Bryan has already covered Mayor Bloomberg’s comments about there being “certain times we should infringe on your freedom,” and I would like to add to Mr. Preston’s short but sweet commentary. Who is it hizzoner believes he is referring to when he uses the pronoun “we”? Is it “we” in a government sense, where he and other political hacks think themselves our overlords, magnanimously allowing us some freedoms while infringing on others?
Perhaps he means “we” in the sense of a royal “we,” as in “we are not amused that you object to us infringing on your freedom.”
Maybe he is implying a kind of communitarian “we,” as in all of us collectively can place our boot on your neck if you as an individual do something we don’t much like.
Frankly, I think Bloomberg thinks of “we” the same way a British lord might have referred to his fellow nobility 100 years ago. “We” as in the ruling class. “We” as in “those of us who control your destiny.” “We” as in those who think themselves smarter, more capable, and more privileged to run the lives of the rest of us.
All for our own good, of course.
Along those lines, Sarah Conly writes in the New York Times: “Three Cheers for the Nanny State.” I began to read thinking it a tongue-in-cheek paean to Bloomberg and his insufferable pretensions, but was shocked to discover that, yes, Conly believes that “infringing on our freedom” is just a starting point. She is an assistant professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College, and is the author of Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.
Yeah — she goes there:
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 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. Some of us can drive safely at 90 miles per hour, but we’re bound by the same laws as the people who can’t, because individual speeding laws aren’t practical. Giving up a little liberty is something we agree to when we agree to live in a democratic society that is governed by laws.
The freedom to buy a really large soda, all in one cup, is something we stand to lose here. For most people, given their desire for health, that results in a net gain. For some people, yes, it’s an absolute loss. It’s just not much of a loss.
Conly absolves us all from personal responsibility, blaming the way our brains work for our shortcomings:
Research by psychologists and behavioral economists, including the Nobel Prize-winner Daniel Kahneman and his research partner Amos Tversky, 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.
It isn’t so much the loss of freedom as it is the gain for those who wish to control us. One more small chink in the wall. One more drip from the leaky faucet. And the soothing words of Dr. Conly, and those like her, telling us not to worry, to go back to sleep, it was only a nightmare.
Of course, 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, it’s not a good law. Making these analyses is something the government has the resources to do, just as now it sets automobile construction standards while considering both the need for affordability and the desire for safety.
Do we care so much about our health that we want to be forced to go to aerobics every day and give up all meat, sugar and salt? No. But in this case, it’s some extra soda. Banning a law on the grounds that it might lead to worse laws would mean we could have no laws whatsoever.
Is it possible that Conly is an alien who doesn’t know much about human beings? Paternalistic government never works, always overreaches, and will take away as much of our freedom as it can possibly get away with — cost-benefit analysis be damned. It is not about making the lives of people better. It is not about helping them make better decisions. It is not about anything good, or compassionate, or worthy or liberal. It is about control. If you want a “bias” to go along with those others, then Conly should add “control bias” as part of the brain’s autonomous functions.
There are some people with whom you want to sit down, talk with softly but passionately, and try to steer back to the path of rationality and logic.
Then there are people like the professor here for which you halfway wish the Spanish Inquisition was still in operation so that logic and rationality could be imposed in a slightly more vigorous manner. Clearly, this woman has ditched her true calling. She was born to be a slave, happy in bondage, grateful in servitude, and content in her groveling peonage.
Thankfully, Sam Adams wrote about characters like Ms. Conley and told them exactly where to go:
If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen.