Aside from all the pessimism in Prospect this month there is also a really interesting article on what Jim Holt, it’s author calls ‘soft paternalism’.
Remember how Ulysses ordered his men to tie him to the mast of his ship so that he could hear the song of the Sirens without being lured to his destruction? That’s soft paternalism. You know it’s the right thing to do – you just need a bit of help. Ban yourself from a casino. Tell the barman not to serve you when you’re drunk. Get your flatmate to hide your cigarettes.
All sounds quite sensible, but is it something for government? It may sound practical (and helpful) but what about the ethics of it? Why privelege the decision i make not to go get served at the bar later ahead of the decision i make to get served at the bar later? Which one carries more worth if they are both conscious and deliberate decisons? Are we in danger of government picking the bits of our personalities that it likes ahead of the bits that it doesn’t?
Difficult stuff but very interesting. If you’re not registered with Prospect read the original article in the New York Times here.