|This was more fun to use as an illustration of ‘nudge’ than Cass Sunstein’s book|
This is part of a series of posts which tackles sexual ethics and debating strategies (but not at the same time)
There’s a (probably) apocryphal George Bernard Shaw story in which he approached an elegant woman at a party and asked, “Madam, would you go to bed with me for one hundred thousand pounds?” She was stunned, but, after a moment’s reflection said she would. Shaw then asked her, “Madam, would you go to bed with me for fifty pounds?” The lady, horrified, asked him, “What do you think I am?” “Madam, we’ve established what you are,” Shaw replied, “we are merely haggling over the price.”
I promise that was relevant.
What surprised me most about the response to Yuan’s speech, was the criticism that it was obviously hateful or impossible to deny something as central to your identity as sexual orientation. As a bisexual girl, I obviously disagree very strongly with Yuan on the question of homosexuality, but the reason I disagree is because I think there’s nothing wrong with homosexuality, and thus, no reason to repress it, not because I think that a person’s idenity is sacrosanct. And I’m surprised most of my liberal friends disagree.
Let me put it this way: I didn’t get a reputation for being one of the biggest soft paternalists in the YPU because I don’t like putting constraints on peoples choices, behaviors, and identities. People frequently don’t make the choices they would prefer to make (if they had all the data and the capacity to interpret that data), so I try to use policy to re-weight their options in favor of the ‘good’ choice.I don’t have a high level of intrinsic respect for the choice of someone who borrows from an abusive payday lender, because I’m confident that the choice is born out of ignorance and that the victim would change their choice if they knew more. I want to limit the ability of parents to homeschool their children without oversight, since I know a small minority of fundamentalists prefer to keep their daughters illiterate. That’s their clearly chosen preference, and sometimes a part of their idea of religious tradition, and I push against it because I think it’s bad for the girls.
Whether I try to change incentives through legislation or through cultural expectations, I’m obviously acting oppressively and being more than a little condescending… because I think I’m right and the stakes of the choice are high. Almost everyone likes to use these tactics sometimes, so what’s left is just haggling over the price.
Now, there are plenty of reasons why I shouldn’t turn to the state and legislation to rebalance incentives for some personal moral decisions, and I usually forbear and turn to other strategies. But that doesn’t mean my goal isn’t to get people to abandon their old choices or their old identity and try to adopt something better. The Christian ideal of dying to self to be reborn is a good one, and I know I need to find a way of pulling off that trick myself.
We can call Yuan out for trying to cast out the wrong things (and I will be doing that tomorrow), but it doesn’t make sense to attack him for saying not all parts of ourselves are good and deserve to be nurtured/indulged.