Thursday, January 03, 2008
There are many forms of totalitarianism, including: Communism, Socialism, National Socialism, Nationalism, Monarchism, Theocracy, Fascism, and Democracy.Paternalism, as I and others have noticed, is all over the place these days, so it should hardly be surprising that it played a major role in President Bush's recent banning of the incandescent light bulb. (HT: The Software Nerd)
By the latter I mean a dictatorship by the majority. Democracy is totalitarian in a special way, a way that distinguishes it from other forms: Democracy, at least superficially, allows vacuoles of freedom of choice while controlling the broad, context-setting conditions.
I see different species of Democracy. The one we are witnessing mostly now is what I would call Parentalism. All forms of dictatorship call for and require sacrifice of some individuals for the sake of others (the poor, the race, God, the fatherland, the proletariat, and so forth).
A distinguishing characteristic of Parentalist Democracy is that it also appeals to self-interest, in the same manner that a parent would say to a child: "This is for your own good." We tax you in order to subsidize science that will benefit you in the future.
Countering this Parentalism is very difficult for a variety of reasons. One is that it does superficially appeal to supposed self-interest. After all, every family has to make rules to keep the family functional, doesn't it? [bold added]
[I]t may be that those bulbs are worth more--because they last longer, etc. But some of those bulbs, like compact fluorescents and Philips' new "Halogena-IR" bulb, are already available. Currently they command all of 5% of the lightbulb market. That means that, whatever value proposition GE and Philips are selling, consumers aren't buying.If under the paternalism in vogue, we are to be treated as children by the state, we can expect some of our fellow "children" to behave just like the two-faced school kiss-up we all knew growing up: Take the "adult" side when it looks like one can game the system to his advantage.
What we bulb buyers needed, it seemed, was a little nudge. Or, if you want to be cynical about it, the bulb business decided to migrate its customers to more-expensive--and presumably higher-margin--products by banning the low-cost competition.
Now, I'm sure that Philips and GE and Sylvania all want to make the world a better place and so on. But if they can do so while at the same time getting the government to force their customers to pay 10 times as much for their products, well . . . did they mention that they're making the world a better place? The light bulb that costs 10 times as much does, it is true, last four times as long. But if you're a lightbulb maker, that's a pretty good trade.
If you're a consumer, you have to decide that for yourself. Except that, after the ban, you won't be allowed to any more. You just got traded up, forcibly, to a "better" product.[bold added]
This is exactly what the major bulb manufacturers who got behind this ban did -- except that the analogy breaks down as soon as one realizes that government can reign in abusive parents, but not so with a overly powerful "parental" state.
Furthermore, the trend will reinforce childish behavior by rewarding dependence on the government and penalizing all deviations from its rules. It will, in a sense, turn us all into a society of children, including the ones holding governmental office. There will be no one, as Juvenal might have put it, to "watch the watchers".
Paul Hsieh, commenting on this fiasco, noted the irony behind this ban.
Although I'm sure it's unintentional, I find it ironic that the environmentalists and the evangelicals are teaming up to extinguish Thomas Edison's traditional incandescent light bulb, the long-time symbol of reason and thought.The irony hasn't stopped piling on yet. We can now add an even greater, intentional one: Companies which owe their very existence to the independent thought of a great American have decided to weasel favors out of the "adults" in government rather than become (or remain?) independent adults themselves.
They cry "Lights out!" but their behavior only superficially resembles that of the adults they pretend to idolize, and for reasons that have nothing to do with fostering the kind of society that will permit them to exist on their own terms for very long. Were I not going to be caught in the fallout, I'd say it's time to make some popcorn.
Before it gets banned.