Come see the violence inherent in the system!

What is this I can’t even believe…

Three Cheers for the Nanny State

No, the writer isn’t being ironic.

Obviously, it’s not about soda. It’s because such a ban suggests that sometimes we need to be stopped from doing foolish stuff, and this has become, in contemporary American politics, highly controversial, no matter how trivial the particular issue. (Large cups of soda as symbols of human dignity? Really?)

No, Sarah. Self determination and individual authority as symbols of human dignity.

We have a vision of ourselves as free, rational beings who are totally capable of making all the decisions we need to in order to create a good life. Give us complete liberty, and, barring natural disasters, we’ll end up where we want to be. It’s a nice vision, one that makes us feel proud of ourselves. But it’s false.

Often it is false. That’s life. But what’s the alternative? Letting politicians make all my decisions for me? How’s that working out?

In the old days we used to blame people for acting imprudently, and say that since their bad choices were their own fault, they deserved to suffer the consequences. Now we see that these errors aren’t a function of bad character, but of our shared cognitive inheritance. The proper reaction is not blame, but an impulse to help one another.

In the old days we used to accord everyone the dignity of making his or her own decisions, even though that might not work out well for them, because the harmless mistakes of others are none of our damn business. Now we see that we are all one vast communitarian hive, and we must submit our decisions to be made by others for the good of the collective. Or else.

Yeah, I think history has a thing or two to say about that, as well.

Ms. Conly, an assistant professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College, is of course plugging a book. Get a load of this: Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism. And no, she’s still not being ironic.

Since Mill’s seminal work On Liberty, philosophers and political theorists have accepted that we should respect the decisions of individual agents when those decisions affect no one other than themselves. Indeed, to respect autonomy is often understood to be the chief way to bear witness to the intrinsic value of persons. In this book, Sarah Conly rejects the idea of autonomy as inviolable. Drawing on sources from behavioural economics and social psychology, she argues that we are so often irrational in making our decisions that our autonomous choices often undercut the achievement of our own goals. Thus in many cases it would advance our goals more effectively if government were to prevent us from acting in accordance with our decisions. Her argument challenges widely held views of moral agency, democratic values and the public/private distinction, and will interest readers in ethics, political philosophy, political theory and philosophy of law.

If The Onion wrote that blurb, you’d snicker.

I’m reminded of David Brooks’ essay from last summer, “The Follower Problem,”

Maybe before we can build great monuments to leaders we have to relearn the art of following. Democratic followership is also built on a series of paradoxes: that we are all created equal but that we also elevate those who are extraordinary; that we choose our leaders but also have to defer to them and trust their discretion; that we’re proud individuals but only really thrive as a group, organized and led by just authority.

I don’t know if America has a leadership problem; it certainly has a followership problem. Vast majorities of Americans don’t trust their institutions. That’s not mostly because our institutions perform much worse than they did in 1925 and 1955, when they were widely trusted. It’s mostly because more people are cynical and like to pretend that they are better than everything else around them. Vanity has more to do with rising distrust than anything else.

Bloody peasants.

H/T to Anne Sorock.

About Joel

You shouldn't ask these questions of a paranoid recluse, you know.
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One Response to Come see the violence inherent in the system!

  1. Keith says:

    Oh yes!

    The old

    human reasoning is falliable

    but somehow

    a bureaucracy made up entirely of humans is blessed with infinite wisdom and omniscience

    Why should that phobosopher’s judgement and reasoning be any less flawed than she claims those of other individuals are.

    I love it when someone tries to push self refuting shit.

    are her students so badly taught by her and so slow in their reasoning that any of them accept her assertions?

    or are they keeping quiet in the hope that they’ll all get jobs; only making plans for Nigel…

To the stake with the heretic!