The dying of the light 2

The Obama administration is growing ever longer arms and ever more grasping fingers, to reach into every aspect, activity, and setting of our lives: our homes, our possessions, our habits, our tastes, our choices, our  minds; to regulate, manipulate, constrain, constrict, direct, control us. Their aim? For them,  power beyond the imaginations of all former tyrants; for us, helpless dependence, obedience, submission.

An exaggeration? Let’s see.

Among the people he has appointed to “czardom”, the unelected ideologues who have real executive power, are “behavioral scientists” and “behavioral economists”, who are actively trying to “usher in an era of profound social reform by getting us to change the way we behave, little by little, every day”, to quote an article by Christine Rosen in the July/August issue of Commentary, titled Now Behave. She names in particular Cass Sunstein, co-author of Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth,  and Happiness, whom Obama has appointed his “regulation czar”. What he and his fellow philosophers now governing the Republic are doing is, in Rosen’s words:

.. reconciling political theory with the scientific study of human behavior since, they argue, the old categories of political theory no longer apply. … Personal responsibility? Impossible in a complicated world governed by complex ‘systems’ and limitless choices.  The result is a kind of [Pavlovian] stimulus-response politics that promises to liberate citizens from having to make complicated choices in exchange for limiting their freedom.

Promises to liberate us from liberty?

It’s all for own good, of course, as every tyranny has ever been for the good of the tyrannized. But it’s not just for our own individual good. No  – as always it’s for the good of “society”.

Rosen explains:

The new behaviorism isn’t interested in protecting people’s freedom to choose. Its core principle is the idea that only by allowing an expert to limit choices can individuals learn to break their bad habits. … Contemporary behaviorists want to nudge us, but not merely to make us happier, better people. They have specific hopes for the social effects this nudging will achieve: fewer smokers, thinner Americans, higher savings rates.

Now we see the dream in  detail. It’s not exactly the same as the grand, vague, Marxist utopian dream of a proletarian paradise. It’s a more mundane, banal projection, concerned with correcting trivial behaviors that insult the puritan eye, nose, and tight fist. A largely aesthetic ideal based on parsimony, satisfying a taste for sparseness and austerity, with everyone skinny and no more unsightly fatties impeding passage through the mall. The venting of a petty and stingy enviousness that cannot endure the sight of abundance. A drive for conforming discipline, with a Spartan adulation of rude health, conjuring up images of medicine-ball, gym-slip, girls’ organizations in the early twentieth century.

The intelligentsia of the Western world, the elite that always classes itself with the rulers rather than the ruled, think all this is wonderful, great, brilliant. If you doubt it, read what distinguished critics and academics say about Cass Sunstein’s book Nudge, quoted proudly in it. Eg: “a wonderful book”; “this gem of a book”; “insightful and amusing, practical and deep … a must-read for anyone who wants to see both our minds and our society working better … it will make the world a better place“.

They see no contempt in it. No evil will. After all, it’s not a plan to force us, the masses; just to plant certain ideas in our minds so we can mull them over and come to accept them as better ideas than our own.

Not forcing us? Are they not already taking steps to regulate how much salt and fat we eat? To limit how much credit we may have so we don’t go and buy something just because we want it? The way you live in your own home will be scrutinized and corrected. Think you can cheat? They have technologies unavailable to earlier totalitarians, and they’ll use them to mold us to their heart’s desire.They are putting X-ray vans on the streets from which they can look into your house and see if you’re just lolling about when you should be working out (in either sense of the phrase). Complain about it? They’ll know. They’re working on censoring your internet communications.

Let’s look at an example of government interference in our home lives, at one way our betters are limiting the choices we can make in small and necessary things.

Ed Feulner, president of that splendid stronghold of conservative principles, the Heritage Foundation, writes today in Townhall:

So, are you ready to comply with the federal government’s ban on incandescent light bulbs? Me neither.

Starting in January 2012, a little over a year from now, the phase-out begins. Simple, inexpensive lighting will become a time-capsule item. Compact-fluorescent lights, or CFLs — the bulbs that look like a twisted ice-cream cone (and won’t fit in many light fixtures where space is tight) — will become the new norm.

