On the freedom not to choose

Very few things are as black and white as we treat them.

Socialism is a scary word to a lot of people.  But we all deal with "socialism" every day.  When I drive on a road, I'm generally not paying for it.  My money was pooled up with everyone else's and used to produce a resource that I have the freedom to use.  I will never drive on most roads in the state, yet my tax money went into almost all of them.

This is why I don't get people who say things like "I don't want to pay for other people's bad health choices".  Yeah?  Well I don't want to pay for the road to your neighborhood, because I'll probably never use it.  But I still do.  That's how this thing called society works: we pay for a bunch of communal stuff, and we make a bunch of communal decisions.  We come to a rough consensus where most of the people are reasonably happy, and if it gets shitty, we make decisions to change it.

"Socialism” is no more an evil word than “Christianity.”  Socialism no more prescribed Joseph Stalin and his secret police and shuttered churches than Christianity prescribed the Spanish Inquisition. Christianity and socialism alike, in fact, prescribe a society dedicated to the proposition that all men, women, and children are created equal and shall not starve.  -- Kurt Vonnegut
However, I'm getting overly-argumentative too early here, and I don't mean to.  Because this is not a critique of capitalism, which is the undisputed champion in the capitalism-vs-socialism war of thought.  I do love me some capitalism, mainly for its distributed, fault-tolerant nature.

What's wrong with institutionalized socialism?  Plenty!  If you disallow capitalism, then you've got one monolithic entity deciding what's best for everyone.  That entity has to have perfect knowledge of everyone's needs, and god help you if you expect it to also provide for people's wants.  If everything goes off perfectly, you'll get a bland, homogenized society that all eats the same thing and reads the same thing and generally has no personality at all.

In essence, you'll have made societal Soylent.  Also: don't get me wrong, Soylent is a great invention, but I would be pissed if you made me drink it for every meal.

Capitalism, however, allows us to all express our preferences and it incentivizes the market to respond to them.  Apparently there is money to be made in segmenting us and analyzing us to figure out what, at any given time, will give us maximum pleasure!  Is this a good thing?

Well, it depends on which direction you're coming at it from.  Let's take Ayn Rand.  She comes from a communist dictatorship.  Of course having choice is better than her "before" situation.  I would much prefer a society where I could be myself, where I could get a job in my chosen field, and where there were supermarkets stocked with every conceivable variety of foodstuff.  We all would.



But there's a cognitive cliff here that we're about to dive over.  It's illustrated very well in books like "The Paradox of Choice".  Basically, too much choice leads to indecision, paralysis, and stress.  If you put 3 wing sauces in front of someone for them to try, they usually end up buying one.  If you put 45 in front of them, they'll probably just walk away.  Because if you have to pick from 45 sauces, you have to decide: do I try them all?  Do I try to group them by category?  How will I remember how each one tasted?  Should I take notes?

In short, capitalism has evolved to try to suit our particular wants, even though we don't even know what our particular wants are.  I can't articulate my desire for most of the things I desire.  They are subconscious because there's no need for me to articulate them.

Excess capitalism is causing excess stress.  And this is the case in a lot of fields.  It honestly does me no good to have multiple options for, say, health insurance, because I don't have the capability or desire to analyze the available options.  I just want some benevolent being to take care of it for me.

But what if they don't get it right?  Won't I be angry?

Not nearly as angry as if I actually had the choice and made the wrong decision.  For while it sucks to have a bad choice made for me, it sucks even more to actually make a bad choice myself.  Anger at "the system" is much more manageable than anger at myself.

Basically, we're acting like 100% capitalism is the right way to go, when the best solution for our mental health and well-being is probably something more like 60% capitalism and 40% socialism.  And maybe we don't even call it socialism, we just call it "accepting the defaults".

This is a freedom that we've lost, and I don't even think that most people recognize it as a freedom: the freedom to just not care about something.  I, personally, don't care what kind of coffee I'm drinking.  I know that some people obsess over that, and more power to them, but I really don't care.  Capitalism says that we speak with our dollars (money = speech, right?) but I wish that some of my dollars were spent silently.  I am not making a statement when I purchase groceries; I am merely keeping myself alive.  If I buy a Nestle product, it's probably not because I support their horrible policies.  It's because I didn't know about it, and I don't want to know about it.

I want the freedom to not make a statement.  I want the freedom to not have to choose.  I want simplicity, and that seems to be the one thing that capitalism has a lot of trouble offering.

Comments