February 21, 2013

Who they are, what they do, etc.

I can’t remember who originally linked Cass Sunstein’s review of Sarah Conly’s book, Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, in the comments here, but I did take the opportunity to make note of it on my facebook page.  And rather than re-write what I’ve already written on this in another venue, I’ll just repeat here what I’ve already noted elsewhere, albeit with some expansion.

And that is this:  even the title of this thing gives me chills. And I’m a one-time academic well-immune to such provocatively pedantic titlings.

Essentially, what we have here is a favorable review of Conly’s book by the man who gave you Nudge.   But who now wants to give you Okay, nudging didn’t work. So would somebody please hold them down for me until we’re done fixing them?  After all, it isn’t molestation when it’s for their own good.   Conly is a mere opportunity.  She is a third-rate educator engaging in authoritarian masturbation fantasies.  And yet Sunstein, who has a degree of public renown,  is hoping to give her cloistered musings an air of great intellectual seriousness.  Here’s how he puts it:

Sarah Conly’s illuminating book Against Autonomy provides such a discussion. Her starting point is that in light of the recent findings, we should be able to agree that Mill was quite wrong about the competence of human beings as choosers. “We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future.” With that claim in mind, Conly insists that coercion should not be ruled out of bounds. She wants to go far beyond nudges. In her view, the appropriate government response to human errors depends not on high-level abstractions about the value of choice, but on pragmatic judgments about the costs and benefits of paternalistic interventions. Even when there is only harm to self, she thinks that government may and indeed must act paternalistically so long as the benefits justify the costs.

Conly is quite aware that her view runs up against widespread intuitions and commitments. For many people, a benefit may consist precisely in their ability to choose freely even if the outcome is disappointing. She responds 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.

[...]

A natural objection is that autonomy is an end in itself and not merely a means. On this view, people should be entitled to choose as they like, even if they end up choosing poorly. In a free society, people must be allowed to make their own mistakes, and to the extent possible learn from them, rather than facing correction and punishment from bureaucratic meddlers. Conly responds that when government makes (some) decisions for us, we gain not only in personal welfare but also in autonomy, if only because our time is freed up to deal with what most concerns us [...]

[...]

When people are imposing serious risks on themselves, it is not enough to celebrate freedom of choice and ignore the consequences. What is needed is a better understanding of the causes and magnitude of those risks, and a careful assessment of what kind of response would do more good than harm.

— Or, to put it another way, with slavery comes freedom.  With surrender comes relief from battle fatigue.  Because you’ve agreed to let your betters run your lives, you have time to amuse yourselves in ways of your choosing.  And there’s a comfort in conformity that can never come with the uncertainty that flows from risk, autonomy, and unbridled free will.

This, I shouldn’t have to point out to putative “intellectuals”, was essentially the message of the technocrats.  It was the message of the communists.  It was the message of the socialists. And it was the message of the fascists.

Only now, it is being presented as an antidote to liberty — not as an antidote to want, or to the restrictions of some arbitrary caste system.  With Sunstein, like Conly — and one imagines an entire hoard of progressive thinkers whose masks are now fully off (recall Amanda Marcotte’s attempts last year to frame self-reliance as an untenable posture in the state of nature) —  all on board the bullet train back to serfdom.

Remember: When it’s for your own good — and God bless your betters for recognizing their betterness so as to help you understand how deeply you need them (provided you want to be better like them, in their better eyes)  — it isn’t “fascist.” It’s “coercive paternalism.” Or, if you prefer, “the State as replacement parents for the ones whose authority you finally got away from once you turned 18.”

Yeah. Thanks, but no thanks.

And as an aside:  fuck you.

Posted by Jeff G. @ 10:09am
45 comments | Trackback

Comments (45)

  1. I’m gonna let C.S. Lewis take it from here:

    “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.”

  2. You’ll note that the price of the book is a hefty $95. What this tells me is that the intended audience is the elite Leftist vanguard, which will accept these arguments while at school and then work them into policy and government without ever having to argue the merits with someone who disagrees. A silent coup, as no one running for office will ever have to say publicly whether of if they agree with this view, they’ll simply be able to implement it as they are wont.

  3. And as an aside: fuck you.

    You left out “Sideways” and “Swordfish.”

