Rant on Freedom Of Choice


There is a lot of hue and cry about bad food and "our diet is killing us" as if there were some vast conspiracy to undermine the health of everyone. Paranoia is attractive precisely because it makes life simpler. This has gotten so bad the a recent article in Scientific American even asked seriously why people keep making bad food choices, as if there was some mass stupidity that had taken hold. No place in this discussion is the admission that the change from a DIY economy to a services-based one has had the precisely intended effect of freeing most people from the drudgery of growing or procuring their own food. The aim was to ensure that people would have free time to pursue their interests. I am thankful for this free time. I grew up on a farm and trust me that most people have no idea how hard it is to grow food. They just don't. My comment about paranoia vis a vis nutrition, I think, is because a lot of experts who do not merit the title make facile analysis and, having been poorly educated in what a theory consists of, tend to make very silly ones. These get repeated and insinuate themselves into daily discourse.

Now, problems are clearly defined things with solutions, as opposed to worries, which are ongoing concerns with no easy or direct answer. A problem is something for an engineer, such as drainage of city streets. Whether or not your paramour truly loves you is a worry. In any case, for the first time in human history famine is not a part of daily life, (unless you live in a purely Socialist country, such as Ethiopia or North Korea). You may walk into a store and purchase virtually anything at a reasonable price. Economics of scale and market interactions have made is so even the poor can be obese. Blaming others for ignorance about basic nutrition and requiring they fix it is foolish. As the saying goes, even the wisest man in the world cannot put your coat on you as well as you do.

How to live well in a society that can supply every need and therefore does not require effort for much of anything is, I think, the burning issue in all of this. Without a realization that the onus is on the person, living amid plenty will always lead to boredom, nihilism and at times hopelessness. Existential crises arise precisely because people cannot find their own purpose or goals in life. Giving people a purpose will fail too. Would you be happy if I walked up to you and informed you that I have determined you really ought to be a plumber or stevedore? What if I had the authority to boot you out of school for this purpose and manage your life? (This is the Socialist fallacy and countries that tried this generally ended up making people who hated the system and aside from a few bright stars, were generally close to incompetent too.) Again I point out that finding a purpose in a worry, not a problem, but treating it like a problem will make it into a far worse one.

Throwing out a system that has banished want seems arguably stupid too, although this is the most common solution given today arising from social criticism. Many critics complain that, God forbid, people watch X hours of TV a week and play Y hours of video games. This is trumpeted as a grave social problem and a damning failure of the system. I ask, what are we to do? Send in the Marines and make them all read Shakespeare? As a college professor in Math. for years I know that just telling people to be smarter never seemed to improve their grades. Freedom is the ability to set and follow your own rules to become the best person you can, in my opinion. It is up to the individual to rise to this. A services-based economy allows freedom with great flexibility. If people squander it by sitting around all day in their underwear drinking beer that is their choice. This is a worry (for oneself too) and not a problem.

A (social) problem is a mismatch between theory and practice. People who are very long on such problems often fail to grasp that they see so many because they have a lot of stupid ideas about how to world ought to be....

A practical way to deterimine if a theory about people really is a theory is to ask yourself if it applies to you and your friends. If you are all happy exceptions, then you do not have a theory, but a bit of aristocratic bragging. Let's take an easy example. Say someone argues that people are stupid and this is a reason that democracy doesn't work. Oh sure, people start nodding their heads but think a bit harder, the speaker did not stand up and say "I'm stupid, just like the rest of you". Nope, s/he and everyone listening are far above the fray of those other stupid people. This was not a bit of wisdom as much as simple flattery for the audience. (The actual correct analysis, IMHO, is that most people aren't stupid, but the oddball case makes it into the news and is so infuriating that it sticks in people's mind. Having the papers report that 300 million people went unremarkably about their lives today except for that pair of idiots sells a lot fewer papers than a headline like "Citizens Await Martian Invasion".) I believe firmly that thinking about Reality ought to be an empirical Science, so if there is a theory that purports that there are little purple flying dragons in Peoria means the onus is on the speaker to prove it, not on me to go prove such dragons don't exist. Ditto with a claim like everybody is stupid, greedy, &c., &c.