Sunday, January 17, 2010

Cass Sunstein: a very dangerous man

Cass Sunstein: I would say that he was placed on this Earth by aliens who wished to have the governments of the world enslave all of mankind prior to the alien invasion, but Cass'd probably have me taxed or locked up. Well, I, for one, welcome our new world government overlords; I’d like to remind them that as a trusted blogging personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their gulags and salt mines (at least we'd get the roads gritted).

The wife has written a severe fisking of a sinister gentleman called Cass Sunstein, head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the US.

You might have heard of him recently, for he is the gentleman who wrote about the best way to deal with conspiracy theorists.
  1. Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.

  2. Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories.

Sounds like a lovely chap! What other whacky ideas does he have? Fear not, Bella has extracted some of his bon mots...
‘Without taxes, there would be no liberty.’

‘Rights are meaningless unless enforced by government.’

‘There is no liberty without dependency.’

And there is no tyranny without sophistry. This man is now Obama’s sophist extraordinaire.

Sunstein’s Wikipedia page informs me, as well, that he is ‘known for’ soft paternalism and choice architecture: our old friend libertarian paternalism, advocated in Britain by Sunstein’s counterpart Julian le Grand...

Ah yes: I think that we remember Julian "smoking licences" Le Grand, do we not...?

Anyway, Cass Sunstein also co-wrote Nudge, a book that effectively lays out the concepts of "libertarian paternalism" and which has been heartily adopted by Call Me Dave's party of Tory wets, fascists and know-it-alls.

But, as the wife concludes...
I would like to note that Sunstein’s calls to ban ‘conspiracy theories’ if necessary are wholly inconsistent with libertarian paternalism, involving as they do not a nudge but an outright prohibition. A tax seems more in agreement with his philosophy of choice architecture, requiring people to ‘opt out’ of not holding objectionable opinions. But one has to wonder: if there is no liberty without taxation, what are we to do about a tax that directly suppress one of our fundamental freedoms? Is that liberty, too? Is not-liberty liberty?

Yes: it is the liberty to live as the government wants you to—how is that not the sweetest liberty on earth? For do the government not do all that they do in your name and for your benefit?*

Still, dear ol' Cass is the gift that keeps on giving and the lovely Bella launches into another happy-slapping upon the works of this latter-day J. S. Mill.
How does the average American twerp distinguish between false theories that public officials rightly undermine, and true theories that public officials undermine in the name of security? After all, public officials have been known to do just that. How do we know whether a public official is telling us the truth or lying to us? Perhaps Sunstein will tell us…

He sort of does, in fact, when he discusses the distinction between justified and unjustified false belief. For example:
… the false belief in Santa Claus is justified, because children generally have good reason to believe what their parents tell them and follow a sensible heuristic (“if my parents say it, it is probably true”)…

I posit that the belief (true or false) that politicians lie to the electorate is also a ’sensible heuristic.’ It has been known to happen rather more often than is comfortable to the electorate. Politicians wishing to disseminate true information to dispel conspiracy theories are caught in a trap of their own devising: they are the Boy Who Cried Wolf. People would be far more willing to trust the establishment if the establishment were more trustworthy, and if its members were not caught lying, misrepresenting, prevaricating, and peculating so depressingly often.

[Sunstein's] mistake is to lay the responsibility for false beliefs and conspiracy theories entirely on the shoulders of those who hold them, and absolve the establishment of any responsibility for the phenomena. Indeed, for Sunstein, conspiracy theories are a problem which government officials must solve, seeking out ways to promote the right sources of information and improve people’s ‘crippled’ epistemologies.

And isn’t that always how it is for people like this? The Herd have a pathology! Government must fix!

Until people like Sunstein realise that it takes two to tango, they’re never going to reach their solution, whether it be through nudging, taxes, prohibitions, bans, thought crimes or any other ridiculous measure that fails to take into account that public officials are part of the problem. So, the government wants people to believe the information it gives them, to trust them, to feel that society is open and transparent free? Public officials, I’ve got your solution right here:


Amen to that, frankly.

Please don't be under any illusions: Cass Sunstein is a very dangerous man. His declared aim is to tax or ban your thoughts—and he is an official in the US government.

He has also co-authored a book that David "Hug A Husky" Cameron seems to have taken on as a bit of a guiding light.

Do not expect the years ahead to be any more beacons for liberty than the last few decades gone. Do prepare to be very, very afraid...

* As long as you are not a suspected drug-dealer, fisherman, brown person, possible Muslim, banker, etc. etc.


Anonymous said...

Good post. Linking here:

CIngram said...

In this essay which you quote in part, he also asks these questions as an introduction to his argument:

In what sense is the money in our pockets and bank accounts fully "ours"? Did we earn it by our own autonomous efforts? Could we have inherited it without the assistance of probate courts? Do we save it without support from bank regulators? Could we spend it (say, on the installment plan) if there were no public officials to coordinate the efforts and pool the resources of the community in which we live?

Since the answer to all of them is clearly yes, it is hard to see why he bothers to continue. The fact that a man in so influential a position can consider answering no to those questions is, as you say, very worrying indeed.

Anonymous said...

I think you should probably read the whole paper before losing your collective marbles.

CIngram said...

I have.

Buy a gun and some good insurance and his whole argument collapses. Common sense and hard work are useful, too.

To say that vagrants 'shift for themselves' and that hardworking family men who sacrifice time, ambition, health and caprice to make what they can of life do not is quite ridiculous.

To suggest that free speech and personal property are rights given by government, on a level with free health care, is to fail to understand what it is to be human.

Chess is the child of its rules. Human life and society existed long before government. Government is the child of human nature, and taxes are the child of government.

This man is very influential, and is a fool. So he is dangerous.

chris edwards said...

I dont think he is a fool, evil maybe but not daft. we have a fight on here, perhaps the global warming scam can be a great help here as most members of the warmist cult are controlist leftists so it has become easy to see who we can trust.

tomsmith said...

Anon is correct, you should read the whole paper. Sunstein is specifically not advocating banning or taxing conspiracy theories*:

"What can government do about conspiracy theories? Among the things it can do,
what should it do? We can readily imagine a series of possible responses. (1)
Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind
of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories. (3) Government
might itself engage in counterspeech, marshaling arguments to discredit conspiracy
theories. (4) Government might formally hire credible private parties to engage in
counterspeech. (5) Government might engage in informal communication with such
parties, encouraging them to help. Each instrument has a distinctive set of potential
effects, or costs and benefits, and each will have a place under imaginable conditions.
However, our main policy idea is that government should engage in cognitive infiltration
of the groups that produce conspiracy theories, which involves a mix of (3), (4) and (5)."

Here is the paper:

* I do not agree at all with the proposals outlined in this paper, but it is more effective to argue against the actual proposals put forward by Sunsten than something you made up.

Devil's Kitchen said...


Thanks for that: I had seen it.

However, what you've quoted there is a list of proposals, isn't it? And in those proposals...

"(1) Government might ban conspiracy theorizing. (2) Government might impose some kind
of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories."

In the post above, I pointed out that Sunstein has proposed...

"1. Government might ban conspiracy theorizing.

2. Government might impose some kind of tax, financial or otherwise, on those who disseminate such theories."

And the difference is...?


tomsmith said...

It isn't a list of proposals in the sense you are presenting it.

Sunstein is listing the various things that government could do to counter conspiracy theorists, while the rest of the paper covers why he thinks "cognitive infiltration" (rather than taxation or banning) is what they should do.

PS I also emailed you regarding this, please ignore