Jonah Goldberg discusses how the base philosophy of American government has changed. We are now ruled by people, like Barack Obama, who believe that they know better than we do ourselves what’s good for us.
Several times now, the president has endeavored to explain that it’s not that big a deal millions of Americans are losing their health-insurance plans against their will. The people who had plans they liked didn’t understand that the plans they liked were no good — they were the actuarial equivalent of trans fats, don’t you know? The fact that the people who held them liked them, thought they were good, and wanted to keep them doesn’t count for much, because the government knows best.
The president can’t say it as plainly as he would like, because to do so would be to admit not only that he lied to the American people, but that he thinks the complainers are ignorant about their own needs and interests.
The president’s more intellectually honest defenders have said exactly that. “Vast swathes of policy are based on the correct presumption that people don’t know what’s best for them. Nothing new,” tweeted Josh Barro, politics editor for Business Insider.
Barro’s fairly liberal, but I’d be dishonest if I said that he was wrong from a conservative perspective. The difference, however, is that conservatives tend to see government as a necessary evil, and therefore see policymaking with some humility. Liberals tend to see government as a necessary good, and see ordering people to do things “for their own good” as a source of pride, even hubris.
From a conservative perspective, telling people how to run their lives when not absolutely necessary is an abuse of power. For liberals, telling people how to run their lives is one of the really fun perks of working for the government.
You can see the frustration on the president’s face. It’s almost like the ingrates who refuse to understand that his were necessary lies for their own good are spoiling all his fun.
Dan Greenfield views Obamacare as a major landmark on our establishment elite’s route from Problemtown to Solutionville, and they are taking all of the rest of us along for the ride whether we like it or not.
You, sitting right there in your chair, watching these words move across your screen, are the problem. A problem 311,591,917 human souls strong.
You eat too much or you don’t pay enough taxes, you drive your car too often, you haven’t bought solar panels for your roof, you browse extremist websites when you should be browsing government informational sites for tips on how to do or not do all of the above. Most of all, you don’t understand what a great problem you are for the people running this country into the ground between the Atlantic and the Pacific.
They keep trying to solve you, but you don’t go away.
There is no neutrality when dealing with people who reject the very concept of opting out of a solution. There is no middle ground with people who don’t believe there is a middle ground, believing instead that every human on earth is part of the problem and can only stop being the problem by following their directives.
We confront the Great Solvers of the Human Problem who are determined to rearrange everyone to their liking. They began by controlling everything that people did. Now, they have moved on to controlling what people don’t do. If you live, if you breathe, if you stir, move your muscles, track moving objects with your eyes, then there are obligations imposed on you.
ObamaCare is one of the final declarations that there is no opting out. Even if you don’t drive, own a home, own a business, own a dog, or do one of the infinite things that bring you into mandatory contact with the apparatus of your government, you are committed to a task from maturity to death. Your mission is to obtain health insurance, and, in a system in which you become the ward of the government as soon as you taste air, it is the price that you pay for being alive.
In a free country, you are not obligated to do things simply for the privilege of breathing oxygen north of the Rio Grande and south of Niagara Falls.
But this isn’t a free country anymore; this is a country in which you get things for free. And there is a big difference between those two things.
Timothy Birdnow argues that the left’s recent efforts “to make football safer” are really expressions of their reflexive determination to eliminate competition and aggression and to emasculate America.
The liberal sports media has jumped on board. ...), and, ironically, they may well kill the very sport that puts food on their tables. They can’t help it; a scorpion stings because it is a scorpion.
It is in this current climate of pacifism (and that is the purpose of the campaign: to turn football into a more pacific game, thus removing another layer of America’s masculinity) that Illinois Governor Pat Quinn has signed a law mandating insurance for student-athletes.
The law says that a school’s minimum policy will cover $3 million in aggregate benefits or five years of coverage – whatever comes first – for injuries that total medical expenses over $50,000. The law includes public and private schools and state officials estimate that the cost of the coverage will be no more than $5 a student. Currently, some schools carry insurance for athletes, but it hasn’t been mandatory. The Illinois High School Association provides students with this catastrophic insurance for state tournaments.
First, one must ask why this is needed, since it will soon be the law of the land that everyone be covered by health insurance. I was under the impression that ObamaCare was designed specifically to fix this sort of problem. Why are schools in Illinois being made to pay for catastrophic health insurance when Mr. Obama, the product of that state’s political genius, has already addressed the issue? ...
