Giving Up on Freedom
I have been trying to write something about this for more than a week now, but there's so much I could say about it that I haven't been able to get started in the brief snatches of time I've had available. So I'm going to give up and just point you elsewhere.
The topic is a new book called Against Autonomy: Justifiying Coercive Paternalism by a Bowdoin College philosophy (I really want to write "philosophy") professor named Sarah Conly. You can get the general idea from the title, but you really have to read a few excerpts, and some comments from sympathizers, to appreciate the mad quality of her reasoning.
It's been apparent for some time that there's a growing impatience with freedom among progressives. They know what's best for us, they know how things should be run, and yet somewhere near half of the American public rejects their prescriptions, and many others simply ignore them. It's pretty frustrating to know you're right, and that in a rightly ordered world people like you would be running things, and yet be ignored. A certain number of such people are getting tired of waiting for the masses to see the light, and are beginning to consider the benefits of coercion.
Like a lot of scary people, Conly is not all wrong by any means. She begins, in fact, with the sound insight, understood by any Christian and indeed explicitly stated by St. Paul, that we often do not know what is really in our own best interests, and do not always do it when we know it. And pretty much everyone accepts that sometimes people have to be, at a minimum, forcibly restrained from doing certain things that they may want to do, otherwise known as crimes. But she seems to be talking about something much much more specific, and not about restraint, but positive coercion, and in areas which have generally been considered mostly private, such as personal health.
Most strikingly, what does she point us to as our means of knowing what we should do? Social science research. And what is the means she suggests by which we should be directed to do it? Government regulation.
This, you see, is where I have come to a mental stop every time I started to write about this: the idea that social science research, notoriously adept at proving anything and nothing, should be our authority is so deeply wrong from so many perspectives that I don't even know what to say.
So allow me to direct you to several posts by Neo-neocon, best read in the order they were written: first, second, third, and fourth. And I will leave to your imagination the kind of world Dr. Conly's ideas, widely adopted, would give us. We seem to be seeing progressivism in flight from liberalism, both classical and contemporary--perhaps an inevitable reaction against liberalism's excessive emphasis on personal autonomy
I'm obliged to note that since I haven't read the book I could be mistaken about it, but the quoted excerpts, and her own words, indicate that I am not.
It's this telling me what I can eat that is driving me over the edge, but, you see, when it's government healthcare, they have a right to tell you what to eat so you won't need so much healthcare. 8-P
Posted by: Janet | 03/12/2013 at 03:59 PM
Yes, exactly, that's one of the points I wanted to make in the longer post that I wanted to write. I think that's a foreseen though unemphasized feature of government-run healthcare in the minds of some people, like our professor here.
I first ran across that idea years ago, like 25 years, in an argument about smoking. One guy was saying that as long as he wasn't smoking around other people he had the right to do it, even if it wasn't good for him. The other guy said no, you don't, because your health care will cost society money, so society aka the government has the right to tell you you can't smoke.
There is essentially no limit to what this woman's views would permit. C.S. Lewis has a well-known quote about that, which maybe is quoted in one of Neo's posts, or in the comments.
Posted by: Mac | 03/12/2013 at 04:34 PM
That's funny. I started to write a blog post about that quote, or one very similar, after the conference last week, but I haven't gotten around to it. In his talk, my friend talked about "political leaders allied with scientists, especially social scientists, who want to control every facet of our lives." And he quoted Lewis from That Hideous Strength, "Let us not be deceived by phrases about 'Man taking charge of his own destiny'. All that can really happen is that some men will take charge of the destiny of the others.... The more completely we are planned the more powerful they will be." Is that the one?
Posted by: Janet | 03/12/2013 at 06:45 PM
That's very apropos, but it's not the one I was thinking of, which is about the way one could justify almost anything against a person if it's for his own good. Which actually I don't entirely agree with, but I see what he means. I would say that if you want to do something bad to a person, it's very easy to convince yourself that it's for his own good. That is, I think that in a case like that the impulse to mistreat precedes "it's for his own good."
Posted by: Mac | 03/12/2013 at 08:06 PM
One thing that happens is that people are very willing to enact laws that are for the good of the unenlightened but don't realize that those laws also could apply to themselves. So. they might think it's great for social workers to intrude into the lives of those they disapprove. but then the bailiwick of the social workers grows to include those who thought they were immune from interference.
Posted by: janet | 03/12/2013 at 08:21 PM
If these people start getting their way, maybe we can at least hope to see a few of them getting into trouble as well.
Did you know that Bloomberg's giant soda ban did not apply to giant sweet coffee drinks?
Posted by: Mac | 03/12/2013 at 08:37 PM
I just watched the video of an interview with her that's up on the home page of Bowdoin College's website. She comes across as more than a bit nutty, at least to me.
What puzzles and worries me, though, is that she's even being given an audience at places like the New York Review of Books.
Posted by: Marianne | 03/12/2013 at 09:31 PM
That's the same video that Neo included in one of her posts. And yes, Ms. Professor does seem nutty.
The fact that she's getting a good hearing amongst the elite is another thing I would have mentioned in the post I didn't write. Pretty significant. There are hundreds of books published by academics every year, if not thousands.
