Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour. William Cowper, 1785
Few would argue that having a wide range of options in the many aspects of human experience does not enhance one’s existence. If everything everywhere were the same, if our daily activities and choices remained unchanged, surely life would be exceedingly boring. But can this reasoning be applied in all situations? Should there be limits to the number of varieties available? I would not like to think there was a finite number of books, but at the same time, how many of the 140 million books so far published am I likely to read in my lifetime?
I will not be supporting the restriction of any art form, but I will suggest that too much choice can sometimes lead to a devaluation of, or reduction in appreciation for, the talents of the creatives and/or their works.
One example is the increasing tendency of audiences at gigs (even if they’ve paid for a ticket) to spend half the performance conversing in loud voices with their companions. Apart from the lack of respect it shows to the musicians and other audience members who want to listen, it demonstrates an absence of awareness of just how special it is to witness a live show by skilled individuals offering a unique experience. The cause? People are continually bombarded with stimuli of every kind. I fantasize about opening a venue entitled Shut the Fuck Up and Listen.
Now, let’s talk about biscuits. And shampoo. Just two examples. How many choices do you need? Look on the supermarket shelves. Is your life enhanced by having one hundred options? You could argue that these and other commodities are produced by so many companies in so many types in order to cater to all tastes. To extend that logic, will a time come when every product is manufactured in seven billion varieties so that everyone on the planet can have each item specifically tailored to suit their desires? To consider which option to buy when faced with such profusion could result in hours spent in indecision, unless you entrust the decision making to an algorithm (I can see that coming). Despite the choices available, I expect most people stick to their favourites most of the time.
I support the assertion that travel broadens the mind – that is if the mind is open to being broadened. To experience other cultures and other places can help us better understand ourselves and our world. It can make us more compassionate and less fearful of differences. Travel can teach us in a way we could never learn from a book or in a classroom. Nevertheless, many people travel for work or weather who want foreign places to offer the same fish and chips, the same beer and the same language.
In many cases, I can see that variety can add spice to one’s life, but it is not a foregone conclusion. However, there are two instances where I will claim it to be of great benefit. Diversity in the natural world often depicts a healthy habitat. The amazon rainforest, for example, is home to 2.5 million insect species, 40,000 types of plant, 2,200 fishes, 1,300 birds, over 400 mammals, a similar number of amphibians, and 380 species of reptile. This is a good thing. An agricultural monoculture is only (arguably) healthy when fed artificial fertiliser and treated with increasing doses of pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.
Likewise, I would contend that diversity within a human community represents a favourable situation. Imagine the tedium if everyone was the same! Not to mention inbreeding. A mixture of cultures and races, occupations and beliefs, genders, abilities and political opinions will add colour and interest to a neighbourhood. To me it does in any case. There may always be ignorant, fearful, racist, homophobic bigots unwilling to discuss or explore their differences, but I don’t want a world where we allow them to shape our lives or communities.
Another point of view is that a life of simplicity provides more peace in your life. With fewer distractions, it is easier to make decisions. Focusing on clear goals can result in more efficient use of time, thus eliminating the clutter and stress produced by confusion and busyness. Slowing down and shedding unnecessary choices and activities can bring us tranquillity.
In conclusion, I think I am advocating a life of simplicity in a world of diversity. I welcome the possibility of the world coming to my doorstep in all its variety and complexity, I will continue to appreciate and be fascinated by the output of artists’ and creatives’ imaginations, but I’m happy to sacrifice overabundance to achieve a little calm. And I think I’ll stick to just one type of shampoo and my favourite biscuit.