February 21st, 2013

For our own good

[Hat tip: Ace.]

The liberal agenda continues apace, in ways that are especially chilling but not at all surprising.

I’m referring to Sarah Conly’s new book entitled Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, which purports to use social science research to undo none other than John Stuart Mill. Here is Cass Sunstein, reviewing Conly’s work in the NY Review of Books:

Mill offered a number of independent justifications for his famous harm principle* [see note at end of post], but one of his most important claims is that individuals are in the best position to know what is good for them. In Mill’s view, the problem with outsiders, including government officials, is that they lack the necessary information. Mill insists that the individual “is the person most interested in his own well-being,” and the “ordinary man or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be possessed by any one else.”

When society seeks to overrule the individual’s judgment, Mill wrote, it does so on the basis of “general presumptions,” and these “may be altogether wrong, and even if right, are as likely as not to be misapplied to individual cases.” If the goal is to ensure that people’s lives go well, Mill contends that the best solution is for public officials to allow people to find their own path. Here, then, is an enduring argument, instrumental in character, on behalf of free markets and free choice in countless situations, including those in which human beings choose to run risks that may not turn out so well.

Mill’s claim has a great deal of intuitive appeal. But is it right? That is largely an empirical question, and it cannot be adequately answered by introspection and intuition. In recent decades, some of the most important research in social science, coming from psychologists and behavioral economists, has been trying to answer it. That research is having a significant influence on public officials throughout the world. Many believe that behavioral findings are cutting away at some of the foundations of Mill’s harm principle, because they show that people make a lot of mistakes, and that those mistakes can prove extremely damaging.

Okay, let me get this straight: social science research as a guide to ceding to the state some of our liberties? It would be funny if it weren’t so very sad and so very very dangerous (although I imagine that if it weren’t social science research as the justification, they’d find something else). I studied social science research at the graduate level, and there are precious few studies through which you can’t poke holes the size of a Mack truck. And I worked in the field, too, doing such research. Let’s just summarize by saying the enterprise is deeply flawed, and some of this is inherent in the problems of doing research on human beings.

But that’s not even the biggest issue, although it’s one I doubt Conly (who is a professor of philosophy at Bowdoin) tackles. Let’s look more closely at one part of Mill’s argument [emphasis mine]:

When society seeks to overrule the individual’s judgment, Mill wrote, it does so on the basis of “general presumptions,” and these “may be altogether wrong, and even if right, are as likely as not to be misapplied to individual cases.”

So Mill has actually covered the bases here. Social science research indeed “may be altogether wrong,” (in fact, very often is). And social science research—”even if right,” even if impeccably done and even if the results are convincing and valid—can tell us nothing whatsoever about individuals. At best, it only describes an aggregate population.

But perhaps that’s the point for people such as Conly. They are interested in the collective—the hive, not the individual. And invariably, of course, they end up hurting the hive as well as the individual, in their attempts at “helping” us all.

I’ve not read the book, of course. But it does not sound as though Conly has any sense of the value of an intangible such as autonomy, although she purports to deal with that issue. Sunstein writes:

[Conly asserts] that autonomy is “not valuable enough to offset what we lose by leaving people to their own autonomous choices.” Conly is aware that people often prefer to choose freely and may be exceedingly frustrated if government overrides their choices. If a paternalistic intervention would cause frustration, it is imposing a cost, and that cost must count in the overall calculus. But Conly insists that people’s frustration is merely one consideration among many. If a paternalistic intervention can prevent long-term harm—for example, by eliminating risks of premature death—it might well be justified even if people are keenly frustrated by it.

(By the way, I’m not sure why the word “paternalistic” keeps being used here, except that it’s part of Conly’s title. There’s a reason we call it the “nanny state” and not the “pappy state.”]

Does Conly really think that because (in her words), “We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future,” we should surrender our liberty to a benevolent government that will always act in our best interests? Does she know anything whatsoever about government and power? As is so often the case, I’m not sure whether Conly is a fool or a knave, or both. I vote for both.

So please save the lectures, Professor Conly, and get your oh-so-helping hands out of my life. I’m not your little social science experiment. I have a more polite message for Conly as well: in the end, there are intangibles that liberty and autonomy afford us. Those things cannot be measured or quantified, but they are pearls of great price.

And one more thing—Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor would be proud of you.

[*Mill's "harm principle" goes as follows:

...[T]he only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or mental, is not a sufficient warrant. ]

61 Responses to “For our own good”

  1. rickl Says:

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
    ~ C. S. Lewis

    “Freedom is slavery.”
    ~George Orwell

  2. rickl Says:

    These people are serious, aren’t they? They want to rule–not govern–us so badly they can taste it.

  3. neo-neocon Says:

    rickl: they could not be more serious.

    And Obama’s election and re-election has given them great energy.

  4. I R A Darth Aggie Says:

    “We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future,” we should surrender our liberty to a benevolent government that will always act in our best interests?

    Wait…I want to know if that’s the same government that made a food pyramid and then 30 some years later we (in the aggregate) are fat, a government that spends much, much more than it brings in, and saves nothing for the future. Is that the government Conly means?

    I’ll pass, thanks for asking.

  5. Lizzy Says:

    What part of this does Conly not get?

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

    This is the one of the main reasons why ObamaCare is so dangerous. Once these pols & bureaucrats have access to our health records they will use “for your own health & safety” to justify much greater control over us.

  6. George Pal Says:

    They’ve been grading this road for at least twenty years.

    http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2168903

    The gist of the abstract is we should start thinking of parents as having only privileges and children having rights. The conclusion should be obvious.

    Further on in the article:

    “It is important to recognize that this alternative approach would not entail doing away with the institution of the family in favor of colectivized [sic] child-rearing.”

    But that’s like saying “trust me, Obama’s not a Marcuse Marxist”.

  7. DNW Says:

    “Does Conly really think that because (in her words), “We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future,” we should surrender our liberty to a benevolent government that will always act in our best interests? Does she know anything whatsoever about government and power? As is so often the case, I’m not sure whether Conly is a fool or a knave, or both. I vote for both. “

    Funny, it must be in the air. I was just thinking the other day of the book, “Beyond Freedom and Dignity”, which many of us read back in high school. And calculating how long, based on the deconstructive and nihilistic trends we see both in philosophy and politics, before we saw more books like it.

    It’s been some years after all since Rawls published his pseudo-liberal texts on distributive justice.

    As with the notion of positive liberty, they will begin by redefining ” true freedom” as the freedom from the psychological trauma of a socially alienated and heartless natural freedom which does little to guarantee the average man or woman their full potential measure of social and sexual satisfaction..

    Well … perhaps in the interest of offering an olive branch to the collectivist side we can for the sake of argument offer to split the difference here, and to grant Conly the premise that indeed some people are objectively or correlatively too fat, too enervated, to sly, too lazy, too scheming, too dependent or dishonest to be effectively autonomous.

    Doesn’t mean everyone is. Were everyone so, we would have no basis for contrast, now would we.

    Nor, would the existence of such persons prove much more than that some life-incompetent types (lacking the capacity for self-governance in the micro-sense) are indeed present in our polity, and as such, ill fitted to meet the challenges presented by the project of self-governance (in the macro-sense.)

    Perhaps then the solution is not that we should all be controlled and dictated to, but that these persons should voluntarily relinquish their status as moral and civil peers, and seek solace among others of like mind, capacity, and temperament.

    Yet, despite my generous concession, I doubt that that is the conclusion Conly would wish to draw. Though freedom is something that can be waived by authoritarian types, a spuriously grounded solidarity seems to be one thing they cannot live without.

  8. Don Carlos Says:

    The great irony is that all collectivists/socialists are capitalists in their personal lives.

  9. SGT Caz Says:

    You can easily beat the tar out of Conly’s arguments by pointing out the repeated failures of social science to understand just how capable of thought people are. Too much of its research is screwed from the get-go by not taking into account that people KNOW THEY ARE PART OF AN EXPERIMENT. And it’s way too easy, in the real world, for people to suddenly act in ways that the data did not predict, because they know they are being manipulated and manipulate the system back.

    But let’s not be so excited for Mill’s philosophy either. Even without the government being the source of control over us, that doesn’t mean that something else won’t be, and I can’t blame people for looking at Mill’s freedom as being somewhat ridiculous. We are a part of a social environment we do not control. Our financial lives are hardly under our control when markets crash and jobs evaporate, our moral interactions are dependent on the surrounding culture’s norms… I can’t blame people for seeing freedom as a joke and noting only the stupidity of their fellow man. What I can do is point out that maybe people wouldn’t be so stupid if they didn’t have some outside force that takes responsibility for their own welfare off their shoulders.

    The idea of freedom should not be seen as a panacea, even by the people who support it. It should be seen as a necessarily brutal focusing of accountability on the individual, whether the surrounding society is subjectively fair or not.

  10. Eric Says:

    Neo,

    There’s a research fallacy – I forget what it’s called – of mistaking the average for the universal, eg, that a river has an average depth of 4 feet is not the same as any specific spot in the river, let alone the entire river, is 4 feet deep.

    Regarding Conly’s thesis, government will have an influential role. The issue is calibrating that influence.

    At minimum, the government will cause incentives either by active purposeful application (and the unintended consequences of that application) or withholding state influence of some kind to some degree in a particular area. Often, even when the government doesn’t take an active interest in a particular area, implicit regulation happens through the regulations already in place in surrounding areas. Inevitably though, any activity that draws enough people where frictions result will produce a campaign for government regulation, eg, the Internet.

    As every law school student and most other people know, all laws start with presumptions that are imperfect (law school is more about studying the presumptions than black-letter law), but laws have to originate from something. Some laws balance their base imperfections and are calibrated better than others.

    With the assumption that government will influence, either passively or actively, it needs to be articulated where and why the legal/policy line should be drawn. Debating the poles of a Borg hive collective versus a Lord of the Flies anarchic social order is dramatic and fun, but it isn’t especially useful. Instead, we should try to define the bright lines where laws cross over from benign to coercive.

  11. Eric Says:

    I’ll piggyback on SGT Caz’s comment by pointing out that government intervention is normally rooted in a reaction with popular justification, not a source cause, though a cabal can then manipulate the reaction to their own ends.

  12. oldflyer Says:

    Lizzy, they would tell you, do tell you, that that Declaration thing, and that Constitution thing are so outdated. Written for another time, by people who were only interested in preserving their own privileged status. And so on ad nauseum.

    Good Lord, Neo. I was having a decent day. Why must you keep confronting me with these depressing realities?

    Actually, Limbaugh started it. As I was driving home from water exercise session (talk about people who are too fat, but are trying in their own misguided individual way to do something.) Rush was talking about the new Massachusetts school policy that says trans-gender kids can use whichever restrooms and locker rooms they identify with, and other kids better not complain. Now, I would like for the Conleys and Susteins to review that little example of the state over ruling individual autonomy.

    Those studies never seem to look at any issue with a historical perspective. We have ample examples of the State determining how folks will live and behave. In fact the tendency has been so prevalent throughout history, that a term was applied. The term was Tyranny. We also have empirical evidence that tells us how successful those experiments were when applied to real life.

    These people are incapable of learning, and worse, they have an irresistible compulsion to meddle.

  13. Ann Says:

    Don Carlos said…
    The great irony is that all collectivists/socialists are capitalists in their personal lives.

    That reminds me of this comment at the Rate My Professors website by one of Sarah Conly’s students:

    “She’s very funny, but her values seem frighteningly off-key with her topic (ethics). She said she drives a Porsche, which doesn’t strike me as meshing well with the utilitarianism to which she claims to subscribe.”

  14. oldflyer Says:

    I don’t know if the criticism of Mills is valid, becuse I don’t remember if Mills fit his autonomous individual within society, and acknowledged that minimal accommodation is required, or whether he advocated complete autonomy without regard to societal issues. My bad.

    At any rate, it is irrelevant to frame the issue in terms of complete autonomy vs complete subservience. To do so seems to me to be creating the straw man that is so favored by Liberals. The relevant issue is to determine the minimal sacrifice of personal autonomy that is required for a functioning society. I should think that is a dynamic model; and one that would require constant vigilance. For instance, we gave up a great deal of autonomy, at home and by those in active service, to pursue World War II. It was assumed that this would be temporary.
    We have learned that, however, that once any degree of individual autonomy is sacrificed, it is devilishly hard to recover it.

  15. rafinlay Says:

    because they show that people make a lot of mistakes, and that those mistakes can prove extremely damaging

    If this is a valid justification, it can be used to support every religous dogma, as well. I suspect Conly would not approve of such preventing her from making what they would consider a mistake.

    All of these people just know that they would thrive in the totalitarian environment they are enabling, and when it turns out otherwise, it is too late.

  16. katzxy Says:

    Why doesn’t it go both ways? I argue that publishing books such as Conly’s is damaging to the body politic, and while she might find it frustrating, it should be blocked.

  17. G Joubert Says:

    Leftists are drunk with power what with Obama’s reelection, and one way it manifests itself is through the wet-dreams of their “thinkers,” which they feel compelled to publish. But, then, they’re unmasking themselves for who they are, for all to see who care to see.

  18. southpaw Says:

    Does it ever occur to these people who are interested in the welfare of the collective, that formulation of policies to control a population, which itself had nothing to do with the formulation, is itself a violation of the principle it claims to promote? Any form of control devised by a few to control many is totalitarian. Dressing it up and justifying it as “science” doesn’t change it for what it is.
    I had always assumed that democracy was the means that a large body of people decided what was in their common interest, not by “academics”
    For other great ideas and cutting edge social science endeavors, Google the history of eugenics in the United States. News flash – the Nazis got the idea from “academics” in the United States and Britain around the turn of 20th century up through through the 30′s. The list of scientists, famous and well respected American ‘thinkers’, and prominant universities teaching it as science is shocking – there was at one time more than 20,000 students in the US enrolled in over 300 universities with courses dedicated to teaching eugenics.
    Less than 100 years later, that bit of social science is long forgotten. Or more likely, it was never learned.

  19. Gringo Says:

    I have a question for Professor Conly. Does she support continuing funding Head Start? If so, I would be interested in her reply to the research which shows that any positive effects from Head Start have diminished to little or nothing by third grade.

  20. carl in atlanta Says:

    “(By the way, I’m not sure why the word “paternalistic” keeps being used here, except that it’s part of Conly’s title. There’s a reason we call it the “nanny state” and not the “pappy state.”)”.

    Doesn’t the word “paternalistic” connote coercion, force, domination? Versus “maternalistic”, which connotes protection, nurture, love?

    Odd that. From whence comes the nanny state?

    One would think that a bunch of former hippies would be pushing maternalism….

  21. nolanimrod Says:

    Now that the wiser among us who – we are fortunate enough to have as overseers – have forced interest rates to sub-zero one of the best ways to lose money is to “save” it.

  22. parker Says:

    We need to apply Conly’s thesis to DC and the governments of many states and municipalities. They are incompetent and pose an extreme risk to the rest of us. Badgering nannies with no concept of consequences.

  23. expat Says:

    oldflyer,

    Here is the Fox report on the transgenders in schools that Rush referred to:

    http://radio.foxnews.com/toddstarnes/top-stories/students-who-refuse-to-affirm-transgender-classmates-face-punishment.html

    There is a lot of disturbing stuff in it, but especially that schools are not allowed to tell parents if their child is identifying as a transgender in school. I wonder if this will apply in Obama’s preschool programs. We sure wouldn’t want the parents to contradict the all-knowing school staff.

  24. expat Says:

    One other problem with state control is that the persons who come up with a program are not the ones who implement it. So while a top-notch CIA or FBI profiler might be helpful in identifying a potential terrorist at the airport, the average TSA employee is likely to be far less comptent and will end up just checking boxes in a list. Things never work out as our brilliant superiors plan.

  25. rickl Says:

    This article by Angelo Codevilla properly belongs in one of those “Whither the Republican Party?”-type threads, but I think it’s a must-read anyway.

    As Country Club Republicans Link Up With The Democratic Ruling Class, Millions Of Voters Are Orphaned

    Codevilla nails it, and it’s sort of like what I’ve been saying for a long time. Mark Levin read the entire article on his radio show tonight.

  26. Jim Nicholas Says:

    I am not certain that things are as uncomplicated as Mills seems to suggest.

    Are we willing to or do we want to let persons suffer all of the consequences of their dumb mistakes or impulsive choices? Do we want a society in which there are no life-guards who attempt to rescue those who swim too far, in which there are no mountain rescue teams for those who do not realize their limits, in which there are no bankruptcy protections for those who tried and failed, in which we close the hospital doors to those whose heart attacks are caused by over-eating?

    To the extent a society is willing to try to mitigate some of the consequences of bad decisions, that society pays a price for decisions of the individual. If so, is it unreasonable that society has some say about the decisions of individuals that are highly likely to be costly to society?

    I am not sure that the balance between individual freedom and responsibility to others is an easy balance to achieve.

  27. southpaw Says:

    Jim Nicholas -
    It’s not society that’s deciding what’s good for it. It’s a few elitists and academics. Big difference. That’s tyranny.

  28. holmes Says:

    Naturally Mr. Conly and Sunnstein will play important roles in determining what freedoms are curtailed for the good. Until I call in some blackmail favors and leapfrog to the top of the Committee. And then we might have to curtail a few academic freedoms for the sake of the greater good.

  29. n.n Says:

    This is why they need to marginalize and eviscerate the adults. This is why they have specifically focused on men, who are the traditional and natural protectors of a civilization. This is why they have advocated for women to be available for sex, taxation, and exploited for democratic leverage.

    In order to advance their political, economic, and social standing, they need to degrade and control their competing interests. This is most easily accomplished through consolidating wealth and capital under minority control, and promoting behaviors which are unsustainable and dysfunctional.

    They are not parents with their children’s best interests at heart. They are competing interests who seek to establish monopolies in order to avoid competing.

  30. A_Nonny_Mouse Says:

    It appears that the Conlys and Sunsteins of the world entertain visions of “Wise Leaders making Wise Choices for the Ignorant Masses” under the assumption that THEY (or their ideological brethren) are the Wise Leaders who get to run things.

    How can we force the turnabout vision on them? Can we get them to stop and ask themselves, “What happens when the Republicans are back in office, and the dreaded RELIGIOUS RIGHT starts using these bureaucratic shortcuts we’re trying so hard to establish? Do we want THEM to be able to make “wise decisions” or “appropriate choices” for US? OMG, unthinkable!”

  31. Parker Says:

    “Are we willing to or do we want to let persons suffer all of the consequences of their dumb mistakes or impulsive choices?”

    Yes.

  32. Parker Says:

    ” This is why they have advocated for women to be available for sex, taxation, and exploited for democratic leverage.”

    You forgot to mention the front lines of combat.

  33. Mac Says:

    This is one of those things, becoming more frequent, that are at first shocking and surprising and yet…not. I wonder if we’ll feel that way when they finally take some unmistakable step toward taking the control they long for.

  34. parker Says:

    “I wonder if we’ll feel that way when they finally take some unmistakable step toward taking the control they long for.”

    If/when remember to adjust your sights for elevation and windage, feel your heart beat, breathe out, and gently squeeze. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BvkSBX6Lofo This is as good as it gets.

  35. ErisGuy Says:

    All the talk about “keep your laws off my body” and “The state has no right to tell me what drugs to take” (RU-486 or cocaine) were all lies, intended to disarm the establishment by using libertarian arguments, but the people offering them were communists (de Beauvoir, Friedan, Ayers, Horowitz, Dellinger) communist dupes (Steinem), and communist sympathizers. They had no love of freedom.

    They hated the old, Christian order and wanted to continue the destruction began by Marx, Lenin, Hitler, et. al. They act in the name of the Enlightenment (by claiming science on their side even though it isn’t); another pretense.

    All their rhetoric is a mask for new totalitarianism. And we are years (not decades) from them being able to act openly to turn the world into a new Red (and Green) Hell a la the Khmer Rouge.

  36. ErisGuy Says:

    Conly’s use of paternalism is interesting, since no doubt she is opposed to patriarchy and otherwise uses feminist/communist modifications to English.

    Either she secretly admires patriarchy (penis envy?) or she knows that many people react negatively to men and masculine terms (e.g., he) and hopes she can, like a deconstructionist, have her argument both ways: use of paternalism as a synonym for totalitarianism will help disgrace patriarchy but allows her to use a word rich in historical meaning to mask the raw evil of her proposed prison-like state.

  37. Irwin Chusid Says:

    Thousands of people are hurt falling down stairs every year. I’m waiting for legislation to stop the slaughter by instituting a Stair Ban immediately. It’s for our own good. Congress should also impose a national speed limit of 25 mph. Think of the lives that would be saved and injuries avoided!

    Someone (I forget who) said: “The nanny state just gets bigger and bigger—but it’ll never be as benign as an actual nanny.”

