Friday, April 26, 2013

Let it go

Barry Schwartz, in his book Paradox of Choice, talks about the confluence of freedom and choice.  He says (and you can see this in his TED talk, which I have added below) that one of the central ideologies of Western industrial society is that freedom is inherently good (well, it depends on what kind, right?), and that today this freedom is manifest in expanding choice for individuals.  Our supermarkets host hundreds of kinds of cookies and salad dressings (even though crop diversity has been on the decline), and electronics stores have every single combination of processor speed and physical memory and screen type you can hope for.  Yet, as Schwartz claims, increased choice doesn't lead to satisfaction or happiness.  Rather, we are crippled with regret or anticipated regret that we could have made another or better choice because we expect too much from our choices, and in the end we blame ourselves for our lack of satisfaction.

To be more specific, though, Schwartz's talk is broadly about how material choice relates to our happiness or satisfaction, and to extend Schwartz's thoughts, regret and anticipated regret and self-blame can make us continually buy things with the expectation and hope that we will feel better about ourselves.  This ties us into the bind of continually buying material products that are decidedly not socioecologically benign;  the new phones we buy are still made of heavy metals and rubber and plastic by people who are treated poorly.  

This is not to say that we should live non-material lives; cutting ourselves completely from this culture will do very little to change it.  We live in a material world and I hope that all of us want to do something about its socioecological destructiveness.  Finding that balance, that is, being able to participate in this culture while advocating for and acting toward change requires participation and engagement, not isolation.

Making a choice and being satisfied and/or happy with it requires letting go of the perceived benefits or costs of your choice.  Letting go is about making choices and not being affected by comparisons of what we have to what others do, and not being affected by imagining our lives had we made another choice.  Rather, we must stand by the choices we make to free our minds towards the positive, the constructive, rather than remorse, regret, and self-blame.  Letting it go opens up space to recentre and redouble our efforts on what must be done about social injustice and ecological degradation rather than tethering ourselves to choices that cause injustice and degradation.  A phone is a phone, and if my phone can't look up Wikipedia, big deal.

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