‘an embarrassment of riches’
Too much or more than enough of a desired or needed thing.
When overthinking a situation can cause forward motion or decision-making to become “paralyzed,” meaning that no solution or course of action is decided upon.
One More Star Trek Thing…
In a recent post, I mentioned my love of Star Trek, a post ostensibly about Idealism vs. Realism, Utopia vs. Dystopia, but it just so happens that all the Star Trek binging I’ve been doing lately has generated another observation that intersects with the kind of existential questions I tend to wrestle with here at The Owl Journal.
Star Trek, from the very beginning, featured classic science fiction computer systems far more advanced than anything that actually existed at the time, and in the 18 years between the end of The Original Series (1969) and the first season of The Next Generation (1987), which represented a 100-year span of time in the Star Trek universe, computer technology on starships advanced significantly. I suspect that I’m not alone in considering the advent, in The Next Generation, of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D’s interactive voice interface — “Computer, how long it would take to pass through this J-Class nebula at 3/4 impulse power?” — to be, by far, the most exciting advancement.
Now, for me at least, the excitement generated by this voice-interactive system wasn’t limited merely to the navigational, tactical, communications, engineering, and other tasks associated with operating a starship in order to complete a mission. For instance, I got as much of a thrill when a crew member would enter the privacy of their quarters and say stuff like:
- “Computer, dim the lights by 25% of current illumination.”
- “Computer, play some Count Basie.”
- “Computer, First Officer’s Personal Log, Stardate 42645.7: Ship’s Counselor Deanna Troi looked particularly fetching in her dress uniform at tonight’s reception for the Bolian ambassador…”
Well, lo and behold, here we are in the second decade of the 21st century, Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant are very real and widely used versions of this voice/computer interface, I, myself, own a device that includes this technology, I subscribe to a music streaming service that provides instant access to over 50 million songs, and despite this embarrassment of riches, more often than not, several times each day, when I notice there’s no music playing in the house, a condition I generally consider unacceptable, I remember the tiny device in the living room and speak aloud:
“[Computer], play music by…uh…uh…uh…”
The streaming music service even includes features that reduce the number and frequency of decisions a user has to make, such as dozens and dozens of genre-based Stations that will shuffle songs from that massive library in the cloud for hours and hours, as well as Playlists created by other users and shared out to fellow subscribers, amounting to, essentially, surrogate decision-making.
But, to get started, you still have to choose a Station or a Playlist from the many available, and in my experience, even when I do manage to choose one of these offerings, since it’s some algorithm, or some other subscriber, making the decisions as to which songs to include, choices that, fairly often, are not the choices I would make and/or approve of, I’m consequently constantly shouting out:
…and that gets old real fast.
The only alternative I could think of was to create a Playlist of my own, the product of my own choices, choices I would of course approve of, a massive list of songs that I love, and which, if shuffled, would provide hours and hours of passively pleasurable musical entertainment. So, I named my Playlist The Holy Grail, it was nothing more than a folder, really, to which songs could be saved, then there was that vast 50+ million song library, the search engine with which I could find all the music I wanted, I could select entire albums or individual songs and add them to the Playlist, easy peasy, right?
The Irony Of Choice
Thanks to just one intensely divisive ethical, political, legal, religious, etc., controversy — abortion — the question of one’s right to choose has been hotly and publicly debated for many years. Personally, because I consider the right to choose to be sacrosanct in matters pertaining to one’s own life and body, I’ve always been unwaveringly Pro Choice concerning abortion, yes, but also, as I’ve written (Post 1, Post 2), in regards to Death With Dignity.
That said, 1.) having the freedom to choose, and; 2.) making/enacting choices are two VERY different things. Complicating matters, we live in an absurdly more=better culture that celebrates having as many choices as possible when making just about any decision.
Add this little ditty from Sam Harris’ 2012 book Free Will…
“Choices, efforts, intentions, and reasoning influence our behavior — but they are themselves part of a chain of causes that precede conscious awareness and over which we exert no ultimate control. My choices matter — and there are paths toward making wiser ones — but I cannot choose what I choose. And if it ever appears that I do — for instance, after going back and forth between two options — I do not choose to choose what I choose.
Choosing Not To Choose Is A Choice
So, as I’ve written previously, I’ve already been assessed and have been deemed eligible for physician-assisted dying per Washington State’s Death With Dignity law. Further, a doctor has since prescribed the life-ending medications and they are stowed away in my refrigerator as I write this.
Seems I’ve been allowed a choice and I’ve made it.
All good, right?
The problem is: It’s one thing to have those drugs in the fridge, and it is another thing entirely to actually ingest them.
My July 30, 2021 post, Kicking The Can on Kicking The Bucket, describes the circumstances surrounding a decision I’d made to ingest the meds on a specific date, a decision that was subsequently retracted, and I can add now the perhaps painfully obvious conclusion that making the decision as to precisely when to end my life has proven to be, by far, the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make. Interestingly, the difficulty has absolutely nothing to do with a fear of death — which, for me, is very mild and nothing more than run-of-the-mill human fear of the unknown — and much more to do, oddly, with seemingly mundane scheduling complications.
I’d been told by my doctor in July 2020 that I had approximately six months to live. So, devastatingly, it appeared that I’d be experiencing, for the last time, the annual events that typically fill our family and friend calendars with lots of activity over the last five months of the year:
- My Birthday (Aug. 28)
- My Wife’s Birthday (Oct. 2)
- Our Son’s Birthday (Oct. 31, yes, Halloween!)
Then, January 2021 came and went, I was still here, and what has followed has been an utterly confusing, and still ongoing, stretch of “bonus” days, weeks, and months, precious time I’m certainly grateful for, time that has included many lovely, sustaining visits with dear friends and family, time to continue pondering and pouring out my observations of this journey here on my blog, but also, time wherein my condition has gradually declined as expected, wherein the level of disability I’m reaching threatens to tilt the bearable:unbearable scales, wherein committing to adding anything to my calendar a month or more in advance always requires me to consider that I really don’t know if I’ll still be alive by then, and now, here we are, three of those aforementioned “last time” August-thru-December events have somehow happened again, and plans for the remaining three are in the works.
How does one simply find the time to die?!
Recently, I was describing this difficulty, seemingly for the millionth time, when suddenly an option came to mind that had been discussed a couple of times before, and the following alternative presented itself:
If making the decision as to when to end one’s life is so difficult, one could free oneself from having to make that decision simply by ceasing the use of one’s ventilator, while hospice keeps one comfortable with meds, thereby delegating, to Nature, the decision as to when, specifically, one’s life actually ends.
Sounds thoroughly reasonable, doesn’t it?
And yet, a decision is still required.
I’d still have to choose that option!
(Privilege-Whining Disclaimer: Yes, I know that much of what I’ve expressed above could be construed as questionable whining over First World problems, e.g. Complaining about my embarrassment of technology riches. I just couldn’t resist the metaphor! Mea culpa.)