Saturday, 1 January 2011

False dichotomies, false presuppositions

We live in an era which has seen an enormous growth of the state. This was foreseen by the more prescient observers; Herbert Spencer, to name but one, whose book 'The Man versus The State' laid it all out, but his role was that of Cassandra. His warnings were not heeded, and 100 years of metastasising state power has erased in the minds of many the very notion that things could be different, of what freedom once meant, of the responsibilities and blessings that came from it.

Thus we arrive at this execrable document from the new government (new like a coat of fresh paint on the walls of a prison cell) 'Applying Behavioural Insight to Health', wherein we learn:
“There has been the assumption that central government can only change people’s behaviour through rules and regulations. Our government will be a much smarter one, shunning the bureaucratic levers of the past and finding intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves.”
Coalition Commitment, May 2010
Or, to paraphrase: A naked iron fist is not the only way. Sometimes it is better for the fist to wear a velvet glove. It continues:
Many of today’s most important policy issues have a strong behavioural component. From crime and anti-social behaviour, to education and health – our behaviours as citizens, parents and neighbours significantly affect the quality of our lives and that of others.

The Government can influence people’s behaviour in a number of different ways. Tough laws could be implemented, with fines for those who fail to comply with new legislation, and bans could be introduced that prevent people from eating certain types of food or engaging in particular types of activities.

But, as this paper shows, there are many options between bans and doing nothing – the false choice implied by some commentators. We can give citizens more or better information. We can prompt people to make choices that are in line with their underlying motivations. And we can help to encourage social norms around healthier behaviours[.]
This is a discourse between those that believe state power should be used to control us through violence, and those that say, hold on, we can get better results through more subtle forms of coercion. It is a discourse between those that favour 1984 and those that see Brave New World as the model. It is a discourse between socialism and interventionism.

Nowhere will you find any doubt expressed that the state has a right to impose its will on society, that is taken for granted. Everywhere you find the melding together of state and society. The first person plural is used with no distinction between the two. So you find; "our behaviours as citizens, parents and neighbours"; next paragraph you find; "We can give citizens more or better information". Blending these two sentences together reveals the absurdity. Next up comes the claim; "We can prompt people to make choices that are in line with their underlying motivations." What omniscience they claim!

The final defences of individual liberty are now invested with siege works. Everything material we once owned they already claim. Now they are coming for what's left. If they prevail, even to raise a quizzical eyebrow without first gaining permission will mark you out for further processing. Everything within the State. Nothing outside the State. Nothing against the State - that is the slogan they march below.

Hat tip: Calling England

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