On freedom vs choice

Francis Spufford says your life is not like your sock drawer.



Francis Spufford says your life is not like your sock drawer.


If you see freedom as endless choices, then you’re looking at the world like a consumer, you’re imagining that what you’re faced with as a human being is something that works on the analogy of shopping, where you … in contemporary mythology, you realise yourself through your shopping decisions.

But in fact the decisions that constitute a life are not like shopping decisions. You never have a wholly unconstrained set of choices. It probably wouldn’t be good for you if you did, because the things that constrain you are also the things that hold you up. 

Freedom is immensely important, but freedom ought to consist of working out what you value most and what you ought to do that goes with what you value. If freedom consists of an endless series of indifferent little decisions between long socks, short socks, purple socks, blue socks, woolly socks, nylon socks, then there’s no kind of feedback from it, there’s nothing that tells you in those decisions what the shape of your life is. You are genuinely on your own with a vast amount of stuff.

As an ideal, that doesn’t seem to me to offer much assistance for the actual business of any life, which is working out who you love, and how you love, and what your work is, and where you belong, and what you want. Because what you want, which is at the heart of freedom, is not something that you get very many clues to from your sock drawer.