2022), it was very obviously a message on the war in the Ukraine, with the actual merit of the Laureates quite secondary—if not them, then some similar constellation.

    **I know too little about Nobel’s personal preferences, ideology, whatnot to make a strong guess (beyond those met with near-universal skepticism, e.g. Yasser Arafat); however, in light of the extreme politicization and arbitrariness of the Literature and Peace Prizes, I assume that each contains a number of examples, even should the science Prizes not deliver any.

    In a similar family, we have a likely endless list of foundations, charities, and beneficiaries ignoring various stipulations and whatnots when they become inconvenient and there is no-one left to file a lawsuit.

  2. Leaving behind a spotlessly cleaned dorm room in Sweden before my move to Germany, I was hit with an entirely unjustified cleaning invoice* and the claim that I had stolen a lamp (or something similar—this was in 1997 and my memory is vague). I decided to take a stand and refuse payment, especially as the dorm company had repeatedly shown a student-hostile behavior and failed to live up to its contractual obligations, and I could only conclude that this was a deliberate attempt to defraud me. My mother went behind my back and paid the invoice “to avoid trouble”.

    *No, there was no blanket inclusion of this in the contract.

    In a similar family, we can include e.g. lawyers settling out of court when they have been instructed to pursue the case to the end.* I have read of at least on such German case, and suspect that they occur comparatively often. (I have also heard of one German case where a lawyer triumphantly told his client that he had fought a criminal case down to a heavy fine instead of a month (?) in prison. The client was upset, because he could not afford the fine and would have preferred a short prison sentence. This is more of a communication error, but it does demonstrate the pitfalls involved.)

    *Note the difference between telling a client that he should settle, even that he is an idiot for not settling, and unilaterally overriding his decision not to settle.

  3. Decisions that should belong to the one are sometimes unfairly vetoed or altered by the other. A stereotypical example is a sitcom couple going through a variation of “Peg! I’m going out with the boys!” and “No, you are not, Al!”.*

    *Note the major difference in principle between this and e.g. a hypothetical “Peg! I’m going to sleep with the neighbor’s wife!” and “The hell you are, Al!”. In the one case, the decision involves something which usually has no major effect on “Peg”, or where the refusal would affect “Al” the more or be more in violation of his rights; in the other, the potential effect, metaphorical breach of contract, whatnot, is usually far, far larger. A veto in the latter case is typically fair.

    (I have some trouble finding examples, as I seem to land at the border to other cases and non-cases, maybe from another text in this series. Consider, e.g., a traveller being turned away at a foreign border despite having done, and done correctly, everything that could and should be done before reaching the border, including all paperwork: How exactly is this to be classified? Will the classification depend on details not given in the example?)

  4. The world of software has many examples. For instance, when I last had my screen locker on, a few minutes ago, it displayed an annoying message about being out-of-date. This results from a conflict between the maker of the program (xscreensaver) and my Linux distribution (Gentoo; but I first encountered this issue as a Debian user)—the one wants updates to go over “upstream”, and has added an artificial check; the other over “downstream”, where updates can take place in a controlled and standardized manner, with checks for intra-distribution compatibility of various package and library versions. Here both are trying to thwart the choice made by the other.*

    *Who is in the right is open for debate, but I would side with the distribution when the software has been installed through the distribution (e.g. per emerge or apt-get), as opposed to a manual download/compile/install. This annoying message was the reason that I moved to another screen locker under Debian, and it might be time to repeat the process under Gentoo.

    A highly annoying case occurred when I travelled with a business notebook using Windows, provided by my then employer. I had deliberately put the sound on “mute” to avoid any negative surprises, overly loud noises, whatnot—including that I would only activate the sound at the right time* when watching a DVD in the evening. However, the pre-installed DVD player automatically and with no query unmuted the notebook as soon as it began playing—inexcusable.**/***

    *I.e. after any and all menus, trailers, and other annoyances.

    **And something that ideally should not even be possible: the system-wide and program-local settings for sound should be separate from each other, and the program should only have access to the program-local.

    ***Likely, one of the many, many cases where some idiot has reasoned that “unless we do this, some absolute beginner might be confused, unable to resolve the situation, or, worse, actually call the hotline; ergo, we do it and the real users can go fuck themselves”. (Sorry, “[…] f*ck themselves”.)

    Firefox is known for its idiotic practice of disabling existing options, while resetting the behavior of the browser to the behavior wanted by the developers—not the user. This in two forms: either by removing functionality from the official settings, while leaving the corresponding switch in about:config (with the value potentially altered from the user-chosen value), or by making a setting in about:config have no function, without giving any error or warning* to the user.

    *The reasoning seems to be that if there is an error or warning, someone could see this error or warning, or a script could fail—and either would be a disaster. This is an outright amateurish attitude, a true beginner’s error. The correct attitude is to do show an error or warning, so that (a) users know that something has changed, (b) they can adapt accordingly. This, of course, in particular in a script setting, where the consequences could otherwise be extremely unpredictable.

Excursion on drawing borders between cases:
It is often hard to draw borders between cases that are a good match for the above, cases that involve deliberate sabotage,* deliberate malicious distortion,** incompetence,***legitimate overrulings (cf. below), and maybe some other categories.

