“Paternalism” is a term commonly used to refer to government interventions designed to control people “for their own good”. Although not a new idea, it has been reloaded in recent years: a growing trend in public policy field appeals to the use of behavioral sciences’ insights in the design of social interventions following paternalistic models. Libertarian paternalism is one of the most popular, recently developed approaches on this. Based on behavioral economics, it claims for a kind of governmental interventionism that does not collide with freedom of choice. The idea is to introduce simple designs for contexts of choice that do not alter significantly economic incentives, nor restrict the original range of available options — “Nudge” is the term coined to designate this kind of intervention. The claim for controlling groups of people in non-coercive ways finds its roots in the work of B. F. Skinner: he argued for the deliberate design of the culture, illustrating it in practices described in his novel Walden Two. Both these proposals have been assiduously criticized, primarily regarding ethical issues. Some of the most prominent criticisms denounce a neglect on the perils introduced by subtle, non-aversive forms of control. Lack of awareness provided by the subtle pervasiveness of “nudges”, or the taming of moods made possible by positive reinforcement, could help breed a despotic state, in which behavioral control technologies may be used for the subjection of people. The aim of this work is to explore and discuss some of the main arguments in response to these criticisms. Considering theoretical remarks along with tangible examples of policies based in the aforementioned models, I provide an assessment on the ethics underlying these approaches. While libertarian paternalists claim to provide ways for preventing wrongdoings by prioritizing the interests of the controlled, behaviorists could argue that cultural design may work precisely as an antidote for tyranny, by empowering lay people to exert counter-control. Clarifying the ethical aspect involved in both, “nudge” and cultural design, may be vital for these initiatives to be if not more widely accepted, at least adequately recognized for what they are and able to fairly push their vindications in the political arena.
Ethics is the cornerstone of Applied Behaviour Analysis. As behaviour analysts, our ethical obligations are not up for debate. They are spelled out in our code, which is enforceable. The Professional and Ethical Compliance Code provides practitioners a foundation for conduct that is in place to protect practitioners and the clients they serve. On January 1, 2022, behaviour therapists will be required to transition to the 5th edition Task List. It is imperative that we revisit the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code in order to be more culturally-informed, socially aware scientists to ensure our ethics meets our growing needs as well as the growing needs of our clients. Through our work at the Global Autism Project, we have had the opportunity of seeing how the stigma of an autism diagnosis affects families and the availability of services abroad has challenged us to think more deeply about the Professional and Ethical Compliance Code and engage in active problem solving when confronted with the challenges of working in another culture.