    I think this is an appropriate place to pimp, once again, “Gross National Happiness” by Arthur C Brooks. In it, he discusses what makes people happy. It’s NOT creature comforts. The answer is FREEDOM. Even small freedoms.

  4. You’ll note that the price of the book is a hefty $95. What this tells me is that the intended audience is the elite Leftist vanguard,

    At that price, this book is intended as a college text.

  5. Somebody or other is always re-inventing fascism under another name.

  6. People are going to have to be FORCE to buy it.

    But they will. And they will absorb the message like good like non-thinking Marxists.

  7. so long as the benefits justify the costs

    I remember when the benefits of confronting the jewish problem head-on were once thought to far outweigh the costs

    they made a movie about it even

  8. Adam Smith (1759):

    *** The man of system, on the contrary, is apt to be very wise in his own conceit; and is often so enamoured with the supposed beauty of his own ideal plan of government, that he cannot suffer the smallest deviation from any part of it. He goes on to establish it completely and in all its parts, without any regard either to the great interests, or to the strong prejudices which may oppose it. He seems to imagine that he can arrange the different members of a great society with as much ease as the hand arranges the different pieces upon a chess-board. He does not consider that the pieces upon the chess-board have no other principle of motion besides that which the hand impresses upon them; but that, in the great chess-board of human society, every single piece has a principle of motion of its own, altogether different from that which the legislature might chuse to impress upon it. If those two principles coincide and act in the same direction, the game of human society will go on easily and harmoniously, and is very likely to be happy and successful. If they are opposite or different, the game will go on miserably, and the society must be at all times in the highest degree of disorder. ***

  9. The problem with this coercive paternalism thing is, it’s not going to work too well on actual grown-ups.

  10. it’s not going to work too well on actual grown-ups.

    One of the problems, McGehee, is that there aren’t too many of those in the Liberal/Progressive movement.

    And as an aside: fuck you.

    No! Not an “aside”: full frontal reply. Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.

  11. I see your C.S. Lewis and raise you a G.K. Chesterton:

    This is the first principle of democracy: that the essential things in men are the things they hold in common, not the things they hold separately. And the second principle is merely this: that the political instinct or desire is one of these things which they hold in common. Falling in love is more poetical than dropping into poetry. The democratic contention is that government (helping to rule the tribe) is a thing like falling in love, and not a thing like dropping into poetry. It is not something analogous to playing the church organ, painting on vellum, discovering the North Pole (that insidious habit), looping the loop, being Astronomer Royal, and so on. For these things we do not wish a man to do at all unless he does them well. It is, on the contrary, a thing analogous to writing one’s own love-letters or blowing one’s own nose. These things we want a man to do for himself, even if he does them badly. I am not here arguing the truth of any of these conceptions; I know that some moderns are asking to have their wives chosen by scientists, and they may soon be asking, for all I know, to have their noses blown by nurses. I merely say that mankind does recognize these universal human functions, and that democracy classes government among them. In short, the democratic faith is this: that the most terribly important things must be left to ordinary men themselves–the mating of the sexes, the rearing of the young, the laws of the state. This is democracy; and in this I have always believed.

  12. The proggs are the ones trying to do the coercing, and they’re not pointing it at themselves.

  13. It’s like they really, really want me to punch them in their face. But, one good side effect of all this overreach is that it is getting the more apathetic among us to finally take notice. Clear lines in the sand are always a good thing.

  14. It’s good to see yet another leftist academic rationalising her own sadistic need to impose, while disdaining human beings as, in effect, little more than livestock.

  15. It’s good to see yet another leftist academic rationalising her own sadistic need to impose, while disdaining human beings as, in effect, little more than livestock.

    I wonder how this authoritarian basket case runs her own life – any doubt that she is not among the most convincing examples of those who know better and should tell everyone else what to do?

  16. I just love the assumption that government makes better decisions than a given individual. Nope, governments have never made bad decisions. Never.

    Also, Sunstein writes as if the government were some unified, intelligent entity and not just a bunch of individuals who are making decisions on others’ behalf. As if these politicians and bureaucrats were magically free of the flawed reasoning, personal motivations and biases that individuals have when making personal choices.

