Moviegoers may recall the absurd scene near the beginning of Amadeus where Emperor Joseph II (played exquisitely by Jeffrey Jones, perhaps better known as the principal in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) tells Mozart that one of his compositions contains “too many notes.” Who knew that the Emperor would be on to a tic of modern liberalism.
When the Reagan Administration arrived in Washington DC in 1981, they found an ongoing Federal Trade Commission antitrust action against the major breakfast cereal companies for the alleged sin of offering . . . too many choices. Reagan’s appointees to the FTC took one look at this, said “This is stupid,” and dropped the case immediately. The theory behind the case was that the big three cereal companies (Kellogg, General Mills, and Post) constituted an oligopoly that prevented new entrants to the consumer market through the simple expedient of crowding shelf space with endless permutations of Cap’n Crunch. Today, of course, you can find any weird cardboard-and-kitty-litter based cereal you want—and even blend your own—at both regular and at health food stores.
But that’s exactly the problem now for the always-dyspeptic Left, which increasingly appears to be “pro-choice” about one thing only. The complaint now is that consumers are offered “too many choices.” Matt Ridley points to this TED talk where some nitwit I’ve never heard of says our surfeit of choices is causing us “anxiety”:
In our post-industrial capitalist age, says Salecl, choice, freedom and self have been elevated into an ideal — the ideal. But the flip side are increased feelings of anxiety, guilt and inadequacy at facing the possibility of not “making it” — that is, not reaching the ideal. What’s strange, says Salecl, is that increasingly people turn this anxiety inward, indulging in self-critique, rather than social critique. Ultimately this has made us unable to move toward social change; our abundance of choices has made us politically passive.
To paraphrase the old Marxian saw, who knew that existentialism would repeat itself first as a Woody Allen film, and then as postmodern babble. Or, to paraphrase Gabby Johnson from Blazing Saddles, this is some authentic postmodern gibberish. (The phrase “post-industrial capitalist age” is a dead giveaway, isn’t it? It’s getting so “late” for capitalism that one expects Yogi Berra’s old line about it “gets late early” out in left field to be of use in this domain instead of Yankee Stadium.)
Or you can just take in Matt Ridley, who dispatches this nonsense with his usual clarity and directness:
Now, I don’t know about you, but last time I was offered blue-cheese, Ranch, French or thousand-island dressing for my salad, I don’t remember having a panic attack, or even needing therapy at all. I don’t generally find my heartbeat racing or my palms sweating as I contemplate the rows of different brands of toothpaste on the shelves. And I am rather relieved at having been allowed the choice of whom to marry. There are poor teenagers in Indian villages who have none of these choices: I do not envy them.
TED, by the way, stands for “Technology, Entertainment, Design.” I think it’s time for someone—perhaps Power Line at our long threatened first annual Wine Summit—will innovate with TADD talks: “Totally Awesome Departures from Dimwittery.” It’s about time.
Meanwhile, Matt Ridley is giving up his Saturday Wall Street Journal column, which was always the first thing I turned to on Saturday mornings. (I was always glad it didn’t run Friday, since it would present a dilemma, as Friday’s WSJ means one thing: getting my real estate porn fix with their “Mansion” section.”) Anyway, Matt’s signoff article yesterday lays down a nice hit on “consensus” science, and why it is a corrupt idea. He explains in just a few paragraphs how he went from being a convinced global warming believer to a skeptic. Worth reading the whole thing, but this graph conveys the essence of the problem of appeals to scientific “consensus”:
[S]cience does not respect consensus. There was once widespread agreement about phlogiston (a nonexistent element said to be a crucial part of combustion), eugenics, the impossibility of continental drift, the idea that genes were made of protein (not DNA) and stomach ulcers were caused by stress, and so forth—all of which proved false. Science, Richard Feyman once said, is “the belief in the ignorance of experts.”
If you’d like your memory filled in, here’s the “Too Many Notes” scene from Amadeus: