Dr. Bob Centor has a nice piece today on paternalism. I like the way he reviews the various permutations and varieties of the concept. Reading it, I found myself continually reminded of something I’ve been saying for a long time:
The most cherished American right is the right to be stupid.
Americans have the right to smoke. In many states, they have the right to operate motorcycles without wearing helmets. American patients have the right to refuse lifesaving medical procedures, including vaccination and chemotherapy for curable cancers. Attempts to prevent people from being stupid are decried as “paternalistic” applications of the “nanny state.”
Many will say that one man’s stupid is another’s free choice. Assault weapons, health insurance, and fast food consumption come to mind.
Voting for shameless liars against one’s own best interests is also our “right.” Red state hypocrites who take many more federal dollars than they send to Washington are also allowed to spew forth whatever they want in their gerrymandered districts. It’s called Freedom of Speech. But they’re also allowed to gut school funding to flush science and history education down the toilet in order to limit any critically thought out response.
The real problem with the right to be stupid is that people who are smart are allowed to manipulate the system to enrich and/or empower themselves. Money is not speech, and yet it managed to purchase one of the worst Supreme Court decisions in recent memory.
Many things in this country are profoundly stupid yet completely legal. The scary thing is that by and large, those who founded our nation were actually pretty smart. Maybe they were under the erroneous impression that future generations would continue to value intelligence, instead of parsing their work to allow the nascent republic to descend into its current sorry state.
I repeat: The most cherished American right is the right to be stupid.