  17. And of course Conly’s book is presented as if it were daring and countercultural, when in fact its basic attitude is shared to some degree by many of the author’s peers and much, if not most, of our political class. Taking away our choices now seems to make up the bulk of political activity. It’s what the modern bien-pensant “liberal” does.

    Incidentally, re my earlier comment, I don’t mean sadistic in a sexual sense – though I’m sure it gives pleasure of a kind – but the underlying urge is more than just Schadenfreude. It’s a need to frustrate and diminish others while pretending to ooze compassion. It’s the passive-aggressive way. A will to power, if you like, as expressed by people who can only conceive power as power over others.

  18. In the best Modern way: *** I conclude, therefore that, fortune being changeful and mankind steadfast in their ways, so long as the two are in agreement men are successful, but unsuccessful when they fall out. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her. ***

    So as the teaching goes: O governor, Fortune is a woman, who, if thou rapest repeatedly, thou wilt find great success.

  19. Her starting point is that in light of the recent findings, we should be able to agree that Mill was quite wrong about the competence of human beings as choosers.

    Emphasis mine.

    I think I agree here, with regard at least to the last 2 presidential elections. Any anyone who willing reads this book. Etc.

    I hear that the comments are unsurprising yet illuminating as well. Most of the people who agree with this also agree that they should be the “deciders”. Convenient, that.

  20. Pingback: This Is The Progressive Mind At Work | Flopping Aces

  21. P.J. O’Rourke:

    There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.

  22. The C.S. Lewis quote cited by johninfirestone is from the essay The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment included in collection of essays as God in the Dock. A few sentences earlier Lewis says “…my argument supposes no evil intentions on the part of the Humanitarian and considers only what is involved in the logic of his position. My contention is that good men (not bad men) consistently acting upon that position would act as cruelly and unjustly as the greatest tyrants.”

    I would not be as charitable as C.S. Lewis to the motives of the Cass Sunstein’s or the Sarah Conly’s of the world. Their motives likely spring from a pathological desire to control others to such an extent as to create a society of automatons of which they are the puppet masters. I don’t think it’s possible to separate good intentions from evil outcomes.

    Actually, Lewis seems to approach such a sentiment later on when he adds this gem: “Their Very kindness stings with intolerable insult.” A pretty good way of saying “fuck you.”

  23. When this is sold it will be as the cure for the coercive paternalism of those on the extreme right who have been painted as wanting to run your life right down to the smallest detail. For the Left projection is a feature that allows them to give free reign to their own impulses by assigning them to their enemies. They then are just reacting to, defending us from those evil right-wing monsters. This idea has been worked into media and comments for quite awhile now.

    Last night there was an example on the TV in the show “Criminal Minds.” The serial killer was a gay man who had been driven to his mad murderous acts by having been sent to a “Christian” re-education camp where they used torture and rape to change the sexual orientation of teen boys. This evil must be stamped out by any means necessary. We good progressive folks don’t want to have to use coercive paternalism but the actions of the evil conservatives have made us have to do so.

    That millions of children are everyday, for 12, 16 or more years, subjected to coercion, derision, punishment, re-education if they do not show proper deference to the twin gods of diversity and PC is not of course even to be mentioned ever except to be praised as wonderfully “progressive” and the best way to educate our young people. Justified in their minds.

  24. It’s a need to frustrate and diminish others while pretending to ooze compassion.

    Reading the fifth Harry Potter book (and watching the movie of same) was exceedingly unpleasant for me, because of the character Dolores Umbridge. Bureacratic torture is unbearable in all its forms, in the way it rejects humanity and reason (both in its practitioners and its victims) in favor of faceless “my hands are tied, the rules are the rules” tyranny.

    All the zero-tolerance “expelled for saying ‘bang!'”-type horror stories in the schools push me non-linear for the same reason.

  25. -Sunstein is our Trotsky – or, at least, that’s the role he’s shooting for. We should deal with him accordingly.

    -As for me: I prefer Gold to the Sun in my choice of steins.

  26. I just love the assumption that government makes better decisions than a given individual. Nope, governments have never made bad decisions. Never.

    They’re not actually interested in making good decisions: they’re interested in coercion and control. Their insatiable desire for power is their only motive and their only driver. Identifying government’s past mistakes and holocausts is therefore pointless, because doing good and actual Utopia is not the goal.

    We must take care to not rhetorically give them credit: they’re not operating out of historical ignorance or carelessness or naïve hubris.

    They lust for power.

    Period.

  27. Reading the fifth Harry Potter book (and watching the movie of same) was exceedingly unpleasant for me, because of the character Dolores Umbridge. Bureaucratic torture is unbearable in all its forms…

    Number five is the most relevant of the series these days. Rowling had an exquisitely deep understanding of the banality of evil. Beginning at the end of Book 4, when nobody believes Harry that Voldemort is back (even with Cedric’s still-warm corpse at their feet), she depicts the Neville Chamberlain-like denial of evil at the Ministry of Magic, the malice and hatred directed at Harry, the efforts to marginalize and discredit him through lies and propaganda, and the polarization of the wizard folk as they divide into camps and then barely endure one another’s existence.

    Umbridge’s fuzzy pink suits and unctuous speech and the cute kittens on plates that bedecked her office don’t hide her relentless sadism and power-lust but rather show what lengths she goes to when establishing herself and her authority as right and proper.

    First thing she does? Refuses to allow the students to use their wands in their Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. They will read from the textbook instead and write essays. The parallels with today’s anti-2A rhetoric are truly chilling.

    “Let us move forward, then, into a new era of openness, effectiveness and accountability, intent on preserving what ought to be preserved, perfecting what needs to be perfected, and pruning wherever we find practices that ought to be prohibited.”

    The link goes to a page at the HP Lexicon that contains more info about Umbridge.

    And her fitting end, I might add. :-)

  28. They’re not actually interested in making good decisions

    They want everybody’s decisions to be what they tell everybody to decide. Which are by definition good decisions because they made them for us.

    The worst insult you can visit on a progg is to do something she wouldn’t, and turn out to be right.

  29. Last night there was an example on the TV in the show “Criminal Minds.” The serial killer was a gay man who had been driven to his mad murderous acts by having been sent to a “Christian” re-education camp where they used torture and rape to change the sexual orientation of teen boys.

    Gawd that was a preachy episode. It’s their second self-loathing-gay murders loathingly, the other having been in season 2 or so. That one wasn’t quite as preachy but still…

  30. It’s a need to frustrate and diminish others while pretending to ooze compassion. It’s the passive-aggressive way.

    Marie Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond is an excellent example of this. She’s got all the men in her life gripped in the vice of her “caring” while she heaps contempt on her daughter-in-law by offering to “help.”

    An extremely well-written and well-acted character, BTW, because her sadism is hidden even from her: she genuinely believes that her over-mothering is A Good Thing, and yet if you were to lay out the ways in which it was not, she’d explode in a rage at your effrontery.

  31. I just recently listened to an Allan Bloom seminar (circa 1983) where he mentioned his expectation of the coming new-best-thing: “No Fault Murder”. He got a laugh out of that with his audience, and was no little wise amused with it himself.

  32. People are not competent to make their own decisions, therefore we must put other people, who are also not competent to make their own decisions, in charge of those decisions and take away the authority of the people to make their own decisions in favor of the other people who are not competent to make their own decisions.

    Because power, bitches.

  33. If you think that was good, I googled her and found this on her page. Just for you guys.

    Sarah Conly’s Current Project: (In her own words)
    I’ve now started on my next book, tentatively titled One: Do We have a Right to More Children? We tend to think of regulating the number of children people may have as morally reprehensible. For one thing, the right to have a family is one we often think of as sacrosanct, articulated, among other places, in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights. And, we think that women have the right to control their bodies, and while this right is mentioned often in the context of the right to abortion, it may also be held to include the right to have as many children as one wants. Lastly, we think of such policies as having sanctions that are unacceptable, including forced abortions of those who become pregnant with a second child. In One, I argue that opposition to population regulation is based on a number of mistakes: that the right to have a family doesn’t entail the right to have as many children as you may want; that the right to control one’s body is conditional on how much harm you are doing to others; and that nothing in population regulation entails that those who break the law can be forced to have abortions, or subject to any sort of punishment that is horrific. If population growth is sufficiently dangerous, it is fair for us to impose restrictions on how many children we can give birth to.

  34. They’re not actually interested in making good decisions

    What they’re interested in is making THE decisions, because they know better than we do.

    Of course they do. They elected the smartest and most transparent administration in the history of the United States. Twice.

