Help! 4

Evil speaks, as so often, in the name of good. And as so often, in an op-ed in the New York Times.

Three Cheers for the Nanny State is by Sarah Conly, an assistant professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College who is also the author of a book titled Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.

In her op-ed she asks:

Why has there been so much fuss about New York City’s attempt to impose a soda ban, or more precisely, a ban on large-size “sugary drinks”? After all, people can still get as much soda as they want. This isn’t Prohibition. It’s just that getting it would take slightly more effort. So, why is this such a big deal?

Which makes us ask: If it’s so trivial why do it at all?

And we know the right answer: In order to exercise power.

These would-be totalitarians start with small things so you’ll get used to the interference in your private life, get used to them imposing their will on you.

Conly says:

Americans, even those who generally support government intervention in our daily lives, have a reflexive response to being told what to do, and it’s not a positive one. It’s this common desire to be left alone that prompted the Mississippi Legislature earlier this month to pass a ban on bans — a law that forbids municipalities to place local restrictions on food or drink.

Mississippi did that? Bravo, Mississippi!

Conly says:

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. …

A lot of times we have a good idea of where we want to go, but a really terrible idea of how to get there. It’s well established by now that we often don’t think very clearly when it comes to choosing the best means to attain our ends. We make errors. This has been the object of an enormous amount of study over the past few decades, and what has been discovered is that we are all prone to identifiable and predictable miscalculations.

Oh yes. We know about those academic studies. There are millions of them gathering dust. Each study was conducted and written up to prove something –  and lo! managed to prove it.

But did any sane person on earth really need “an enormous amount of study” to “discover” that we often go wrong in trying to achieve something?

Conly says:

Research by psychologists and behavioral economists … identified a number of areas in which we fairly dependably fail. They call such a tendency a “cognitive bias,” and there are many of them — a lot of ways in which our own minds trip us up.

For example, we suffer from an optimism bias, that is we tend to think that however likely a bad thing is to happen to most people in our situation, it’s less likely to happen to us — not for any particular reason, but because we’re irrationally optimistic. Because of our “present bias,” when we need to take a small, easy step to bring about some future good, we fail to do it, not because we’ve decided it’s a bad idea, but because we procrastinate.

Wow! Who’d have thought that people hope for the best? Or that they put off doing things they don’t much want to do? Where would we be without these revelations from “psychologists and behavioral economists”? However did humanity make out before they came along?

We also suffer from a status quo bias, which makes us value what we’ve already got over the alternatives, just because we’ve already got it — which might, of course, make us react badly to new laws, even when they are really an improvement over what we’ve got. …

The crucial point is that in some situations it’s just difficult for us to take in the relevant information and choose accordingly. … [So] we need help.

That help must come, she tells us, from laws, though we’ll be cross about them just because they’re new.

No, we’ll be cross about them because the purpose of law should be to protect freedom, and a law against the sale of large sodas does not protect freedom; it limits it.

Conly is not concerned with freedom. She’s concerned – really truly deeply cares, she’d have you know  – whether the soda is good for you or not.

Is it always a mistake when someone does something imprudent, when, in this case, a person chooses to chug 32 ounces of soda? No. For some people, that’s the right choice. They don’t care that much about their health, or they won’t drink too many big sodas, or they just really love having a lot of soda at once.

But – Conly says  – just because you like it, and may not be harmed by it, or know when to stop indulging yourself with it, doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be a law against it, because most people need to be forbidden it by law for their own good. It’s the age-old excuse for tyranny.

She reasons:

Laws have to be sensitive to the needs of the majority. That doesn’t mean laws should trample the rights of the minority, but that public benefit is a legitimate concern, even when that may inconvenience some.

So do these laws mean that some people will be kept from doing what they really want to do? Probably — and yes, in many ways it hurts to be part of a society governed by laws, given that laws aren’t designed for each one of us individually. … Giving up a little liberty is something we agree to when we agree to live in a democratic society that is governed by laws.

We emphatically disagree. We contend that each person’s liberty should be limited by nothing but everyone else’s. That is the individualist’s view.

But Conly is a collectivist. She says:

What people fear is that this is just the beginning: today it’s soda, tomorrow it’s the guy standing behind you making you eat your broccoli, floss your teeth, and watch “PBS NewsHour” every day. What this ignores is that successful paternalistic laws are done on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: if it’s too painful [to too many people], it’s not a good law.

You “do” a law. You experiment. If people are badly hurt by it, “it’s not a good law”. Which isn’t to say you repeal it.

Then comes her most fatuous assertion. Of what you should and should not be allowed to do, she says:

Making these analyses is something the government has the resources to do. 

