Saturday, January 24, 2004


I suppose I should comment on the latest psychology findings just gleefully paraded in the NYT -- to the effect that too much choice can be bad for you. Too much choice is said to be confusing, paralysing and dissatisfying. This is actually a very old idea -- one made much of in Alvin Toffler's 1971 book, Future shock -- and it is ideal fodder for Leftists who want to dictate to people. As good totalitarians have always said, they can say: "See. Choice is bad for you. WE will make all your decisions for you".

There is of course some truth in saying that choice can be "blinding", as Toffler put it, but everything has its costs and the key question to ask is what if YOUR particular choice (of jam or anything else) were taken away? You would not like it. I myself feel irritated by the vast range of jams, mayonnaise etc that I have to go through in the supermarket to find just the one I want -- but I get REALLY irritated if my particular favourite is not among those on offer. The basic conclusion is that if we want our OWN choice of something, we have to tolerate OTHER people being given their choice too. Freedom has its costs. Nobody has ever pretended otherwise. But take that freedom away and you run into REALLY big costs -- in happiness and much else besides.

And there is the larger question of whether getting what you want makes you happy. Often it may not. As Oscar Wilde memorably wrote in his 1892 play Lady Windermere's Fan: "In this world there are only two tragedies. One is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it". And having choices and options may be an instance of something that people seek but which does not make them happy. But surely only someone who thinks he is a very superior being (e.g. the typical Leftist) would see that as a reason to stop giving people what they want. Who are we to sit in judgment on other people's choices and on what will make them happy? As Queen Elizabeth I asked the King of Spain centuries ago: "Why cannot Your Majesty let your subjects go to the Devil in their own way?"

There is another thoughtful comment -- by Peg Kaplan -- on the issues involved here


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