Anyone who has priced CFLs knows they’re not cheap. Supposedly they’re worth the extra money because they’ll last longer. That’s cold comfort, though, given the dull, unnatural glow that these bulbs throw off.

Worse, CFLs are full of mercury. If one breaks — and who hasn’t dropped a light bulb now and then? — you have an elaborate clean-up process ahead of you. It’s on the EPA’s website, and it involves evacuating the area of all people and pets, and using duct tape and damp paper towels to get everything up. (Go to www.epa.gov for complete details.) And no vacuuming, or you may disperse the mercury – which, after all, is a toxic substance.

So why are we making the switch? … The theory, of course, is that we’ll consume less energy. It’s all part of the green agenda. The same agenda that the president insists will produce scads of high-paying, earth-friendly “green jobs.” Tell that to the 200 workers in Winchester, Va., who are losing their jobs as General Electric closes its incandescent-bulb factory there. Or to the Americans who work in other plants that have been shuttered.

Yes, some jobs will be created, thanks to the ban. Unfortunately, those jobs won’t be here in the U.S. — they’ll be in China, where CFLs can be made cheaper. …

But at least we’ll be saving energy, right? Not according to a recent study sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. It found that energy use under newer “efficient” lighting will actually go up rather than down.

But their will be done.

One of the most profoundly troubling things about all this is that it’s being done to us so easily. Who is crying out against it? Even those who are aware that it is happening are not raising a hullabaloo, not threatening – let alone taking – action to prevent it. Christine Rosen, though she reports, explains, and objects to it, does not  seem appalled by it. Ed Feulner, a champion of individual liberty, says of the light-bulb diktat: “This whole affair is a prime example of bad ‘unintended consequences’ resulting from well-intentioned plans — plans imposed by devotees of big-government solutions for nearly every problem.”

Well-intentioned? Can no one see that what we are being subjected to, stealthily nudged into, is a subservience more absolute than Orwell visualized, or Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and Kim Jong Il achieved?

Or are these absurd comparisons? True, no cruel punishments, no forced starvation, no mass killings are written into the scenario. The program wears a smiley face. Its authors, the rulers, wish only the happiness of all mankind.

Didn’t they all?

Jillian Becker    September 28, 2010

  • This is an excellent post and a timely warning indeed.

    “Or are these absurd comparisons? True, no cruel punishments, no forced starvation, no mass killings are written into the scenario. The program wears a smiley face. Its authors, the rulers, wish only the happiness of all mankind.”

    There are two ways I see us losing our liberty. The first is through social collapse creating sufficient disorder that some strongman “bends” the Constitution a little and gets ahold of “emergency powers” that cross all three branches of government. What if, under a Congressionally approved emergency act, a president were to receive all the administrative powers of the speaker of the house, senate majority leader, and chief justice? “Just until the crisis passes, mind you.”

    The other way would be what you're alerting us to: The population is so distracted by reality TV that it doesn't even notice when the smiley faces eventually run everything…for our own good. Once government controls everything, then it only takes a change at the top for benevolent, soft tyranny to become the hard kind.

    • C.Gee

      Grim prospect. The emergency powers legislation is becoming less necessary. In the hands of Obama, the President's powers of executive order, czar appointment, recess appointment (and, no doubt, in due course, pardon), in conjunction with the agencies' power to regulate (see the EPA's assertion of jurisdiction over CO2) are sufficient to throttle liberty and due process of law. What bigger emergency is there, say the choice architects, than the threat to the health and safety of the people from obesity, global warming, predatory Big Insurance, chemicals – in a word, capitalism? And so the emergency Obamacare Bill is passed, in its way more insidious that an emergency powers act, because it is permanent. Its ramifications are still being explored and should create far deeper anxiety than did the Patriot Act . Thomas Sowell has an article in Townhall on Obamacare's regulation of the purchase of gold. The bill also imposes a tax on real estate transactions. More tyrannies will be found as the bill is actually read. Who will it be, knocking at the door at 3:00 a.m? The IRS, the EPA, the Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, Homeland Security. “Sorry, Sir, you've made the wrong lifestyle choice.”