Posted by: Mac | 03/12/2013 at 09:56 PM
I've been having a FB discussion with one of Nick's friends who thinks it's completely reasonable for employers to be made to pay for other people's birth control. So much for freedom.
Posted by: Louise on the new 'puter | 03/12/2013 at 10:37 PM
I've seen several online discussions (using the word very loosely) on that topic, and "thinks it's completely reasonable" is a far milder view than many. "screams hysterically that the opposing view is theocratic misogynist fascism" is not unusual.
Posted by: Mac | 03/12/2013 at 11:00 PM
Well, she did say that the opposing view is judgemental (of course) and imposing religious worldviews onto people blah blah which amounts to theocratic. Also she intimated that the Church is misogynistic (without using the word). I told her I wouldn't tolerate people misrepresenting the Church.
Posted by: Louise on the new 'puter | 03/13/2013 at 03:25 AM
Could it be this?
"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies." (From 'The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment')
Posted by: Paul | 03/13/2013 at 04:45 AM
I know this may sound really dumb (and may indeed be really dumb) but while I have to love my neighbour and even my enemy, I don't have to be friends with him/her do I?
I'm more than happy to drift away from my irreligious friends these days (with a couple of exceptions). I just don't have the tolerance for their anti-Catholic and contraceptive mentalities any more.
Posted by: Louise on the new 'puter | 03/13/2013 at 06:19 AM
That's one of those frustratingly grey areas, weighing up exactly when and how 2 Corinthians 6:14 applies.
Posted by: Paul | 03/13/2013 at 07:50 AM
About the Bloomberg giant soda ban. Yes, I had heard that Starbuck's was okay because there was milk in the drinks. ;-)
Posted by: Janet | 03/13/2013 at 07:52 AM
So, I guess that means I could have a giant coke float?
Posted by: Janet | 03/13/2013 at 07:52 AM
I can see that question engaging the top legal minds in the country. Should you be allowed the milk/cream, or denied the sugar, caffeine, and carbonated water? Fortunately, we are well supplied with lawyers and judges.
Posted by: Mac | 03/13/2013 at 09:48 AM
That may be part of the quote, Paul. It's definitely the same basic idea, but I'm pretty sure I remember something specifically about there being no limit to what the benefactor could do.
Posted by: Mac | 03/13/2013 at 09:49 AM
Regarding your question, Louise, just at the practical human level it can be difficult for people with seriously different beliefs to be friends. There's a natural tendency to drift away, if not actively quarrel. With some people I can just avoid certain subjects, with others that's not so easy. Progressivism being often very much like a religion, the more devout and evangelistic the person is, the more difficult to avoid conflict.
Posted by: Mac | 03/13/2013 at 10:30 AM
Regarding your question, Louise, just at the practical human level it can be difficult for people with seriously different beliefs to be friends.
It is not that difficult if people conceptualize policy differences as derived from different and somewhat occult understandings of what is important or how the world works. It is difficult the degree to which people conceive of policy stances as indicative of your worth as a person or who let their character and personality problems intrude on every discussion. Conjoining the two are people who appear to have a substrate of personal resentments or insecurities or even arrogance which is expressed in the idiom of political discussion. (The stupefying hostility to Sarah Palin is one of the better examples of this).
Posted by: Art Deco | 03/13/2013 at 12:14 PM
Is this the full C. S. Lewis quote you were thinking of?
"Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
I found it here: http://quotes.liberty-tree.ca/quote/c._s._lewis_quote_e1e7
Posted by: Marianne | 03/13/2013 at 02:13 PM
Yes, that's it. It's that last clause that I was vaguely remembering.
Posted by: Mac | 03/13/2013 at 02:28 PM
This is also exactly what Flannery O'Connor meant when she said that government by tenderness (without Christ) leads to the gas chambers.
Liberalism is inherently tyrannical, and progressivism is a particularly virulent form of it.
Posted by: Rob G | 03/13/2013 at 03:05 PM
I think that was Walker Percy, in The Thanatos Syndrome. But Flannery might have said something similar.
Did I tell you I have Kalb's book? Haven't started reading it yet, though.
Posted by: Mac | 03/13/2013 at 04:10 PM
I think WP may have gotten it from FOC, actually.
Kalb's book is excellent.
I've also recently been introduced to the work of the Catholic writer David Schindler. I'd not heard of him before but I like what I've read so far. Very much in the liberalism-is-ultimately-self-defeating school.
Posted by: Rob G | 03/13/2013 at 04:30 PM
Schindler was at war with the pro-capitalism Catholics (Novak et.al.) some years ago. What little I ever read of his stuff was very dense and I didn't get very far with it.
Posted by: Mac | 03/13/2013 at 05:39 PM
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
St Francis De Sales said we should let it be known that we are attempting to live a devout life, in part so that those who really oppose our way of life will leave us alone to get on with living it.
We can't be completely isolated from others, but it's just as likely that the irreligious will be a bad influence on me as that I will be a good influence on them. At any rate, I find that I cannot be a very intimate friend with anyone who is fundamentally opposed to God's law. A companion perhaps.
Posted by: Louise on the new 'puter | 03/13/2013 at 06:19 PM