MLA lecture series explores government paternalism, happiness

Talal Ahmad | Contributing Reporter

This year’s University College Master of Liberal Arts lecture series aims to help students evaluate the theme of happiness, though many say it has been under-advertised.

Ian MacMullen, an assistant professor of political science at Washington University, dissected government paternalism, or the way in which the laws passed restrict public liberties, and its relationship to public happiness in last Saturday’s lecture.

“Paternalism is easy to define; it’s easy to talk about,” MacMullen said. “But it’s difficult to decide if any particular law is paternal or actually in the best interest of the public.”

MacMullen said that people are too quick to yell paternalism. He mentioned the fact that most laws that appear to have paternalistic motivations in reality do not.

He gave the example of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s wellness campaign in which he banned indoor smoking and large, sugary drinks. MacMullen questioned whether this law was a matter of public health or one that limited people’s liberties.

“It’s important to determine if a government is paternalistic and if in fact that should be challenged,” MacMullen said. “Some laws are to ensure the greater happiness of society.”

MacMullen discussed the way in which these government choices impact the overall happiness of members of society.

“America doesn’t care about the happiness of its marginalized citizens in fringe communities,” MacMullen said. “Such heavy-handed governing and unjust depravity of important opportunities and resources will affect the overall happiness of anyone significantly.”

The series, which has been running for a few years, focuses on key values such as happiness. The themes for the last three years were justice, mercy and tolerance.

Despite the fact that the lectures are free and open to the public, most Washington University students are unaware of them.

“I’ve never heard of the MLA lecture series. It seems relevant for college students, key values,” sophomore Dan Bromberg said. “That’s what we are here for, to learn how to be happy and learn how to be happy adults.”

University College senior Abd al-Rahman al-Nelsoni said that information about the series needs to be advertised to a larger audience.

“They are only getting the word out to a small demographic. I know about the Master of Liberal Arts program, but not the lecture series. It’s a great concept for intellectuals,” al-Nelsoni said.

University College junior Tina Farmer said that she enjoys the lecture series.

“MLA Lectures are fascinating…specifically this series because I’m interested in the diverse meanings of happiness,” she said. “When we talk about happiness as a study or philosophy, we tend to take a very narrow view that matches our own personal perspective or racial, religious, gender, ethnic-identified background. We need to work on broadening those perspectives.”

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