The psychology behind acceptance of the Nanny State

Every day we encounter a series of crises, either legitimate or fabricated, which somehow justifies the erosion of our natural rights through a new and fancy big government policy. Whether it's Washington's 'Cash for Clunkers' or government-installed CCTV cameras in our homes, the sheer audacity of modern-day legislation is disheartening.

I can't help but glance at my neighbors to see a hint of outrage in their eyes. Instead what I find are eyes glazed over with TV entertainment like 'Dancing with the Stars' or 'Master Chef'.

People just don't seem to question our political overlords. It is an Orwellian nightmare. What is going on? Are they stupid? Do they even care?

After watching an outstanding lecture on Predictable Irrationality by Dan Ariely, I think I may have figured it out.

One of the case studies Dr Ariely presents in his lecture is the difference in organ donation rates across different countries in Europe. Intriguingly, countries with similar cultural behavior and values had profoundly different rates of organ donation.

The reason for this divergence was finally found to be due to the check-box wording at the local DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). Countries with a high organ donation rate had DMV forms that asked the individual to check the box if they want to opt-out of organ donation in the event of a fatal accident. In contrast, countries with low organ donation rates possessed DMV forms that asked individuals to check the box if they wish to opt-in to donate their organs.

In both cases, individuals didn't check the box and ended up with two divergent results. Ariely concludes that this result was not due to a lack of compassion on the part of the individual filling out the form. Rather, an issue such as organ donation is quite complex and people were inclined to settle with the pre-decided default choice on the form. Ariely proceeds to cite many other striking examples of similar behavior.

In a political context, this finding would suggest that people who apparently don't appear to care about the erosion of civil liberties, actually do care. However, the issues appear too complex and difficult for one person to make a difference. Thus, these concerns are thrown into the "too hard" basket... the default road is taken.

Unfortunately, the default choice is a road to tyranny and total government intervention, where individual freedom is trampled upon.

So where does that leave those of us who disagree with this 'express elevator to hell'? The battle must be fought on several fronts, but I believe the most important one is in the intellectual arena. Apologetics for tyranny must be countered with the ideas of liberty. The all-encompassing power of the State must not be celebrated, but challenged with the reality of oligarchical rule.

In short, liberty and freedom needs to be the new black.