Friday, February 4, 2011

And the Award for the Silliest Article of the Week Goes to. . .

. . . "A Point of View: In defence of the nanny state" by Alain de Botton. The point of this strange collection of ramblings that the author tries to sell as "a point of view" is to suggest that you only become a mature human being when you welcome the attempts of others (in this case, the benevolent government) to infantilize you:
It is perhaps in the end a sign of immaturity to object too strenuously to sometimes being treated like a child. Why does the idea of a nanny state always have to be so terrifying? The libertarian obsession with freedom ignores how much of our original childhood need for constraint endures within us, and therefore how much we stand to learn from certain paternalistic strategies. It is not much fun, nor ultimately even very freeing, to be left alone to do entirely as one pleases.
The central idea here is nothing new. Playing the role of an eternal child is pleasant and fun. Who the hell needs to shoulder the burdens of adulthood, make one's own choices, and bear the consequences? Let's abdicate our responsibilities to somebody else.

The article offers two very strange arguments as to why the government (which is presented here as an all-powerful benevolent entity, which is truly God-like in its drive to improve the fallible and weak human beings) should "dare to exhort us to act well." The first argument is that religions have traditionally imposed a long set of rules and regulations on people. They even have rules about sex. To make this extremely complex idea even clearer to us, the childlike, unintelligent readers who need to be patronized at all times, the article here offers a photo of a kissing couple with the caption: "Religions have rules about sex."

The next argument as to why freedom from governmental intrusion is a silly thing to which one could aspire is the existence of advertisement. TV commercials and billboards exhort us to do bad things (here the author is kind enough to provide two ready examples of such bad things: eating crisps and buying cars), then there should be a competing source of propaganda (the government) to tell us to be nice and
forgive others, don't be mean about people you envy, dare to apologise, be slow to anger.
The author of the article never elucidates which government on this planet can convincingly promote such a message. Apparently, he believes that our childish brains are not ready yet for the information of such degree of complexity.

I think that everybody who has read this blog for any amount of time knows that I'm not a libertarian. Still, you don't have to be one to realize that the argument offered in Botton's article cannot withstand even the slightest scrutiny. Governments teaching people not to be mean and angry in order to counteract the deleterious influence of potato chips commercials is an idea that only a journalist who thoroughly despises his readers could have devised. If Botton's article is an example of the kind of paternalistic attitude he promotes, then I'll have to pass on it. Something tells me that most other people will also fail to welcome either Botton or the government assuming the role of morality police in their lives.


Pagan Topologist said...

BBC...well, England does still have a hereditary monarchy. Expalins a lot, doesn't it?

Jonathan said...

The UK is even more nanny-ish than the US, so his premise that governments are somehow too timid about telling us not to do what is not good for us is absurd.

Anonymous said...

This guy is a piece of work. He writes pseudo-intellectual pretentious hackery and when called on it by critics, this is how he responds:

Yesterday afternoon, the author Alain de Botton posted a comment to the personal blog of critic Caleb Crain, who over the weekend had written unfavorably about his latest book in The New York Times Book Review. In his post, Mr. de Botton told Mr. Crain that he had “killed” his book’s chances in the United States, and included the astonishing line, “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make.”


FD said...

Oh, crikey. I heard him pontificating on Radio 4 the other week - something about how museums are the new churches and thus ought to take on the role of moral custodians of the nation, I kid you not. Based apparently, on the idea that medieval religion and art galleries are like, totally the same because they both have pretty things in, and also people tend to be quiet in them. Of course, what he was really going on about was the so-called redemptive power of art, so the conflation of galleries / museums was very confusing, not to mention the fact that he didn't appear to have set foot in a museum for the last two decades judging by his idea of how they display artefacts. Utter tosh.

eric said...

I would like to think that de Botton's being ironic...but, I guess not. He's right to critique the "libertarian obsession with freedom," but not from this angle!

Clarissa said...

At first, I hoped that he was being facetious. Then, I realized that he was being dead serious. And then it became scary.

Anonymous said...

wow, for once I agree 100% with you.

I really really hate the idea of a "nanny state." I think it goes contrary to freedom of thought and self-reliance which are the two tenets I try to live my life by.

I especially detest people like the author of the article who feel the need to shove their nanny state into everyone's face. Kind of reminds of the society in "Brave New World" by Aldous Huxley.

el said...

When I read the article's name I thought "Finally!", then, after understanding what it was about, became very saddened. After reading US blogs, the last 2 paragraphs in the previous anon's comment make me feel bad not because I am for communism or tirany, but since words like "nanny state" & "self-reliance" are most commonly used to fight against health care for all, against regulating banks & industries (to prevent more oil spills, f.e.) In short, against democratic & welfare state policies I support (and am ready to pay taxes for).

Btw, "welfare state" is not a dirty word.
From wiki: "Welfare state can also mean the creation of a "social safety net" of minimum standards of varying forms of welfare."

If you're interested in health care in Israel:
The most important is:
Health care in Israel is universal and participation in a medical insurance plan is compulsory. Health care coverage is administered by a small number of organizations, with funding from the government. All Israeli citizens are entitled to the same Uniform Benefits Package, regardless of which organization they are a member of, and treatment under this package is funded for all citizens regardless of their financial means. According to a 2000 study by the World Health Organization, Israel has the 28th best health care in the world...

In addition to the uniform benefits package provided to all citizens, which provides coverage for basic and essential health care, every HMO fund provides their members with the option to acquire "supplementary insurance", which includes services and treatments that are not covered by the publicly-funded system