This will kill many sports programs in poor school districts and likely in the lion’s share of private or parochial schools. Would a struggling Catholic school spend money needed for actually educating students on sports insurance? It will become a choice between teaching and athletics for many schools.
Of course, such would suit the educational commissars just fine. There has been an increasing effort by the Progressives to straitjacket young children. Sports are one outlet they have targeted, with an increasingly regimented and organized approach to what were once thought of as children’s games. Michelle Obama may say “Let’s Move!,” but she wants all movement under her watchful eye. Gone are the days of sandlot football, of a bunch of kids getting together for a stickball game or a spontaneous game of field hockey. Children now devote much of their time to thumb exercises as computers replace the athletic field. When children are allowed to play, they are wrapped up like mummies lest they get a bruise.
All this teaches a lesson to the children: private, individual action is dangerous and should be avoided. Life must be lived within the guardrails, carefully planned and safeguarded by society.
Even more distressing to the left is that sports started as a means of training for soldiers. That is why football is so appealing to America; it is a he-man sport, a vestige of the old America, where an association of free men stand together in battle. Yes, team effort is required, but there is also plenty of room for heroics, and the individual may make a huge difference.
But at football’s core is a physicality bordering on violence, and to the left, that is anathema—an atavistic impulse that must be squeezed out of our children.
So instead of a healthy game of tackle football at recess, liberals substitute Ritalin and maybe a good heated game of tag.
Consider the war against dodgeball. Progressives fret that it is traumatizing children and have been systematically banning the game. Why? Nobody ever gets hurt from dodgeball, but Progressive educators still want it gone. That is because of the actual acts performed in the game: one physically tries to hit another. The goal of the left has been to make physical aggression taboo; thus, dodgeball, which teaches children to be physically aggressive, must go.
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.
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.
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.
That’s what the government is supposed to do, help us get where we want to go. It’s not always worth it to intervene, but sometimes, where the costs are small and the benefit is large, it is. That’s why we have prescriptions for medicine. And that’s why, as irritating as it may initially feel, the soda regulation is a good idea. It’s hard to give up the idea of ourselves as completely rational. We feel as if we lose some dignity. But that’s the way it is, and there’s no dignity in clinging to an illusion.
La Conly’s argument (in both her book and this editorial) really boils down to the claim (based on behaviorist social science, no less) that people are incompetent, make bad choices, and have difficulty recognizing their own best interests. Therefore, Conly says these other people over here, the ones who attended Princeton, who have important official titles and positions, know better what is good for everyone; and you ordinary people over there, you dimbulbs and dufi, should be willing to surrender (just a little) liberty here and some other liberty there, when those wiser and better, and more prestigiously and officially placed, than you decide that it is time to lay down the law and tell you what to do, for your own good.
Speaking philosophically, I went to Yale (which outranks Princeton all day long), so I get to point out to Professor Conly that in reality, the behaviorist social sciences prove that our Mandarins, politicians, and experts are just as fallibly human as everyone else, and are also subject to errors produced by biases toward short-term satisfaction and unrealistic optimism, particularly—in their case—optimism about their own capacities, objectivity, and motivations. Platonic Guardians tend to think that they are being disinterested and only trying to maximize everyone’s well being, while all the while they are busily gathering greater powers and control over the lives and fortunes of others to themselves. The best political philosophers are those, like Jefferson and Madison, who recognize the fact that no one enjoys the kind of superiority of perspective which entitles him or her to prescribe to someone else what he ought to do inside his own private sphere of liberty.
The Washington Times makes clear that Hizonner is not actually referring to cases of civil war or national emergency either. He means, in fact, whenever we (the bien pensant class of busybodies) are convinced that we know best what’s good for you.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Sunday: Sometimes government does know best. And in those cases, Americans should just cede their rights.
“I do think there are certain times we should infringe on your freedom,” Mr. Bloomberg said, during an appearance on NBC. He made the statement during discussion of his soda ban — just shot down by the courts — and insistence that his fight to control sugary drink portion sizes in the city would go forth.
When the Mayor of New York provokes ridicule for his authoritarian overreach from representatives of the Confucian culture of Taiwan, it is clear that he has gone way too far. Happily, a New York State Supreme Court Judge agreed with the Taiwanese perspective yesterday, and blocked enforcement of Mayor Bloomberg’s soft drink edict.
