Freedom and Choice

A futurist’s comments I read about fifteen years ago predicted one day the number of big stores where you go to buy things would be far fewer. The suggestion was made that instead of going to Sears or Best Buy to make a purchase, in the future one might pay admission to a “display store” that had one each of many things to peruse. A choice made could be bought on the spot but only with delivery later to the buyer’s home within a few days.

A couple of the major Internet sellers are experimenting with same day delivery in New York City this holiday season. Things are changing!

The futurist also predicted grocery stores much smaller than what we have now would become popular for two reasons: 1) Some people don’t like all the walking and searching necessary in big box stores and 2) a good number of consumers actually want LESS choices. Smaller stores have always been a factor for the inner portions of major East Coast metropolitan cities. Same is true in Europe to an even greater degree for cities and towns of all sizes.

Most people equate choice and freedom. It seems so reasonable. Freedom means you are free to choose, right? It means you are free from restrictions. If you can’t choose, then you are not free. And it would seem to follow that the more choice you have, the more freedom you have. But it doesn’t work out that way.

The more options you have, the more energy you have to invest in making decisions. Which shampoo? Which car? Which dress? Which restaurant? Which movie? Your energy and attention are consumed by these decisions, and you have less left with which to live your life.

What does choice give you? One answer is that choice makes it possible for you to shape your world according to your preferences. All this does is to enable you to fashion a world that is an extension of your own patterns. With modern technology, you can weave a cocoon of your preferences and rarely run into anything that contradicts them. You end up isolated from the richness and complexity of life.

What is freedom? It is the moment-by-moment experience of not being run by one’s own reactive mechanisms. Does that give you more choice? Usually not. When you aren’t run by reactions, you see things more clearly, and there is usually only one, possibly two courses of action that are actually viable. Freedom from the tyranny of reaction leads to a way of experiencing life that leaves you with little else to do but take the direction that life offers you in each moment. From an article in the Winter 2012 Tricycle Magazine titled “Freedom and Choice: Breaking free from the tyranny of reaction” by Ken McLeod.

Thoughts of simplifying my life are getting stronger year by year, which is odd since I have spent my adult life accumulating. In my last move it became readily apparent what a burden “all my stuff” has become. I’m a single man who lives alone in a home of over 3000 square feet filled with stuff that took two moving trucks and six men fourteen hours to load and unload. I only moved a mile and a half!

When I read what I just wrote, I feel a bit ridiculous made worse by the knowing I have a big rental storage unit for things my home has no room for. I am grateful for the growing realization and acceptance that one day all of my stuff will be someone else’s.

The model of ownership,
in a society organized round mass consumption,
is addiction.
Christopher Lasch