Monday, May 12, 2008

The Art of Authoritarianism

Author's Note: The author of this post is not The Devil's Kitchen

Via a round-up post at Liberal Conspiracy, I stumbled upon this (PDF) document, produced by the think tank Social Market Foundation.

The major thrust of this report, bearing the rather sinister subtitle 'The Art of Behavioural Change', is that people cannot be trusted to take charge of their own lives, and need big Daddy Government to do it for them!
"Government needs to adapt its learned behaviours if it is to be an active actor in helping individuals make the necessary changes. It needs to rely less heavily on the idea of the citizen as rational economic actor and absorb the lessons that behavioural economics has to offer." - Pg6

Later in the executive summary, the authors lament the objections of 'liberals' to Government interventions that they consider to be "clearly legitimate", using New Labour's smoking ban as an example. Never mind that there was significant opposition to the ban, nor that it has been to the detriment of pubs and bars.

They go on to make two still more astonishing suggestions in the space of one paragraph: That the British public has in effect endorsed this paternalistic interventionism by re-electing New Labour, and indeed that interventionism is a specific 'agenda' of our Government
"A number of significant developments have occurred in recent times to make government interventions that influence individual behaviours more palatable...We repeatedly voted in a government with an agenda that seeks to inform us about what is good for us and has adopted policies which seek to change the way we behave – parenting classes being a prominent example." - Pg9

As if the blue-rosetted alternative has anything even approaching an anti-interventionist 'agenda'? The shower of shits who gave us this dismal document themselves claim that they "work with all of the UK's main political parties". Doesn't that tell you something?

Much of the detail of the report is taken up by the advancement of the idea that people aren't 'rational' enough to make the sorts of decisions the Government wants them to make. I guess the people who make up the Government are, however, rational enough to make them for us?

This whole document is thoroughly symptomatic of just what is wrong with the diseased New Labour project. The SMF act like someone who has a hammer - intervention, either direct or by manipulation - and see everything as a nail to be beaten down by it. The idea that Government could step back and let individuals run their own lives as they see fit doesn't, predictably enough, get a look in.

Enough of the 'Art of Behavioural Change', already. If the Government continue the seemingly inexorable trend towards authoritarianism, with the implementation of the types of policies called for here, they might just find themselves confronted with a behavioural change decidedly un-anticipated by the likes of the SMF - A vote for liberty. Now, that's what I would call a 'rational' response.

10 comments:

Leg-iron said...

Well, good luck to them. I'm uncontrollable, always have been and always will be. They can set whatever rules they like and I'll take great delight in breaking them, in alphabetical order if possible.

The total ban on smoking - which isn't in itself illegal - was the height of silliness. Sure, ban it in places where the public congregate if you want, but it goes much further than that. Here, there are no smoking signs on the bus stops (which are one vertical panel and a roof. Not enclosed). You have to smoke outside or you'll be fined. Drop a butt outside and you'll be fined. I have a lead-lined pocket. But that's history now. It won't change.

This government wants drones - and that article suggests all the major parties want the same thing. Are we to have Borg-like implants next? Oh wait, that's already on the way.

Well, screw them. No to homogeneity. I planned to give up smoking a long time ago. The smoking ban keeps me smoking just out of bloody-mindedness. They can ban whatever they want. I'll do what the hell I like anyway (caveat: as long as it's not interfering with anyone else).

If they ban absinthe though, there'll be war.

Anonymous said...

They think of themselves a super-ego,
or conscience or something. You are
absolutely right.

We disappoint them. They want to punish
us.

If only there were a test that could be
applied at birth, to tell whether the child was likely to become a politician.
Then it could be flung into a skip, and
made into something useful, like fertilizer.

Silas said...

I've just had the displeasure of reading the pdf.

There's actually quite a bit of stuff that says the Government are approaching everything wrong as well, using the same "bad" thinking that they accuse the general public of.

It mainly sounds (to me, anyway, YMMV) terribly like an exercise in getting lots of money flung at some new quango to investigate new ways of making the public perform as "expected". Costly, long term analysis, no guaranteed results.

Interesting in parts, but a bit too psychobabble for its own good.

Would it be this part "that individuals should change their behaviour in these three* areas is little disputed (with the limited exceptions of climate-change deniers or extreme libertarians) and government has long attempted to intervene to encourage us to do so" that really grates?

* - being fat, being unfit, and not saving for a pension, although if you're both of the first two, then the final ones not going to be an issue, is it?

Ian_QT said...

@silas: I go into more detail about the "three areas" over at my place if you're interested in a bit more analysis.

Jones said...

Sooo, let me see if I get this right. We are like children who never grow up and so need all our important decisions taken for us? Utter bollocks. Treat people like grown ups, let them learn by their mistakes, and they will actually grow up. Treat them like kids and they will remain infantile and dependent.

Glad I've left. At least I was capable of making that grown up decision.

Mac the Knife said...

I'd just like to confront them with an automatic weapon (any calibre) I've had enough... :)

Alan Douglas said...

In 1997 when helping the Referendum Party I attended a speech by James Goldsmith in which I recall him saying that the whole EU is based on Hegel's principal that the people do not know what they want, and need to be told.

Curious how those MOST in need of control seem to be the ones doing the telling !

Alan Douglas

Mark Wadsworth said...

Hazel Blears set out the gummint's step-by-step guide to introducing the Surveillance State on the DCLG website yesterday (scroll down to the blue bullet points).

Tomrat said...

Of more interest on the social market foundation's website is this little nugget -

http://www.smf.co.uk/assets/files/SMF_REPORT_Abolition_10p_Tax_Band_28_April.pdf

Gotta love their cognitive disonance - rather than acknowledge that government taxation and profigacy has created the problems in the first place they start to field solutions along the same lines of thought adopted before; have a complicated problem caused by a chain of complicated solutions? Why not use more complicated solutions! Its genius - raise the minimum wage, pricing poorer workers out of the market, extend the fraud-ridden and corrupt "working tax credits" scheme, extending its complexity, chances of failure and intrusion into yet more lives and identifying certain groups as being equal with others (i.e. young child singletons with young childless couples); egalitarianism gone mad in a system that seeks to lower the bar for all.

Crazy, absolutely crazy

Anonymous said...

somewhat OT, but shades of things to come?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2008/may/13/web20.digitalmedia