*Say, someone manipulating a (paper or digital) ballot to make the ballot invalid or to indicate another candidate than the one chosen by the voter.

**E.g. someone misquoting someone else for malicious purposes, e.g. in a court case.

***Consider e.g. a HTML form that has been (accidentally) misprogrammed or mislabeled to reverse the meaning of a checkbox or to scramble the possible meanings of a radio button.

A good example is Emvie Martin, an utter sub-human shit who cut down, distorted, and commented on my comments to create the impression that I agreed with her, when my comments actually disagreed. (And, yes, I feel very, very strongly about this type of horrifying behavior—the fraudulent invoice above was a lesser evil, in my eyes.) I originally planned to include this above, but soon realized that it fit better with “deliberate sabotage” and/or “deliberate malicious distortion”, leading to the writing of this excursion. Some acts by e.g. Twitter might also be closer to one of these, depending on the exact details, including the intentions behind the respective act.

Excursion on legitimate overrulings:
There are, however, many cases where an overruling is legitimate. Consider e.g. an employee told to order something for his employer. He fills out an order form indicating “green” as color choice, gives the form to his superior for verification/approval/corrections, and the superior changes the “green” to “blue”. Here, the legitimacy arises through only making a delegated choice for someone else’s benefit, where the “someone else” has a reasonable right to override the decision.

Choices that might seem unilateral but actually have other parties involved form an other case family. (Or are quasi-unilateral at one point of time, but not at another, after circumstances have changed.) Consider e.g. a scenario of one romantic partner inviting the other to Christmas dinner with the parents. Should they break up before the dinner, the original choice often becomes pointless or, if some variation of “I’ll be there!”, contingent on the approval of the other party. Similarly, if “the parents” raise objections, the original invitation might be void and the original choice, again, pointless.

A third family includes many instances of parents overruling the choice of a young child. Note e.g. the headache-pill story below, which I am open to view as a legitimate overruling and have not included in the main text. (The method and the breach of trust is a very different thing.) In contrast, the above story with the fraudulent invoice is not an example, as I was already 22 and in my 5th year as a legal adult. (Off-topic, I would also argue a civic duty to fight back against such fraud.)

Related cases, although arguably based more on potential misunderstanding of the nature of the apparent overruling than a true overruling, include those where the scope of a choice is limited and the choice, per se, is respected. For instance, the choice to appeal a verdict rests with the appealer, but the court handling the appeal might* have the option to turn the appeal down without more than cursory study. If so, it is not a matter of overruling the choice to appeal, which remains with the appealer, but of making a separate choice in a step following the appeal. (An analogue example with less risk for a misunderstanding of the mechanism is a marriage proposal: it is the decision to propose that rests with the proposer, not the decision to get married, which requires the consent of the “proposee”.)

*I am not aware of how this is handled in general and worldwide, but the SCOTUS certainly rejects more requests for certiorari than it accepts. A great many other courts might throw something out for formal reasons like “wrong court” or “past the deadline”.

Excursion on breach of trust and mothers:
As a word of warning to any readers who are mothers (or fathers): The above payment of an illegitimate invoice was one of several incidents that contributed very strongly to my drifting apart from my mother and not keeping contact and confidence during my adulthood, because they taught me that I could not trust and rely on my mother (in at least some regards). The, likely, first such incident took place when I was a very young child, maybe three or four, and she gave me a sandwich with a hidden headache pill of some kind. I did have a headache, but I had also refused the pill. That she tried to trick me into taking it hurt me more than if she had tried to force me to take it. It also raised questions like how many other times she had tricked me in the past, without my discovering it, and what other surreptitious manipulations of my food were taking place. (Try to see this event through the eyes of a small child, not of an adult.) The, maybe, last was when I was in my twenties and she began to brag to a random stranger, a cashier in a store, about something that I had told her in confidence. Yes, it was something positive, but it was also something that I did not want to be public knowledge—and even if I had, it was mine to tell, not hers.*

*A common fault of women is that they assume that anything told, seen, whatnot is free-for-all gossip material.

Disclaimer on completeness:
Neither this text nor the text series as a whole are intended to be complete analyses. There are bound to be many other interesting cases, exceptions, and complications, but I will draw a line here for this text and attempt to do so for the text series too.


Written by michaeleriksson

November 2, 2022 at 11:14 pm

5 Responses

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  1. […] Another case of user hostile limitations and overruled choice ([1]): […]

  2. […] to refresh myself with some music—and immediately ran into a case of overruled choice, also see [2]. I wrote a text on that, took a short break, did my polishing, published, took a coffee break—and […]

  3. […] is another case of overruled choice, if one in an unusual direction, as the COVID-vaccine pushers have been among the greatest […]

  4. […] my earlier text on overruled choice and a similar case of an art museum ignoring the stipulations of the founder/artist, and e.g. the […]

  5. […] More generally, a lack of own control can be extremely frustrating—especially, when it comes to things that we rightfully should control. Ditto when our attempts at control are thwarted by others. (Note my text series on choice, including on the illusion of choice, unfair government and choice, and overruled choice.) […]

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