Daniel E. Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
It was not for nothing that the late William F. Buckley, Jr. declared: “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University.”
Daniel E. Lieberman, a Harvard-educated Anthropologist who has managed to segue smoothly from his native social science to teaching Evolutionary Biology, won recent top marks in Scientism, the inappropriate and hubristic application of scientific theories to political and moral issues, when in a New York Time’s editorial last week, he informed readers that Evolution was voting in favor of Mayor Bloomberg’s soft drink ban specifically and government coercion in general.
Lessons from evolutionary biology support the mayor’s plan: when it comes to limiting sugar in our food, some kinds of coercive action are not only necessary but also consistent with how we used to live. ...
Since sugar is a basic form of energy in food, a sweet tooth was adaptive in ancient times, when food was limited. However, excessive sugar in the bloodstream is toxic, so our bodies also evolved to rapidly convert digested sugar in the bloodstream into fat. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed plenty of fat — more than other primates — to be active during periods of food scarcity and still pay for large, expensive brains and costly reproductive strategies (hunter-gatherer mothers could pump out babies twice as fast as their chimpanzee cousins).
Simply put, humans evolved to crave sugar, store it and then use it. For millions of years, our cravings and digestive systems were exquisitely balanced because sugar was rare. Apart from honey, most of the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate were no sweeter than a carrot. The invention of farming made starchy foods more abundant, but it wasn’t until very recently that technology made pure sugar bountiful.
The food industry has made a fortune because we retain Stone Age bodies that crave sugar but live in a Space Age world in which sugar is cheap and plentiful. ...
We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didn’t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them. [Emphasis added] We have evolved to need coercion.
Professor Lieberman neglects to explain how Evolution effectively draws the line between acceptable, desirable, and morally justifiable forms of state coercion, including taxes, regulations, and special paternalistic supervision of children, and even more effective and draconian measures, for instance, the Khmer Rouge marching the overweight urban inhabitants of Cambodia back into the country at machine gun point, aimed at “restoring a natural part of our environment. ”
He doesn’t offer any general principled account of why Evolution supports this and doesn’t support that precisely because he hasn’t got one. Professor Lieberman simply assumes that Evolution and Science (and Progress and the God of History) is embodied in the world by the consensus of people like himself, by the current opinions of the educated elite community of fashion.
One can find the scientific way of deciding things simply by reading the editorial pages of the Times.
All this, of course, is rubbish. The opinions and theories of Evolutionary Biology (let alone Anthropology) are anything but set in stone. Someone may discover next week the intense Neolithic cultivation of sugar beets in the Fertile Crescent. Medicine may decide that obesity is really caused by a particular gene, and that the specifics of diet play only a small role.
In the 1950s, Evolution would have decreed that you must drink milk to cure ulcers produced by the unnatural stress of modern capitalist life. Our latest information contends that bacteria are to blame and milk-drinking doesn’t do a thing.
More importantly, though, mere scientific facts are incapable of addressing philosophical questions of individual rights and the proper role and limits of the powers of government. Those issues have nothing to do with imaginary dietary teleologies and have to be debated on an entirely different level.
Scientism, the presumptuous attempt to misapply scientific theories or data in contexts in which they cannot possibly be determinative, is actually, I would argue, decisive evidence of bad education and intellectual incompetence.
It has been recognized for many decades now, certainly back to the 1960s or 1970s when Bill Buckley offered his famous apothegm concerning the faculty of Harvard, that there exists a tremendous and thoroughly alarming disconnect between our establishment intelligentsia and wisdom and common sense. Professor Lieberman is simply the most recent in a long series of wise fools.
James Lileks loses his temper about Mayor Bloomberg’s latest exercise in Nanny Governance.
A culture that redefines food choices as moral issues will demonize the people who don’t share the tastes of the priest class. A culture that elevates eating to some holistic act of ethical self-definition – localvore, low-carbon-impact food, fair trade, artisanal cheese – will find the casual carefree choices of the less-enlightened as an affront to their belief system. Leave it to Americans to invent a Puritan strain of Epicurianism.
There is some sort of paradox about the fact that you cannot have significant cultural resources without the critical mass of humanity provided by a great urban metropolis, but to live in a city with access to concerts, opera, and theater, you have to submit to living under the rule of crooks and nincompoops.
