Ben Perreira

My head's dropbox.

Month: June, 2012

Freedom To/ Freedom From

*Here’s another piece I wrote for another blog about a year ago. It’s an idea – finding the optimal level of structure in one’s life – I still think about all the time.

There is something to be said for freedom. America is based on it. We fight wars for it. We take it away from people who do harm to others and society. But is all freedom good for us?

Being unemployed affords one a couple luxuries: a new perspective and time to think about the things that perspective makes one see. I see a difference between freedom to do things and freedom from doing things.

Freedom to do anything seems like a natural state of being in which one is left with nothing but his free will and desire to make some things happen, but I don’t think it’s so simple. We need some structure around which to make decisions and build our careers, relationships and hobbies. Our families and hometowns provide some of this. I consider the difference between different friends who are the same age in medical or law school or have great careers going versus friends who are chronically unemployed.  They all (at least from my perspective) have the freedom to choose any career. The former simply had an easier time making that decision. The others – myself included – have to be a bit jealous.

The ability to choose one’s own fate is a cruel mistress. It’s like being offered three wishes, or choosing which mutual fund to invest in: sure, you can pick anything, but choose wrong and you could regret it forever. Do I favor the extreme of this, such as arranged marriages or parents forcing their kids into certain careers? No. But freedom, as the brilliant Team America said, isn’t free, it costs folks like you and me.

I feel that most people value freedom from more highly without knowing it. For example, we want to be free from unsafe work conditions, pollution of the environment, crime in our neighborhoods, government intrusion in our lives, etc. As long as we are free from oppression our lives are at least decent. Recent uprisings in the Middle East can be ascribed to this. They have relatively similar socioeconomic stratification and unemployment rates as the US, but are not as free from the bad that goes on around them. Freedom to choose can be nice, but I’ll take freedom from.

Experience vs. Memory

I have often referred to Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow. It’s brilliant in thought-provoking. He offers one thought experiment in which the reader imagines going on vacation and not being able to take any photos, and upon return his memory of the trip will be completely erased. The exercise asks us if we would continue to pursue certain activities if we could never again access them through memory, with them existing only in the then-present.

In some ways, I find this exercise moot and rather ironic considering I gained the information while reading a book, and his nonetheless. It is useful for a limited range of activities that are intended purely for pleasure. But what would those be, exactly?

As I’ve said, I am a strong proponent of learning by failure. When we experience things are are hoping they will be (a) very pleasurable and/ or (b) pay dividends of pleasure in the future. How you define pleasure is exclusively up to you.

I’m still doing a bit of post-MBA-research roaming through Europe (currently Barcelona), and traveling is not much different than reading or working in this regard. You can expect to get something from traveling to a certain place, but those expectations are rarely met. It could be much better or much worse. Traveling pays dividends in ways that are generally unpredictable and disproportionate. We get them at the time and years down the line.

Most of us would leave a book on the shelf if we knew we could never access the memory of its contents. And most of us would probably just stay home if we knew a trip’s experience would be the only source of pleasure derived from it. But using the same callous rationale, why even get out of bed in the morning?