Here’s an argument for you:
People also have a lot of trouble dealing with probability.
Therefore, the State should look after them; it should tell them what to eat, what to wear, where they may live, which are proper thoughts and which improper, how to raise their children, with whom they may mate, and so forth ad nauseum. We should all lead the Life of Julia.
Convinced? Me neither.
What we have, in the new book Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism by academic philosopher Sarah Conly, is the combined product of preferential hiring, a lifetime of self-esteem-centered education, an ego run amok, a confusion of credential and knowledge, and a smugness and pomposity so colossal that they squeeze out all normal human emotion—a state of affairs guaranteed in a culture which prefers Safety Above All and which awards preposterous status to professors.
According to herself:
Against Autonomy is a defense of paternalistic laws; that is, laws that make you do things, or prevent you from doing things, for your own good. I argue that autonomy, or the freedom to act in accordance with your own decisions, is overrated—that the common high evaluation of the importance of autonomy is based on a belief that we are much more rational than we actually are. We now have lots of evidence from psychology and behavioral economics that we are often very bad at choosing effective means to our ends. In such cases, we need the help of others—and in particular, of government regulation—to keep us from going wrong.
This is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit. Rank stupid over-confident unadulterated solid-gold bullshit. Sorry for losing my temper, but now that they have come out into the open and admitted what they’ve always believed and discussed within the confines of ivory towers, it’s time to say enough is enough. If they’ve broken cover, they must be convinced that the balance has tipped in their favor and people are ready for widespread release of Mike Bloomberg-San Francisco-City-Council-like nannies. (See this post for a parody on Conlyism.)
Cass Sunstein, the pathetic-comb-over sporting nudge who favors nudging people to perfection over paternalism, reviewed Conly’s book and provided the wisdom that people are bad at probability. They are indeed; but Sunstein forgets that he is people, too. We—you and I, dear reader, at this blog—have demonstrated time and again the epidemic of over-confidence rife within academia when it comes to all things human.
Small samples, over-reliance on dicey statistical procedures, outright fallacies, wild extrapolation, unrecognized biases, group-think and drunken bandwagon behavior, the absurd substitution of politics for evidence, the lack of validation, the love of theory, theory, theory. The willingness to overthrow centuries of tradition—the only reliable, time-tested guide to behavior we really have—for experiments in living, for nudging people towards the proclivities favored by those in power, for Change We Can Believe In for the sake of change, for the wrong, false, and stupid belief that whatever the academic desires, everybody else should also want.
Paternalism is the dumbest idea to emerge from government-slash-academia (and now, really, there is no difference between the two: government provides the money for academia, and academia provides the bodies for government). It sets up in the mind of the paternalists a horrible us-them world view. We are smarter than you. We are different. We are better. We are more human, or at least more humane. We know what is best. We are right because we agree with each other. The ultimate argument from authority.
“Hey Briggs, if you’re so smart, why doesn’t the government hire or listen to you?” Why would they? No government will hire folks like me who tell them they should not hire folks like me; that is, that will tell the government that it should shrink in size and authority, that will whisper in the ears of powerful that their supreme belief in themselves is unwarranted and overrated. Only flatterers can gain audience, not dissenters.
No, it’s too late. The dreaded tipping point, of which we hear so much, has already been breached. Individualism is dead. Long live the State!
Incidentally, Conly’s next is “tentatively titled One: Do We have a Right to More Children?” Guess what her half-witted, a-mathematical, guaranteed extinction answer is?
I first learned of this most depressing book from Wesley Smith.