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So I’ve been thinking about the exchange yesterday. 

And a number of things occur to me.

The first is that the woman who wrote the book reviewed in the NYRB obviously had an agenda–she wrote the book specifically to outline that agenda.

The second is that I tend to assume that anything that is presented to me as social “science” research is an exercise in “proving” predetermined conclusions.

I tend to assume that because that has been the case in the vast majority of instances when I’ve gone and checked out study protocols, etc, after I’ve read the reports of findings that sounded…well, off.

No control groups.  Tendentious or ambiguous survey questions. Sampling error that’s more like sampling abuse.  The nearly universal  practice of conducting studies using volunteer (and sometimes paid) college student  sample groups under the apparent assumption that there will be nothing significantly different about the responses of such groups from that of the responses of, say, a collection of garage mechanics who never graduated from high school.

It’s things like that that explain why I don’t get terribly upset when I hear that Republicans have managed to get a federal law passed forbidding federal funding  for social “science” research.

I mean, good for them.

But what I think is much more important is that this book, as reviewed–and even some of the statements of the reviewer, who isn’t really entirely happy with the ideas–

This book as reviewed seems to me to be one  more volley in the seemingly endless war to redefine human beings in a way that will make oligarchy–real oligarchy, not the imagined “corporations are evil” variety–respectable again.

In spite of the theoretically addictive nature of junk food, I find that I can take it or leave it, and if I decided I want to leave it, nobody can force me to take it.

The government can force me to take it if I don’t want to buy insurance from insurance companies or if I don’t want to pay for insurance that subsidizes “mental health” “benefits.”

The assumption of the book as reviewed are breathtaking,  if you think about it.

Rights, which were originally assumed to inhere in the person irrespective of his mental abilities, moral virtue, level of education, or anything else are, in works like these, simply presumed to need to be earned.

You get a right to make your own decisions IF  you use that right “responsibly,” meaning in the ways the people administrating rights belive to be acceptable.

But such a thing is not a right.  It’s a privelege granted to you by the people who control priveleges, which in this case would be members of the educated upper  middle class.

And–surprise!  surprise!–what these people mean by living “responsibly” and in accord with “scientific evidence” is living the way they do themselves.

The class bias of all these things is even more breathtaking than the rest.

This was blatantly clear in Bloomberg’s attempt to ban “sugary drinks” over 16 ounces at restaurants and other venues in NYC.

A venti caramel Frappacino at Starbucks is certainly a “sugary drink” and way more than 16 ounces, but it was exempt from the ban because–because–

Because People Like Us drink those, and they’re obviously not bad for us because we’re thin…unlike those stupid, undisciplined slobs who blight the prospect of our beautiful city by walking around bulging out of all that size XXX spandex.

But you can’t be judgmental.  It’s not their fault.  They really want to be Just Like Us, but they can’t manage it on their own.  They can’t control themselves.

So we’ll “help” them.

Most of the people who champion this sort of thing call themselves progressives, but these policies and assumptions are not progressive at all.

They’re distinctly regressive–a return to the morals legislation and the definition of human nature that plagued both the Middle Ages and the Victorians. 

I know I’m not the first person who has noticed that what all this is–including that book, as reviewed–is a class war considerably nastier and more unforgiving (and more truly destructive) than anything involved in our arguments about the capital gains tax.

But the fact that this is going on, and not only on issues like this, seems to me to be the very worst news about the state of the culture.

But that’s a subject for another time, and I’ve got a copyedited manuscript to finish with.

Written by janeh

February 23rd, 2013 at 10:03 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Agenda'

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  1. I get irked with liberals for, having made the name itself toxic, deciding that calling themselves “progressives” was more to the point than changing policy. But at no point do they explain what they want to “progress” toward, or where they’d stop, so it may be deceitful but not dishonest if you’ll allow the distinction.
    And I’d have to say in an American history context, this is pretty much what progressives have always been. These are the Prohibitionists, the eugenicists and the inventors of the “living constitution.” Even when they’re on the right side, it’s usually for the wrong reason. They’re the people who pushed birth control because the wrong people were having babies, and who liked woman suffrage because they didn’t think immigrant women would vote. I’d say Teddy Rosevelt thinking he could re-write the rules of football because too many Ivy League students were being injured and he was President after all is very much in the progressive tradition. His present majesty would understand and approve the fierce urgency of now. So would every Child Protective Service in the nation.

    And, all told, progressives are about 2/3 to 3/4 of our political classes, and about all the places from which we get politicians, so the well is pretty thoroughly poisoned. I don’t say they’ll last forever. No political movement does, and this one feels like ’60’s or ’70’s Communism: there are lots more people riding the gravy train than there are true believers.

    But the crash when the whole thing topples over is going to be really, REALY loud, and I wish I had a safer place to watch it from.


    23 Feb 13 at 2:16 pm

  2. A wild thought about “progressives” and Mill’s harm principle. The principle is that the only reason to control a person’s actions is harm to other people.

    “Progressives” seem to take for granted that society should provide medical care. They also think that obese people require more care. Therefore, they can claim that obesity harms other people because it raises the cost of medical care.

    The obvious retort is that if I voluntarily assume a duty to help my neighbor, that should not give me the right to control my neighbor’s actions.


    23 Feb 13 at 7:04 pm

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