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On Misreading Sunstein

imageMonday, April 16, 2012
by Tibor Machan

A while back The New York Times Magazine ran what amounts to a puff piece about Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein, President Obama‘s long-time friend, former colleague and one of America‘s regulation czars. It was penned by Benjamin Wallace-Wells, who is identified as “a contributing writer for the magazine and a contributing editor for Rolling Stone” magazine.

The essay was a decent enough account of Sunstein’s career and personal life but it focused only upon one of his significant and controversial ideas, namely “nudging” or “libertarian paternalism.” This is the belief in a system of government regulations that amount to creating incentives for people to do the right thing (as per how the government or Professor Sunstein see it, of course). Instead of coming down on what government considers objectionable or undesired human conduct with a sledgehammer, nudging works by setting up various tricks with which people are led to act in the way the government people intend for them to act.

Call it behavior modification or libertarian paternalism, the gist of Sunstein’s type of government meddling in people’s lives is to use a not very subtle program of Skinnerian stimulus-response (after the late Harvard behaviorist psychologist, B. F. Skinner), whereby what government officials want the citizens to do isn’t commanded but made the result of various prompters. Although Sunstein and his collaborators prefer the term “nudging,” it is a misleading idea since if it involved no more than that, one could just sidestep it.

Suppose my neighbor wants his guests to stop wearing shoes in his home, so he leaves bits and pieces of suggestions to them as they enter it that lead them to take off their shoes and proceed into the home only in socks. OK, but they need not visit him in the first place. So when they realize they’re being manipulated into doing stuff they don’t want to do – say, showing people the condition of their socks – they can just not visit at all or take some evasive action. There are numerous such situations in our lives, when those with whom we interact desire for us and try to induce us to act in certain ways and we can either comply or opt out.

With governmental nudging, however, we are ultimately being forced to comply with how the government wants us to behave. There is no escape. If we don’t go along, we could end up fined or even sent to jail. That is why it is called paternalism, since the government acts as would parents act toward their children over whom they have full authority. The “libertarian” part is a ruse – it comes from the fact that government tries to keep the citizenry in the dark about what it is doing, making it appear that one is making one’s own choices when one isn’t really.

Anyway, this idea is almost the only one associated with Cass Sunstein and with what he is supposed to be contributing to the Obama regime. The article does mention that he has urged government to go to court in support of animal rights but what it failed to do is mention Professor Sunstein’s most dangerous and vile idea, namely, that government is the source of our basic rights.

In the American tradition of law and politics, the foundation of these come from human nature. That is what the Declaration of Independence points out, namely, that we have equal rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – among others – because of our human nature. They are unalienable so long as we remain human!

What Professor Sunstein and his co-author Stephen Holmes claimed, in their 1999 book, The Cost of Rights: Why Liberty Depends on Taxes, is that “individual rights and freedoms depend fundamentally on vigorous state action” and “Statelessness means rightlessness.” This is the pre-revolutionary, pre-Lockean – and pre-Jeffersonian – idea that governments grant us rights; that there are no natural rights but mere privileges we obtain from a government – i.e., a group of politicians and bureaucrats – that can also promptly take them away. As Sunstein & Co. see things, it isn’t just for the protection of our rights that a government is desirable but the very existence of our basic rights is due to government! Instead of the citizens having rights that government is instituted to secure, all governments, like monarchs, czars, dictators and such, give people rights, which they can promptly take away at their discretion. By what right they do this is left entirely unaddressed!

That such a reactionary view should be held by the foremost legal mind in the Obama administration is worth full disclosure and exploration, something The New York Times Magazine essay failed to do. Never mind nudging or animal “rights” – those are small potatoes. What matters far more is that Sunstein and Co. believe the thoroughly anti-libertarian and indeed anti-American notion that government is the source of law and rights, not their administrator and protector, respectively.

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Soros Mouthpiece Calls On Google To Police “Conspiracy Theories”

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Stanford scholar wants search engines to flag global warming, vaccine skepticism as thought crimes

Paul Joseph Watson
Infowars.com
Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Former fellow of George Soros’ Open Society and current Stanford University scholar Evgeny Morozov has called on Google and other search engines to become thought crime enforcers, by providing warnings about websites that contain “conspiracy theories” such as the belief, held by a majority of Americans, that global warming is not primarily man-made.

Morozov, whose biography confirms him as a well-connected insider, decries in a Slate piece how the Internet is a useful tool for “People who deny global warming” as well as “the anti-vaccination movement,” calling on Google to provide a “socially responsible curated treatment” that would marginalize such beliefs by amending search results.

His solution is to, “Nudge search engines to take more responsibility for their index and exercise a heavier curatorial control in presenting search results for issues like “global warming” or “vaccination.” Google already has a list of search queries that send most traffic to sites that trade in pseudoscience and conspiracy theories; why not treat them differently than normal queries? Thus, whenever users are presented with search results that are likely to send them to sites run by pseudoscientists or conspiracy theorists, Google may simply display a huge red banner asking users to exercise caution and check a previously generated list of authoritative resources before making up their minds.”

Morozov describes the potential that such a move will be judged as Google “shilling for Big Pharma or for Al Gore” as “a risk worth taking”.

This represents a similar argument to Cass Sunstein’s “cognitive infiltration,” an effort by Obama’s information czar to slap government warnings on controversial websites (including those claiming that exposure to sunlight is healthy). In a widely derided white paper, Sunstein called for political blogs to be forced to include pop ups that show “a quick argument for a competing view”. He also demanded that taxes be levied on dissenting opinions and even suggested that outright bans on certain thoughts should be enforced.

Giving companies like Google, which has grown to virtually become the gatekeeper of the entire Internet itself and is already engaging in SOPA-like acts of censorship, the power to denote which political and scientific positions are acceptable and which are fringe “conspiracy theories” is an insult to free thinking and smacks of Chinese-style thought control.

Morozov’s argument is also completely undermined by the fact that the two so-called fringe “conspiracy theories” he forwards as being in need of Google’s thought crime control, skepticism about global warming and the dangers of vaccines, are views held by millions of Americans and are not “fringe” at all.

According to the most recent polls, less than half of Americans now believe that global warming is caused by human activity, a number that has been slipping for the past several years.

In addition, polls show that a quarter of Americans, some 75 million of them, believe that vaccines are unsafe and can cause autism. To characterize this as a minority conspiracy belief is like labeling Catholicism as a doctrine of a tiny fringe.

At best, views about global warming and the safety of vaccines can be described as being split, but to claim that skepticism over man-made climate change and the dangers of inoculations are “kooky” fringe conspiracy beliefs, as Morozov does in his article, is brazenly inaccurate and exposes the agenda-driven bias of his rhetoric.

This is further illustrated by the reader comments, which almost universally deride Morozov and attack his argument as being a thinly veiled demand for Internet censorship.

“The day Google starts doing things like this is the day I find a new search engine,” writes one.

“So, you are a supporter of internet censorship? Only of information that you disagree with, of course. So I assume Slate and NAF did not support the recent action regarding SOPA?” adds another.

Morozov’s rhetoric is merely one aspect of the wider move to turn the Internet into an echo chamber of establishment propaganda, drowning out alternative voices to the benefit of large pharmaceutical companies who make billions from selling risky vaccines and scientific bodies whose very survival depends upon the global warming myth being upheld.

It represents another effort to win an information war the establishment is currently losing, as Hillary Clinton herself admitted, by not just creating a new Orwellian Internet Ministry of Truth, as Bill Clinton demanded, but by ascribing this role to the very gatekeeper of the Internet itself – Google.

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Paul Joseph Watson is the editor and writer for Prison Planet.com. He is the author of Order Out Of Chaos. Watson is also a regular fill-in host for The Alex Jones Show and Infowars Nightly News.

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