The other day I was eating a pudding cup. Not an extraordinary activity in itself, but a specific revelation came to me as I pried open the lid, which led to another thought, and another, and another until I came to one of those great realizations that arrive suddenly and enact a mild transformation upon one’s perception of the universe. Such revelations should be recorded and preserved if for nothing more than a tribute to their pleasing nature and rarity.
It started with the familiar difficulty of opening a pudding cup effectively. This particular one was no different than the usual pudding cup, except perhaps that it came from a package that tended to overly sticky lids. The foil almost always ripped instead of peeling sweetly back from the plastic rim of the container. (I knew this because I had conducted adequate investigation into most of the fairly large package of chocolate pudding cups.) This particular defect caused a fairly serious problem that any peruser of the pudding cup can anticipate: one of the chief joys of pudding cups being the initial removal of the pudding that has adhered to the foil top. This is best done by the tongue, which does double duty as both a cleaning agent and entryway into the digestive system; because, by marvelous design, the property of pudding which causes it to stick to the lid of the pudding cup also causes it to remove itself and adhere to the human tongue. Need I add that this is a symbiotic system of immense enjoyment to people like myself. Anyone who does not lick the lid of their pudding cup has no place in my esteem.
The thought hit me as the lid once again ripped disappointingly in a diagonal from one of the rounded square corners: surely somebody could design a lid that did not rip. I am accustomed to blame such mild problems on the lack of dedication in others, but I soon realized that there were probably more important things than the perfect pudding cup lid. My consciousness expanded, however, along the same direction in which it had aligned its first movement.
Any member of my generation or a following one has become fully accustomed to the changing nature of American consumer culture. We expect things to change every ten years or so. If a product stays the same it must be failing, such is the implicit idea paraded forcefully into our heads by every advertisement, each new year’s model, every monthly special, every new movement of fashion or entertainment, every retrofit of an old restaurant, every new logo design, everything. We love to re-envision things, products, and processes; and we love those who do it for us. “Make it new!” we cry the old cry. And the pudding cup is decidedly not new. It is as old as I am. It must be, for I remember pulling off the lids and licking them clean as one of the primeval rituals of my childhood existence.
And I thought, “why hasn’t anyone redesigned the container for pudding?” Surely there is a better, more efficient way to package chocolate pudding that does not involve such a cumbersome opening and so much wasted packaging. Immediately I thought it I took it back, but thoughts do not take back; they only forget. So I decided to make the best of it and learn something. Because the reason that I wanted to take it back was because I realized that it was exactly the inefficiency of the pudding cup that gave it the great advantage of unusual consumption. If the pudding did not stick to the lid, that simple, enjoyable moment at the beginning of every snack would be lost.
And this, I think, is the heart of the conservative value system. We want people to adapt to difficult situations, we don’t want the situations to be perfectly accommodated to us. We want the individual to make the best of life before we let our government (or other institution) reform the whole system. But of course this sounds heartless when one is talking about anything other than a pudding cup. If we say that we want people to adapt to poverty, for example, we become monsters. “The poverty-stricken just need to learn how to better manage their money; with hard work and determination, I’m sure they can have a decent life in those circumstances, or perhaps even make their life better.” Ugh. You can’t say that. Not in this day and age. The poor deserve a helping hand, they need fairer wages, caring bosses. They need health insurance.
Despite instances of injustice, as a conservative, I usually find myself satisfied with the current system. I would almost always rather learn to get by than to give my government the power to fix it. I would rather they just stay out of it. I recognize that this can be a character flaw, but I also see its strength. I still stand by it. I would rather learn to lick the lid of the pudding cup than redesign the cup with a lid that could not be licked.