Saturday, January 19, 2008

Freedom of Choice

When I was a kid, my family lived in France for a year. France in 1964 was a lot different from modern-day France. There was no such thing as a global economy back then, so there were no American stores or fast food places. But that was just a small part of it -- the entire culture was different. There were only two or three television stations, and the Beatles and the Rolling Stones weren't big yet, so France had to do the best it could with its own pop stars, such as Françoise Hardy and Claude François.

But for a little kid like me, the biggest cultural difference in France was the toilet paper. Modern toilet paper has been around for as long as I can remember, so I grew up taking its softness for granted. But when I got to France, one of the first things I discovered is that the toilet paper there had approximately the same softness and texture as wrapping paper. This made me think that France was a very uncivilized country.

But like millions of people before me, I eventually got used to it, and soft gentle toilet paper began to seem like an unnecessary luxury.

I've been buying recycled toilet paper for over 15 years now, and it's every bit as soft and comfortable as the "normal" toilet paper they have to chop down trees for. It would probably save millions of trees every year if everyone bought recycled toilet paper, but that will probably never happen. It's no big deal, though -- those trees are just taking up space anyway. Sure, they provide us with oxygen and all that, but they're standing in the way of progress -- particularly if you define progress as the systematic destruction of the planet.

I think I got a little sidetracked in that last paragraph. Besides, we're not really destroying the planet -- we're just making it uninhabitable for human life. There's a big difference. But what I meant to say is that it's nice that we have the choice of buying recycled toilet paper or normal toilet paper.

There are some choices I don't think we really need, however. I was watching a show on the Discovery Science channel last weekend while riding my exercise bike, and I saw a commercial for Charmin toilet paper. Or I guess I should say toilet papers because Charmin now offers you two new varieties. You can buy Charmin Extra Strong or Charmin Extra Soft. Or you can buy both and decide which one is right for you.

This might be one of the many freedoms we Americans fight so valiantly for, but I have a feeling it's really just a solution in search of a problem. I mean, how many people have actually been clamoring for a softer or stronger toilet paper?

Probably not too many, I bet. But I also bet that millions of people will buy Charmin Extra Soft and Charmin Extra Strong, perhaps for no other reason than that it makes their current toilet paper seem ordinary and boring. I predict that Charmin Extra Soft and Charmin Extra Strong will both become very successful products, and I'm sure that after enough research, Charmin will one day be able to offer us a toilet paper that is both extra soft and extra strong.

Of course, even if they do, I still won't buy it. I'm perfectly happy with my recycled toilet paper. It's every bit as soft as it needs to be and every bit as strong as well. And it has the additional benefit of saving a few trees, which I happen to think is a good idea. Because we're not just making the world unfit for humans right now -- we're making it unfit for all mammals, including dogs and cats. And dogs and cats shouldn't have to perish from the Earth just so we can pamper our delicate behinds.