  38. thomass Says:

    This has been the argument or self justifying ideology of progressives since close to their beginning. I see they’re brushing off and updating a little. Time after time after time it has been shown they do not outperform markets or people running their own affairs. If they had it their way we’d have a planned economy and live like Chinese peasants btw…

  39. thomass Says:

    “as the freedom from the psychological trauma of a socially alienated and heartless natural freedom which does little to guarantee the average man or woman their full potential measure of social and sexual satisfaction..”

    Yep; no car, ac, gun (what are you crazy? a gun) or new computer every 4 years. You get the privilege of [mandatory] dancing in a circle as part of a collective.

  40. thomass Says:

    southpaw Says:

    “Does it ever occur to these people who are interested in the welfare of the collective, that formulation of policies to control a population, which itself had nothing to do with the formulation, is itself a violation of the principle it claims to promote? Any form of control devised by a few to control many is totalita…”

    Have you ever noticed how leftist confuse their views and movement with ‘the people’. The people’s this or that et cetera…..

  41. holmes Says:

    http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2013/02/21/america-s-new-mandarins.html

    Combine the above with this and what we have are an elite further and further removed from the reality on the ground who desire more and more power of those people.

    It’s frightening.

    Can someone link me to artfldgr’s recent post on this? He had a very lengthy explanation of the brain work behind an accumulated false reality. I think it matches up with all of this really well too.

  42. peter horne Says:

    Excellent discussion of this in the comments here:
    http://davidthompson.typepad.com/davidthompson/2013/02/reheated-32.html
    Of course what she is advocating is totalitarianism. To do so in the face of the history of the last hundred years or so is demented, bordering on insane.
    She is also illogical. People make bad choices so society should take away those choices by force. By society she means the state which is a collection of people with a long history of making extremely bad decisions. Why should their choices be any better? It’s really about power and spite. As Thomas Sowell says, leftism is principally about the pre-emption of the choices of others. Power and spite.

  43. MollyNH Says:

    when Al Gore begins his yapping about *the last chance to save humanity from climate change*
    someone posted a paraphrase from HL Menchen
    “beware he who wants to save humanity because he usually wants to control humanity”
    Astute guy that Menchen.
    Conly & Sunstein educated to the point of total ignorance. Their minds along with people like hillary have *no ability whatsoever to comprehend a *push back* from the ignorant (their opinion) masses.

  44. DNW Says:

    “Are we willing to or do we want to let persons suffer all of the consequences of their dumb mistakes or impulsive choices? ”

    As a general rule, and insofar as merely “willing to allow”, goes: on average, yes. Better they should be slaves of, or pay the mortgage on, their own insistent and self-gratifying stupidity than that I should be dragged into enabling their autogenically driven dysfunctions.

    And after all, historically speaking few have stood in the way of anyone’s private or voluntary quest for self-sacrificial sainthood should they choose to become abused servants of an ungrateful and entitled feeling lowly.

    Americans have always faced the choice between having dual memberships in both the polity or republic on the one hand, and mutualist “society” or societies of some sort on the other.

    It’s just that distinction that the left aims to abolish as artificial, and a distinction that Americans increasingly reject.

    “To the extent a society is willing to try to mitigate some of the consequences of bad decisions, that society pays a price for decisions of the individual. If so, is it unreasonable that society has some say about the decisions of individuals that are highly likely to be costly to society?

    I am not sure that the balance between individual freedom and responsibility to others is an easy balance to achieve.”

    “Society” again. Let them join a church. That way they will ostensibly get, or at least entertain the promise of, some eventual reward for squandering their life energies and resources in mitigating, if not actively enabling bad choices in the name of fellowship and sharing the pain.

    Perhaps as a little experiment we should give those who feel that men in general are unqualified for self-government (in the small sense) admit that they personally are, and see where that logic actually does lead us …

  45. waltj Says:

    Another thing that liberals/leftists often gloss over: the government is also made up of people, with their inherent flaws, prejudices, blind spots, and inadequacies. I’ll take my chances with choosing my own path in life, rather than following what some bureaucrat thinks is “best” for me. It’s worked so far.

  46. Jim Nicholas Says:

    It seems to me that real-life nannies are more for the benefit of the parents, to free up their time for other things, than for the benefit of the children. In the same way the primary purpose of nanny laws is not really to benefit the individuals but to protect the state from the costs of the individual’s behavior.