Several members of the quaint religious minority which shuns modernity ran afoul of the law in Kentucky by refusing to pay fines assessed for refusing to afix orange triangles to the buggies, claiming a religious exemption. They were jailed for contempt of court. Where is the ACLU?
If you can’t see an entire horse and buggy, it’s hard to see that an orange triangle is going to help you.
Mark Steyn tells us, describing the recent British riots and looting as the Welfare State’s logical dead end.
Her Majesty’s cowed and craven politically correct constabulary stand around with their riot shields and Robocop gear as young rioters lob concrete through store windows to steal the electronic toys which provide their only non-narcotic or alcoholic amusement. I chanced to be in Piccadilly for the springtime riots when the police failed to stop the mob from smashing the windows of the Ritz and other upscale emporia, so it goes without saying that they wouldn’t lift a finger to protect less-prestigious private property from thugs. Some of whom are as young as 9 years old. And girls.
Yet a police force all but entirely useless when it comes to preventing crime or maintaining public order has time to police everything else. When Sam Brown observed en passant to a mounted policeman on Cornmarket Street in Oxford, “Do you know your horse is gay?”, he was surrounded within minutes by six officers and a fleet of patrol cars, handcuffed, tossed in the slammer overnight, and fined 80 pounds. Mr. Brown’s “homophobic comments,” explained a spokesmoron for Thames Valley Police, were “not only offensive to the policeman and his horse, but any members of the general public in the area.” The zealous crackdown on Sam Brown’s hippohomophobia has not been replicated in the present disturbances. Anyone who has so much as glanced at British policing policy over the past two decades would be hard pressed to argue which party on the streets of London, the thugs or the cops, is more irredeemably stupid.
This is the logical dead end of the Nanny State. When William Beveridge laid out his blueprint for the British welfare regime in 1942, his goal was the “abolition of want” to be accomplished by “co-operation between the State and the individual.” In attempting to insulate the citizenry from life’s vicissitudes, Sir William succeeded beyond his wildest dreams. As I write in my book: “Want has been all but abolished. Today, fewer and fewer Britons want to work, want to marry, want to raise children, want to lead a life of any purpose or dignity.” The United Kingdom has the highest drug use in Europe, the highest incidence of sexually transmitted disease, the highest number of single mothers, the highest abortion rate. Marriage is all but defunct, except for William and Kate, fellow toffs, upscale gays and Muslims. From page 204: “For Americans, the quickest way to understand modern Britain is to look at what LBJ’s Great Society did to the black family and imagine it applied to the general population.”
The Telegraph reports that the French riot police are threatening to go out on strike to resist the French nanny state. The issuing of alcohol to men going into physical combat used to be a routine step during the ancien regime. France with its Catholic tradition ought to be more resistant to the pettiness of modern Puritanism.
The CRS (Compagnies Républicaines de Sécurité), which made its name quelling student demonstrators during nationwide disturbances in 1968, has always enjoyed a glass of beer or wine with its meals.
However, following photos of riot police drinking bottles of beer during Paris street protest, police chiefs have decided to put an end to the tradition.
They were wearing body armour and carrying weapons as they sipped from beer and wine bottles. Some were also smoking.
Didier Mangione, national secretary of the police union, said bosses were “trying to turn us into priests, but without the altar wine”.
“Nobody should object to a small drink on jobs,” he said. “CRS officers do not have any more or less alcohol problems than anybody else in society. They should be allowed to drink in moderation.”
While British police are strictly barred from drinking on duty, the French have traditionally been allowed 25cl of wine or a small beer with their main meal of the day.
It was normally served on an official tray and sometimes eaten in full view of the public, often outside riot-control vans.
“Our right to drink alcohol with our food is protected by the law and our members are very unhappy at being treated like children,” Mr Mangione added.
The CRS, which was formed after the Second World War to “protect” the Republic from internal threats, has always been renowned for employing particularly tough officers.
They are often seen bracing themselves for action on the streets of major cities like Paris, Marseilles and Lyon.
Whenever a riot is threatened in a housing project or outside a university, it is invariably the CRS who are called to mobilise. Their tactics involve responding swiftly, and often violently.
Mr Mangione said he would be making a formal appeal against the new rules to the police authority.