Thursday, August 11, 2011

Too Much Freedom

Freedom is generally a good thing unless we fail to handle it right. In this land of liberty, unbridled freedom of expression, dress, and behavior is often thought to be the greatest good, yet it can easily become license--the freedom to do anything irrespective of the consequences to others (like loot stores, smash windows, burn buildings).

But lest I get carried away, to keep this on a micro scale, what I really mean by "freedom" is simply that sometimes we are given more options than we can handle. This occurred to me yesterday when I was trying, after several months, to master our new cooktop stove. It has more settings than a Cordon Bleu chef working for NASA would ever want or use.

There must be fifteen places on each of the four dials: low simmer, medium simmer, simmer, several types of "medium," etc. And then there's "warm" and "melt" (as in chocolate). Do I want to cook on medium high or low high? With one setting, nothing happens; with the next one, the pot boils over. The old stove was better because it was simpler.

Listen to the options banks give you on the telephone: these messages contain a confusing welter of information, most of which I have no use for.

Or consider bread. When an acquaintance came here from Ireland a few years ago, he was overwhelmed by his first visit to a supermarket in Florida. He was used to his little village where the bakery sold two or three types of bread. Here he found cracked wheat, whole wheat (with and without sodium), high fiber bread, low carb bread, gluten-free bread, rye with and without seeds, barley bread, sourdough, which is one of the ten types of white bread (never called this, of course). All these by one company. Now multiply these by a dozen bakeries. And don't forget the imported and frozen breads and the store's own freshly baked bread in dozens of shapes and sizes.

Why, the Irishman cried, can't I just buy some bread?

Should we be grateful for all the variety we are given in nearly every area, at the ever-changing types of i-phones, i-pods, i-pads, with an endless array of apps? Do we need so many choices? No, but companies need to make money from our consumer-driven culture, and many of us fall into their trap, believing that the more choices we have, the happier we will be.

When I see my neighbors' kids, with rooms full of toys and games, do I see happy, contented kids? Often they are bored, tired of all the stuff they've been given, maybe yearning just to run wild with their imagination--or just to run, free of the stuff they think they want.

I could quote Milton at this point--something about freedom without restraint being dangerous--or Thoreau on the need to simplify our lives, but that would take us back to the macro level, and it's too hot to be too philosophical. At least today.


Ned Kessler said...

You are on a roll! Try bringing home a box of "Frosted Mini-Wheats" for your wife and try to figure out which one is the real one, not the super0mini, not this or that flavor! The infrequent supermarket shopper like me expressed the same exasperation as your Irishman is search of bread!!

Ned Kessler said...

...that is "super-mini"