It is easy to dismiss the triviality, for instance, of choosing a pair of high heels out of hundreds as excesses of modern life defined by free market. How does one sympathize with a dilemma of a purchaser who faces a petty option between consuming Coke and Pepsi?

Such inconsequential puzzles seem so shallow for it to be objects of attention at times when there are larger and more pressing issues that the society, or even the world, faces. So shallow and so trivial it seems that to defend it seems only so wrong. Yet, these trivialities continue to receive attention of great many people.

These have been derided as one of the excesses of a free world. There are simply too many choices that those choices divert precious attention from important issues.

Beware, however, of those calling upon such condemnation because it betrays an authoritarian tendency. If the condemnation sees execution, it opens an illiberal path for at the heart of the condemnation is a desire to apply strings to individuals. At its heart, there is distaste for liberty.

Choices, however trivial they might be, are crucial in the maintenance and enhancement of liberty in society. One perhaps may criticize this as overstretching an argument beyond its allowable elasticity. The band would snap before one could secure the point, as one may argue.

Yet, every little thing in life affects the psyche of individuals in society. Through this, the band can go farther than one would think.

In a society of illiberal culture, a majority of individuals born into it and raised by it would suffer from status quo bias, especially so for an isolationist society. Without effort or accident, they will acclimatize to unfree culture, unaware of the shackles that bind them down. They will be unaware of or suffer great difficulties in imagining choices that could exist, because it does not exist. For them, the limited choices they observe are the full imaginable choices.

In a society of liberal culture with full free choices restrained only by physical reality, just as a majority of individuals born into illiberal society, individuals will suffer from status quo bias. Unlike the illiberal society, the bias in a free society is a side with liberty as individuals have access or at least have knowledge of full choices available in their world.

It is here where choices are crucial in the creation and the maintenance of a free society, founded on non-aggression with respect to individual liberty.

Individuals familiar with full — mundane or exceptional, trivial or life-changing — choices due to status quo bias unconsciously impressed upon them by a free society will notice any disappearance of choices from their menu. From the awareness comes questions and from the questions, demands for the return of the disappeared options, if evolution within a free market is not the cause of that disappearance. If the free market is the cause of extinction of a particular option, then it must be that the individuals are willingly causing the extinction. That is a nature of the free market.

If the extinction comes from a diktat of unfree origin, the demands for the return of that particular choice will gather momentum, like an echo to an avalanche. It is so because acclimatization to full choices in itself creates sensitivity to elimination of choices. Free individuals will rise up to banish the diktat into a gutter, where all of things that resent liberty for whatever reason belong and restore the choices into the menu.

Familiarization to these little choices builds up awareness of larger choices. These larger choices are grand choices so well linked and easier related to the idea of freedom: freedom of conscience; freedom of expression; freedom of speech.

Willingness to defend these little choices translates into the willingness to defend these grand choices for executions of these little choices really are expressions of individuals’ personality. Without these freedoms, such little choices cannot exist. Yet, grand choices are so far removed from immediate life that it is hard for individuals on the streets to relate to it. Instead, freedom sees daily exercises through these little choices.

Each exercise of these little choices is another step towards grand choices. These little choices train individuals in making choices and there on, taking responsibility for their own life. The act of assuming that responsibility removes the need for a third party and reduces the possibility of tyranny by claiming their freedom. This collectively creates an environment conducive for the creation and maintenance of a free society. It follows that little trivial shallow choices deserve defense from ridicule.

Ignore those that condemn small little choices as excesses. Chances are, if in their heart is disgust for these small things, then they cannot stomach the exercise of grand choices. They condemn these little choices as excesses because their respect for individual liberty is limited. As soon as they have won the battle, the march from liberalism to tyranny begins.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

First published in The Malaysian Insider on October 5 2009.

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