I agree with Brendan O’Neill. Calling it the “nanny state” implies that it’s essentially caring and well-meaning, in ways that nannies are supposed to be. “Bully state” is nearer the mark, because bullies aren’t in the least bit caring or well-meaning.
It’s such a forgiving term for the problem that we face today. It gives the impression that the problem today is that we are surrounded by bossy Mary Poppins figures pointing a stern finger at us for being naughty. It implies that the problem with the modern state is that it’s a bit patronising and whiny, always ready to snatch our cigarettes or booze from us or stop us from having a party. And that is a serious underestimation of what is going on.
What we have in the 21st century is not just an irritating, killjoy nanny state, but an utterly out-of-control bureaucratic imperative, an unhinged interventionist dynamic that has lost any sense of what areas of life it is appropriate for the authorities to intervene in and what areas of life the authorities should leave well alone.
We live under governments that relentlessly interfere in family life, in home life, in private life; governments which think nothing of telling parents how to raise their kids, or telling adults how to have sex, or setting out to reshape the masses’ behaviour and even our minds.
We live under a state that seems to think that individuals should have no internal moral life of their own. That isn’t quaint or eccentric or nannyish. We need to face up to the fact that the modern state has more in common with the Inquisition than it does with Mary Poppins.
If anything it’s really a technological, eugenicist state, engaged in a vast social engineering project. The goal is to create an ideal human type, that is smoke-free, alcohol-free, slim, fit, vegetarian, sustainable, low-carbon, environmentally-friendly, etc. This will be ‘progress’. And that means denormalising and demonising and excluding smokers and drinkers and tubbies and meat-eaters and anyone else who’s non-ideal in any way whatsoever.
It’s essentially a new variant of Nazism. It’s just (at the moment, anyway) a soft Nazism without selections and gas chambers, that uses rules and regulations and media campaigns to cajole and bully and shame everyone into conformity. But it could at any moment metamorphose into fully-fledged, genocidal Nazism because it’s underlying logic is essentially genocidal: it’s trying, after all, to get rid of undesirable traits. And when cajoling and bullying don’t work, mass murder will be the only remaining option.
It’s also a soft Nazism because it’s not overtly racist or homophobic. But this is just a temporary historical expedient, and when its true genocidal character finally emerges, gays and lesbians and Jews and blacks won’t be spared either.
Nobody should be too surprised at the re-emergence of Nazism and eugenics. It was all the rage barely a century ago, not just in Germany but also Britain and America. It was how most educated, progressive people thought. People like George Bernard Shaw. And it never really went away. It was never really dead. It just renamed itself Public Health or Lifestyle Medicine, and slowly floated back up again, like a blind and bloated corpse ascending from the depths of a lake, its distended right arm raised in rigid salute.
The new Nudge Industry, which makes the so-called “nanny state” look almost harmless in comparison, wants to use subtle, hidden “nudges” to help us all become better, slimmer, healthier, happier citizens. The use of such underhand nudging to remould the populace is built on the idea that people are so “systematically irrational” – in the words of a report produced by the Nudge Unit in Downing Street – that we must be guided like children towards better ways of living.
And how does the Nudge Unit propose to do that? Through becoming our “surrogate willpower”. One of its reports actually uses that phrase: surrogate willpower. I think we should all take a moment to think about what this terrifying phrase means. The suggestion is that people are so foolish, so fickle, so “systematically irrational”, that officialdom must become our minds; it must think and make decisions on our behalf; it must become our will.
It’s the Triumph of the Will all over again. Or rather the triumph of their will over everybody else’s will.
And what’s truly shocking (for me) about this new Nazism is that its ideology seems to have permeated the whole of British society (and more or less every other society as well) without anyone really noticing. So now we have a Eton-educated Conservative Prime Minister who has set up a ‘Nudge Unit’ whose goal is to cajole and bully everyone into conformity with some ideal. Clearly here is a man who has no regard whatsoever for freedom or democracy or conscience or any other traditional British values.
What we’re really witnessing is the unravelling of the Enlightenment itself. The Enlightenment was based on the idea that individuals should be free to carve out their own moral and spiritual path in life without being hectored, harried or “corrected” by their rulers.
Nevertheless Cameron is now busy lecturing the Russians, upon whom he wants to impose the collective will of the EU and US:
David Cameron last night warned Vladimir Putin his billionaire ‘cronies’ will have their assets frozen in London unless he co-operates with the probe into Flight MH17.
The Prime Minister vented his fury at Russia’s obstruction in a 30-minute phone call – the first direct contact between the leaders since the jet was shot down with the loss of 298 lives.
Not that Putin is any better.
MOSCOW, July 21. /ITAR-TASS/. Speaker of the Moscow city legislature says Russia’s federal anti-tobacco law is too harsh.
“The law’s goal is not to catch and punish smokers but to demonstrate that smoking is a bad habit,” Vladimir Platonov of the Moscow City Duma told a news conference on Monday.
No, Mr Platonov, you’ve got it back to front. The law’s goal is not to demonstrate that smoking is a bad habit (laws seldom ‘demonstrate’ anything); the law’s goal is to demonise and exclude and punish smokers. And you have rather a lot of them in Russia, I believe.
P.S. Sometime over the next 8 – 10 hours, Blog Stats (currently 999,589 hits) shown in the right margin, will likely record this blog’s millionth hit. I’ll award a maracanã (which means green bird in Tupi–Guarani) to the first commenter to witness it.