    For example, seat-belt laws save society the costs of medical care. An alternative to such a nanny law is a societal decision whether an ambulance should be called if the injured person did not wear a seat belt. Whether through taxes or higher medical insurance premiums, we all end up paying for such failure to wear seat belts.

    Individual freedom imposes costs on society. Also taking away individual freedom has its costs on society. There is no cost-free decision, and striking the best balance is not a no-brainer.

  47. Don Carlos Says:

    The trouble with Neo’s post and the 45 replies is that we all agree, but we are speaking to one another. We are not changing any minds (being well aware of Neo’s A Mind is a Hard Thing to Change). We are outgunned (sorry, Parker–see DHS bullet buys), outmanned, unrepresented. We sit in darkness, cursing it and awaiting the dawn, but at dawn we will face a firing squad.

  48. DNW Says:

    I see that I have twice broached the same theme here, i.e., the self-exempting tendencies of the would-be rulers when it comes to their analysis of the human condition.

    They offer up universal predications but seem to recoil when invited to admit that these descriptions apply specifically, and by name to themselves.

    My invitation then, to them to forthrightly proclaim that they lack the competence to govern themselves responsibly, bears no expectation that they would do so.

    Nonetheless it’s worthwhile to throw it in their faces as often as possible since it forces them to either admit that they share the same incompetence they ascribe to others – thus impeaching their ability to prescribe or expect respect – or to be revealed as rank hypocrites cynically engaged in deceptively spouting egalitarian rhetoric for what it will gain them.

    But no, I have never yet gotten a militant and reductive scoffer who mocks, say, the notion of mind or psyche as superfluous “spirit goo”, to say outright that, “I Mr. Y admit that I being a man, am no more than the same kind of pointless meat computer I have stated all other men are”.

    It seems that while the type are very comfortable reducing you as part of an overarching class to the status of a manipulable object “in the name of science”, they are reluctant to explicitly endorse the syllogism that reveals the reductionist implications of their own class membership: if all X are meat computers, and Y is an X then Y is a meat computer.

    I would wonder why they feared to do so, if I didn’t already know.

  49. DNW Says:

    Don Carlos Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    “The trouble with Neo’s post and the 45 replies is that we all agree, but we are speaking to one another. We are not changing any minds (being well aware of Neo’s A Mind is a Hard Thing to Change). We are outgunned (sorry, Parker–see DHS bullet buys), outmanned, unrepresented. We sit in darkness, cursing it and awaiting the dawn, but at dawn we will face a firing squad.”

    Have more kids.

  50. DNW Says:

    Holmes link to the Daily Beast article on the new Mandarins was very good, and appears to be part of an emerging consensus. Neo’s earlier link to the Frenchman who was warning against the same thing – the French system of elite training – amounted to the same thing.

    Then too, as others have pointed out, this trend or impulse is not exactly new, as those who have read the infamous Garry Wills 1999 book, “A Necessary Evil” will recall. His core argument – presented at the end of the book- being that expert centralized rule was ultimately desirable and necessary for human fulfillment; his ‘love is bondage’ argument.

  51. Don Carlos Says:

    DNW:
    I forgive your flippancy.

  52. Holmes Says:

    Jim, you’re referring mostly to externalities. It’s not a new problem for individual choices. One way to deal more with the costs “imposed” by medical care for health care that could have been avoided if one had worn a seat belt- charge the person money. Or charge them through insurance, which most states do. Controlling behavior should be the last step and only for the most extreme instances, but it seems to be it’s the first and final answer (I almost wrote, “solution”, whoops) for every problem nowadays.

  53. DNW Says:

    Don Carlos Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 1:59 pm

    DNW:
    I forgive your flippancy.”

    Thank you. But one might as well let one’s own offspring eat up their substance and absorb all their life energies as the antagonistic people they complain about.

    Assuming of course that you figure you can raise your own kids up to be less an energy-sucking enemy than the impertinent, importunate, entitlement hounds that are using the ballot box to drag us into servitude.

    Acknowledging how some people’s kids turned out, they might not see my advice to “out breed the thieving collectivist bastards” as worth much.

  54. Don Carlos Says:

    DNW:
    I have 4 kids, all fine and able and productive, thank you. What’s your score?
    Outbreeding the enemy might work if we had kids in litters several times a year, like rats, dogs, cats, swine, all able to bite, fight, rut within weeks to months.
    You weren’t being flippant, apparently. Wow.

