If you had to think of one city on earth where the rulers should not try to impose a standard of ‘good behaviour’, it would surely be New York. Who in their right mind would seek to sanitise this concrete jungle, to sedate the city that never sleeps, to demand conformism and obedience from the inhabitants of a place which, in the words of a popular tourist T-shirt, is known as ‘New York F**kin’ City’?
You’d be surprised. New York is currently governed by a gaggle of health-obsessed bigwigs who believe they have a duty to grab New Yorkers by the scruffs of their outsized necks and drag them towards lives of bicycle-riding, non-smoking, booze-avoiding, fruit-snacking conformity. City Hall, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is awash with that new breed of psycho-politician known as the ‘nudger’, who believes that he has the right to use psychological techniques and brute censorship to manipulate and ‘improve’ human behaviour.
No trans-fats, no smoking, no soda-pop. The city of plenty, the cultural capital of the world has been staked through the heart by yet another billionaire who thinks because he was able to make a lot of money, he knows what's best for everybody.
You wonder what drives people like this. I really suspect it has to do with living the easy life for too long. When you forget (if you ever knew) what it was like to worry about paying the electric bill, and what it's like to have to worry about just getting by in your own life with little time to "change the world." Or maybe it's just narcissism. Either way, Bloomberg has taken a great city of culture and escape and turned it into a Nanny State. Or as O'Neill points out, "nudged" it into a Nanny State.
The patron saint of this movement is one Cass Sunstein who wrote a book called "Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness." Sounds pretty, no? The general thesis of the book is that people are irrational in much of their decision making. Okay, I'll buy that. Thus, they need to be "nudged" by their governments to into making the right decisions. Ah, there it is! So it's not really tyranny where you'll be dragged out of your house in the dead of night and either locked up or killed for eating that last slice of cake in the fridge. No, it's the government protecting you from yourself. Hell, why not? We already have seat-belt laws, don't we? Drugs are illegal, right? So it's not like banning trans-fats or outlawing smoking in Central Park is really that much of a stretch.
This mentality fascinates me. We're born into this world with nothing, or so the song goes. Yet, the Bloombergs and Sunsteins of the world have made it so those that have yet to be born or even conceived are already carrying a massive financial debt. And once they emerge, they then must be protected from making "bad" decisions at all costs. This is why intellectually I've always been dumbfounded that Liberal Democrats are pro-choice. If anything, they should want as many babies born as possible to pay taxes and allow themselves to be nudged toward utopia. But I digress.
In my mind, this is the ultimately question facing America: Are we going to fore-sake our founding principles of rugged individualism and move toward a soft-despotism where we spend every waking moment trying to fight off the inevitable: death? That's really what it comes down to. Man's obsession with death leads many to spend their lives trying to outsmart the reaper, but it is a hopeless endeavor. Power-mad lunatics (i.e. the Anthony Weiner's of the world) use this desire for immortality to their advantage and amass power under the guise of creating good government and good society.
It's time to nudge back. Hard.