  35. Something tells me Queen Sarah would conclude that we really don’t have rights at all. Not in any sense we would recognize.

    By her definition we have the right to obey her, and that’s it.

  36. If population growth is sufficiently dangerous, persons recognizing the danger, such as Conly have a duty to self-murder, don’t she think?

  37. If population growth is sufficiently dangerous, it is fair for us to impose restrictions on how many children we can give birth to.

    the paul ehrlich record stuck,the paul ehrlich record stuck,the paul ehrlich record stuck,the paul ehrlich record stuck,

  38. [Sarah] Conly is a mere opportunity. She is a third-rate educator engaging in authoritarian masturbation fantasies.

    Just to give that more space.

    Damn, I hope that woman never has any kids.

  39. plus transgender is different than transsexual but I can never remember the difference

    i think the transsexuals are the ohnoes I’m trapped in the wrong body ones whereas the t-genders are more like hey you know what would be cool – if I had boobies!

  40. there is a wee small possibility – just want to throw this out there – that my preceding comment is in the wrong thread

  41. Aren’t they all?

  42. Gertrude Himmelfarb identified the problem in a 1993 examination of the legacy of J.S. Mill’s On Liberty to modern liberalism. Mill’s “very simple principle”

    …that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self protection. [....] The only part of the conduct of any one, for which he is amenable to society, is that which concerns others. In the part that concerns himself, his independence is, of right, absolute. Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign

    was, to Himmelfarb’s mind, so absolute as to become an illiberal form of liberalism, one which made possible the present disjunction (or contradiction, if you want to get Hegelian) between radical individualism and state paternalism.

    Two passages in Himmelfarb are relevant:

    [T]he tendency of absolute liberty [is] to subvert the very liberty it seeks to preserve. By making particular liberties dependent on an absolute principle of liberty, by invalidating all those other principles—history, custom, law, interest, opinion, religion—which have traditionally served to support particular liberties, the absolute principle discredits these particular liberties together with the principles upon which they are based. So far from making liberty absolutely secure, the absolutistic doctrine may have the unwitting effect of depriving specific liberties, including the most basic ones, of the security they enjoy under more traditional, modest auspices. And when that absolute principle proves inadequate to the exigencies of social life, it is abandoned absolutely, replaced not by a more moderate form of liberty, but by an immoderate form of government control. This is the source of the disjunction between individualism and paternalism that is so conspicuous a feature of contemporary liberalism.

    The absolute principle of liberty has another perverse effect. By this standard, distinctions of degree become unimportant. Any liberty that falls short of it is seen as fatally flawed. And any society that is liberal in the traditional, non-absolutist sense is deemed to be as illiberal and illegitimate as a despotic society. This is the logic that informs the Marxist critique of liberalism as a form of “repressive tolerance,” and the postmodernist critique of alll societies, including the most liberal, as “tyrannical” and “authoritarian.”

    And:

    Liberals have always known that absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. [W]e are now discovering that absolute liberty also tends to corrupt absolutely. A liberty that is divorced from tradition and convention, from morality and religion, that makes the individual the sole repository and arbiter of all values and puts him in an adversarial relationship to society and the state—such a liberty is a grave peril to liberalism itself. For when that liberty is found wanting, when it violates the moral sense of the community or is incompatible with the legitimate demands of society, there is no moderating principle to take its place, no resting place between the wild gyrations of libertarianism and paternalism. (Gertrude Himmelfarb, “Liberty: “One Very Simple Principle”?” in On Looking into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society. New York, 1994, pp. 74-106. at pp. 104-5, 106. First published, 1993 in The American Scholar Vol. 62, No. 4, pp. 532-47. Bold emphases mine.)

  43. Hehe. She said “Paternalistic”!

    That those who would call themselves feminists would seek to claim to be The New Paternity is to me, ironic.

    You can’t rant forever about the evils of a Patriachical society and then invoke the name of good Paternalism. That is jumping the semiotic shark isn’t it?

    Good to see they have finally succumbed to the truth: “Father Knows Best”.

    Now if someone with some manhood would step up and show these sisters how its done, the irony would be complete.

  44. McGehee says February 22, 2013 at 6:59 am

    +5 Internets

  45. McGehee ndeed wins the thread.

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