What resources? A bevy of bureaucrats?

She says:

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.

That is to say, human nature. But though she uses the word “our”, she and her fellow statists do not believe they are like the rest of us. They know that they know, as we cannot know, what our ends ought to be, and how best we can get there. And whether we like it or not, they’ll see that we do.

She says:

The proper reaction is not blame, but an impulse to help one another.

“Helping one another” is the nice lefty way of saying “interfering in other people’s lives”. “I know better than you what’s good for you”, is the fixed belief of Conly and her fellow busybodies. To which impertinence the right and time-honored retort is, “Mind your own business!”

Conly’s college, where she teaches the virtues of totalitarianism, is critically scrutinized by Bruce Bawer in an article at Front Page. He writes:

If you want to see ideological lockstep and rinse-and-repeat brainwashing in their very purest form, it’s best to look to the small, elite liberal-arts colleges – preferably those that are located out in the middle of nowhere or in adorable little college towns where the colleges themselves set the local tone.

Case in point: Bowdoin  founded in 1794 … located in Brunswick, Maine, has just under 1800 students …

All of whom  apparently have a very high opinion of themselves just for having got there. Bruce Bawer quotes (from a recent report) a student saying:

“Our student body represents some of the most intelligent youth of the world. Bowdoin’s worst student is by far and away much more astute than the vast majority of humans.”

Bruce Bawer goes on:

Students are encouraged to see the college itself as … a small-scale model of the better, more progressive world they should strive to help establish after they graduate. …

At Bowdoin, as at other such colleges … identity-studies programs constitute no less than 18 percent of the curriculum. … [And] there’s a proliferation of student clubs based on group identity. Long lost is the idea that it should be an objective, when bringing together kids from a wide variety of backgrounds to be educated, to transcend such categories; on the contrary, the idea is to produce young adults for whom class, race, and gender labels are the very pillars of self-knowledge. …

Women’s studies, black studies, gay studies, transgender studies …

Bowdoin is not concerned with the inculcation of knowledge in its students, but with –

The inculcation of “knowingness” … [These are] ignorant students who have been trained to be smug and self-satisfied, to think that they’ve already got all the answers and that they themselves are the solution to the world’s problems. Why, after all, should they be eager to learn? Academic ideology has already answered all the important questions. Besides, it’s been made clear to them that there’s nothing in particular they need to learn. All of life is an elective. Course content is irrelevant; what matters is that you approach every topic with a reflexive, unquestioning belief in social construction, “social justice,” and “global citizenship.”

They are our betters, who will govern us tomorrow – if we let them.

  • donl

    Conly…since I’ve been banned for advocating violence against idiots…GRRR…I submit the following:

    I am reminded of the story of a young marine recruit, Wisnowski. He, Wisnowski, joined the marines and shortly after beginning boot camp he was ordered to stand in the doorway (go see the drill instructor, stand in the office entrance and get ready for punishment). Wisnowski squared himself in the doorway and reported, “Wisnowski 226 72 0987 reporting as ordered sir!”.

    The drill instructor (DI) looked up at Wisnowski and asked, “What’s with you boy. Can’t you sign your name? You’re supposed to fill in your whole first name, middle name last name on all forms…this too hard for you boy?”

    Wisnowski replied, ” Sir, I did sign my complete name. R is my first name, B is my middle name and Wisnowski is my last name.”

    The DI responded, ” Are you telling me your name is R…only…B…only…Wisnowski? Wisnowski replied, “yessir!” The DI gave him a “That’s all” and ordered him back to barracks. The DI then made notations on Wisnowski’s form and sent it back to command. And from then on R B Wisnowski was known as marine Ronly Bonly Wisnowski.

  • liz

    Funny how Sarah Conly’s thinking is a prime example of the way “our minds trip us up”. She’s a world class dupe of the left, but will never see it, because she’s too busy being self-importantly “smarter” than everybody else.
    It’s so much like religion, it’s stunning. That they are taught “to think they’ve already got all the answers and that they are the answers to the worlds problems”, and “to approach every topic with reflexive, unquestioning belief”.
    And they are going to impose their unquestioned beliefs on the rest of us, for our own good, just as the religious attempt to.

    • GTChristie

      “It’s so much like religion, it’s stunning.” Totally classic. I might steal that from you one of these days. (Well stolen is well said – LOL). You’re right about the cognitive bias too … goes hand in hand with the religion. Nothing I can add to that. –GTChristie

      • Jillian Becker

        Steal away, GT – just mention TAC as a source if you do. Glad you agree with what we say.