Which is always dangerous.
[The post, by the way, concerned the issue of rationing health care, and while I disagree with both cassandra's and Leonhardt's take, that can wait for another day. This is about a line in his column that I'm sure he didn't even think twice before using.]
Here's the clip:
Today, I want to try to explain why the case against rationing isn’t really a substantive argument. It’s a clever set of buzzwords that tries to hide the fact that societies must make choices.
Notice the bolded section.
The problem is that, quite literally, societies don't make choices. This is a piece of rhetorical shorthand we use in hindsight to characterize the aggregate choices made by large numbers [or a leadership cadre] of members of a society. Picking this bone is not just nit-picking grammar, because there is an important philosophical point here.
During the 1990s through about 2008 the sales of gas-guzzling SUVs all the way up to Hummers seriously outpaced those of high-mileage sub-compacts.
Did that represent a societal choice to ignore the long-term consequences of short-term cheap oil, or global warming, or living beyond our means? No: those sales represented the individual, aggregate choices of millions of Americans for millions of different reasons, although polling and other research can--in hindsight--pick up some apparent trends.
Another example: since 1948 a disproportionate amount of our Federal budget has been parsed out to a small number of defense contractors, regardless of who the President was, or what party he represented, or even who controlled Congress. Did our society somehow choose to spend more on guns and less on butter? Or were key voting leaders heavily subsidized by the defense industry, the production of weapon systems distributed to key congressional districts, a steady stream of propaganda developed to insure continued funding, and pretty much any information to the contrary declared off-limits for public consumption? What exactly did society choose?
You should always watch out for that buzzword society or one of its synonyms ["the voters" or "the American people"], which are 99.9% of the time used to intimate that a small leadership clique [elected or not] has made binding decisions on behalf of society, which will be used to control the lives of all of us--the ones who dissent, and even the ones who were not aware that such choices were going to be made.
When somebody tells you that societies make choices instead of admitting that leaders make choices and enforce them on the rest of the body politic, they are at best unconsciously attempting to intimate that anybody who disagrees with those choices or that intellectual model of society is selfish and not concerned with the greater good.
At worst, they are consciously attempting to de-legitimize their opposition.