What does it mean when Barry Schwartz criticizes the abundance of choices we face? The message of his presentation is almost identical to that of el-Messiri in his critique of Secularism. Implicit (actually rather explicit) in such discourses is the notion that an abundance of alternatives is not better, but rather harmful. They would acknowledge that some choice is better than none, but it does not follow that many choices are better than some. It is true that inherent in the modern psyche is the belief that an abundance of alternatives is necessary for genuine welfare. I captured this in alRawda when al-Raiaqli Selim was teaching Uhmud the primary maxim:
“الرُوْدِية أساس الرَوضة وهي تفتقر إلى الوَرَادِية والوَرَادَة وثمرتها الرَوَاضَة وحاميتها الرَوْضانية”
The problem I have with Barry Schwartz is that he gave his presentation a true title but did not live up to it. Rightly so, he considered “choice” to be a “paradox”. However he ended his presentation as if passing a verdict. True paradoxes do not accept such verdicts! I finished the presentation imagining Barry in a different world, where he wasn’t an affluent modern Westerner, but rather someone who grew up along with Uhmud, in the impoverished desert area where there are no choices at all, not even death. That same Barry would probably critique the monochromatic life he’s living and evangelize on behalf of the Metropolis (alRawda). In other words, Barry does not reflect a critique of capitalism and modernity, but rather reflects a dissatisfaction with one’s status, whatever it is. Barry is the example of someone who manages to see the empty half of a cup.
In any situation, there are pros and cons. Its OK to expose the cons and remember the pros, but its ridiculous to think that one situation is generally better than another. Life in itself is a paradox that does not accept verdicts, but is a constant exposition of the who we are and to which side we’ll turn, when trying to keep our balance on our rolling reality. People don’t make a difference by discovering the Truth. Rather they make a difference by realizing and actualizing their beliefs. Therefore, to choose or not to choose really isn’t the issue. People survive with no choices, and we’ll evolve and figure out a way to survive in the midst of a sea of choices, until Earth rebels against its ungrateful tenants and brings us to our knees. Then we’ll evolve again to live without the choices we once had.
Life is a canvas on which you draw who you are. Your colors are your dreams and your brush is your deeds. Preach it to Uhmud under the blazing sun, preach it to Barry while choosing a salad-dressing out of 1001. Preach it to everyone.