  55. Tesh Says:

    A_Nonny_Mouse, they don’t intend to let the ‘Right into power again. They don’t plan on losing the reins.

  56. DNW Says:

    Don Carlos Says:
    February 22nd, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    DNW:
    I have …”

    Let’s halt there with the launch, since it’s already, perhaps understandably, mistakenly premised.

    My comment(s) leveraged mention of an historical verity off of your despairing remarks positing an inescapable existential doom. Thus:

    “We are outgunned (sorry, Parker–see DHS bullet buys), outmanned, unrepresented. We sit in darkness, cursing it and awaiting the dawn, but at dawn we will face a firing squad.”

    But I was neither indicting you personally, nor insinuating anything about the fidelity to liberty of your offspring – if any – in particular.

    However many here, including yourself, have been complaining that they have been politically out-flanked by a managerial elite and its state supported client class; both of which have destructive social values: An alliance of anti-liberty types which has been using democratic formalisms in order to stamp traditional Americans as a social resource, and eventually rack them out of existence … Or an alliance at the least which is using government to squeeze and pressure the productive so vigorously that they believe that their way of life – or the comfortable and future oriented part of it – is destined to atrophy or possibly disappear.

    Now, if that gloomy premise of yours, and I think it is fair to label it as yours, reflects a true state of affairs – if indeed American bourgeois demography is American bourgeois cultural destiny, implying the death of liberty as we have known it, then we Americans face some hard facts.

    The consensus solution around here seems to be that while stipulating that people base their actions on inculcated emotional attachments more than on reason, somehow nonetheless those same people can be won over by an irresistible piece of rhetoric. That in effect, the lone elderly man will, if he just finds the right words to say, be able to walk out on the front porch and convince the mob not to dispossess him of what he has.

    Well, it’s probably true that there will always be some significant number of culturally different people who can in fact be readily propagandized to value liberty and respect property more than a government issued food bowl and a government guaranteed social niche.

    But my observation is that what people are complaining about here, is that the theory doesn’t seem to be working very well.

    Lots of reasons have been mooted: an insurmountable noise barrier, a general coarsening of sensibilities, a culture shift in the conception of what constitutes a good life …

    Whatever it is, the people being complained about don’t seem to have an emotional connection to “you” (as a class symbol) or to the same values you cherish.

    If this is the case, will today’s client class, native or immigrant, find itself eventually adopting values of self-sufficiency and economic liberty despite themselves at some point? Well, I don’t know.

    But what I do know, whether it sounds flippant or not, is that if you think you cannot look to an unsympathetic “them” for aid in your struggle for the preservation of your self and your liberty, nor expect to convert them with a brilliant exposition on, say, natural law, you might ask yourself who it is that you could expect to seek effective assistance from.

    And if, in turn, you were not being flippant in your earlier remarks, I take it that your final answer would be “No one.”

  57. Don Carlos Says:

    DNW @7:46pm:
    “If this is the case, will today’s client class, native or immigrant, find itself eventually adopting values of self-sufficiency and economic liberty despite themselves at some point? Well, I don’t know.”

    “Eventually” is a long and indefinite time.
    “Adopting values…despite themselves” seems a quite unlikely proposition.

    You are slick in your critiques, but you have limited yourself to criticism, not construction.
    We are not sitting in the audience waiting for a historical drama to play itself out. We are on stage in a rotten play scripted by others which made it to the stage by our failure to boycott it and object to it and to see it never got produced.

    We do not have the luxury of time. Thus my despair.

  58. IGotBupkis, Legally Defined Cyberbully in All 57 States and some Canadian provinces Says:

    }}} I have a more polite message for Conly as well

    I have a message, too:

    YES!! AND the high horse you rode in on!

  59. DonS Says:

    What a hoot. The goernment that can’t pass a budget let alone balance one needs to oversee my financial decisions.

  60. DonS Says:

    I’ve changed one mind: when I met her my wife was a moderate Democrat who thought Republicans were mean.

    Now she is a solid free market conservative.

    We will change minds, perhaps not fast enough.

    Now, as far as outgunned, I don’t think so. The problem is that we are not organized in a military fashion, and we are nt yet at a point where armed rebellion is justified.

  61. GG Says:

    A new group of infusion, the energy infusion GG http://www.google.com

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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