Three Cheers for Maternalism

Sarah Conly, an assistant professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College, is the author of “Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.” She wrote a fascinating op ed for the New York Times this past weekend:

Three Cheers for the Nanny State.

After delineating the ways in which we as individuals repeatedly trip ourselves up (cognitive bias, optimism bias, present bias, status quo bias), she reminds us that individuals are not completely rational; that there is no dignity in clinging to the illusion that we are. That the proper reaction to this fact is to help one another, not blame one another.

Public policy aside (though for what it’s worth I’m all for the ban on huge sodas), the resounding research conclusion that we are not always our own best decision-makers is striking, don’t you think?

We sometimes need somebody to tell us what to do. What to avoid. We need help. Often.

There’s this thing about being a corporate wife that I have neglected to mention but which is probably obvious: I have time. Lots of time. To think. About myself, about others who care about me. About decisions, about problems. So that I can figure out what to do. And what to avoid.

Here in my chair, with the kids playing in the next room (it’s spring break here) I’m thinking right now about the amount of time I’ve spent in the past year talking with other wives, processing events, mulling over dilemmas, offering solicited advice.

It’s a tremendous amount of time. Time well spent, but a lot of time, nonetheless. Who has that kind of time? Fewer and fewer people, apparently. I’m still one of those few. Maybe I need to make the most of it.

For now, though, I’ll make pancakes.

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