The Random Yak

Put Down the Candy Bar and Step Away Slowly.

Filed under: Just Yaks,Yak Rants — Random Yak @ 1:47 pm on May 3, 2010

(On a tip of the horns to Slashfood:)

Legislators in Louisiana have rejected a pair of proposed bills that would have regulated “healthy” versus “unhealthy” foods and banned Louisiana residents participating in state food stamp-type programs (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) from using state assistance funds to purchase “unhealthy” foods.

Thank you, Louisiana, for taking an important stand on individual freedom and against the nanny-state ideology.

I understand that people don’t always make good choices about what to put in their bodies.  Or on their bodies.  Or around their bodies.  In fact, people make astonishingly poor choices every day, in such large numbers that it’s something of a miracle the human race hasn’t humiliated and eaten itself into oblivion. That said, one of the fundamental notions upon which the United States was founded was the idea that each person has the right to eat, sleep, think and work as he or she sees fit (with reasonable exceptions necessary to maintain public order and prevent literal suicidal/homicidal/maniacal tendencies).

In shorter words: if I want to stuff myself with M&Ms, french fries and root beer, in the comfort and privacy of my own home, that’s my right as a free, adult citizen of these United States.  If you don’t like it, shove off, skippy.

Now, I’m not saying these choices come without consequences.  If I do elect to maintain myself on nothing but sugar, peanut butter and booze, my health will probably suffer.  And yes, as the Louisiana legislator responsible for the bill pointed out, to the extent the state is responsible for my medical care, the state pays the penalty for my lack of foresight and/or common sense.

Wherein lies the real solution to the problem.

Sadly, it’s something the immoral have been telling us for decades:  don’t hate the player, hate the game.

In other words: if you want to take legal action to stop the high costs of obesity on Louisiana, address it at the state level – the same way the state deals with other forms of irresponsibility.  Crash your car too many times?  We revoke your license.  Eat too many candy bars?  The issue isn’t “ban the candy” – it’s force people to accept the responsibility of their choices.  Pay for the health care to the extent the individual is taking personal responsibility for helping to eliminate self-induced problems.  If the individual refuses to take the necessary steps to assist in his or her own recovery, the health care funds go away.

Now, before people call me out as an evil, heartless Yak, permit me to point out that states and health care companies do exactly this with other types of problems.  Had The Random Father needed a liver transplant during the last years of his life, he couldn’t have qualified for a donor liver because he had alcohol problems.  His refusal to control his behavior represented a choice, and it had consequences that he would have had to accept.  No action in life is any different. With freedom comes responsibility.

The problem, as I see it, is a change in the State’s attitude – one that mirrors a change in society as a whole.  The culture no longer requires people to take responsibility for their actions, and as a result, the state no longer pursues responsibility-based options for control.  Instead of requiring people to face the consequences of mistakes and poor judgment, the state steps in to take responsibility on our behalf.  “We can’t trust all of you to be responsible about soda pop, so none of you get one.”

Pardon me, but that’s third-grade thinking if I ever heard it.  Parents, teachers and those in authority do have a responsibility to watch out for the interests of children, the handicapped, and others incapable of watching over themselves – but once the rest of us reach adulthood, we have the right and the obligation to make decisions for ourselves.  And to live with the consequences.

Worse yet, the proposed Louisiana bill would have discriminated against the poor in a way I find abominable.  It’s difficult enough to grow up poor amid the general affluence of the mostly-upper-middle-class suburban population of much of the United States.  Harder still in a recession, where even “those who once had” are increasingly finding themselves among the needy and the “have-nots.”  To tell a responsible, active child that (s)he can’t have a soda pop because the state says poor people shouldn’t be able to waste their money on treats represents the worst kind of classism – the very kind that this country was founded to eliminate.  It reinforces a culture of dependency and draws unfair distinctions between rich and poor.  Yes, I know that’s not the state’s intention – the legislator just wanted to control those the state can control, and knows he can’t force the rich to comply.  But the “unintended” impact is just as real as the intended one, and in some ways even more dangerous.

You can’t legislate morality.  You can’t legislate good choices.  But you can legislate consequences – and that’s the place to start (and to end).  Educate people the best you can.  Make laws to enforce negative consequences for truly bad behavior.  Require personal responsibility, for a change.

But if you know what’s good for you, you’ll leave my candy bars alone.

2 Comments

  1. While I generally agree, I take a very slight exception with, “You can’t legislate morality.”

    It is immoral to steal, to commit murder, etc. While it is true that it is (probably approaching) impossible to coerce people via laws to protect property or human life, laws can be effective deterrents against theft and murder, if harsh consequences for violating them are consistently applied. Such “negative” laws effectively encourage moral behavior, at least to whatever degree strict, fair punishment for violation is equally enforced. An example? My proposal that States rewrite their laws to consistently punish drunk drivers who kill someone while driving drunk by dropping their own cars on them until they are a messy paste AND video-ing the executions and requiring such videos to be played in Driver’s Ed classes, bars, etc., would likely be effective in deterring at least some drunks from getting behind the wheel of a car–undoubtedly more than the weenie, unequally enforced laws we have now. Now, to pass the “cruel and unusual” bar, one would have to get such laws on the books in enough States and effectively argue that such punishment was no more cruel than the murderous drunks’ own actions–and press that button again and again until drunk-on-their-own-power judges had their chains jerked enough times to see reason.

    And in another vein, one can certainly “legislate morality” by legislating harsh punishments (dispossessing them and their families of all they own, perhaps) for judges who immorallysubvert the law and do not apply punishment for violent acts, for but one example, equally, regardless of race, creed, LEO status or color of money. (Lon Horiuchi, for example, is still walking around wasting oxygen, last I read. A major perversion of justice for which everyone involved in excusing his murderous acts should suffer… but won’t, because they are feds.)

    Legislating morality? Yes, notsoeasy, but legislating against IMmorality (such as the growing “feddle gummint” anarcho-tyranny) and equally enforcing those laws is a positive step toward a more moral society.

    Probably the most effective legislation to encourage moral behavior would be legislation severely limiting terms of office and benefits for legislators themselves. At the very least, it would limit the harm any particular legislators could do with their fundamentally immoral characters. (Sure, both moral, ethical, decent legislators in any given group would be limited as well, but then I’m being optimistic in my estimation of raw numbers who’d qualify.) Yeh, I have a dream…

    Comment by David — May 4, 2010 @ 11:33 am

  2. Although my scenarios fall a little short of yours (my penalty for drunks who kill behind the wheel is permanent revocation of driving privileges forever, no exceptions, in addition to other penalties) I do agree that you can legislate against immoral behavior to a reasonable extent. My statement “can’t legislate morality” (as you probably figured out) actually meant you can’t make people moral – or make good choices – through legislation. Less precise than I could be, perhaps, but I was in something of a mood. Usually am, as far as it goes.

    Still, I’m a fan of real-world, impact-causing consequences for inappropriate behavior, and for more clarity in the law when it comes to what’s really inappropriate and what’s just some left-wing bark-and-flapper’s idea of inappropriate. Case in point: start actually expelling the real bullies from the schools and cease penalizing some kindergartener who gives his female friend a hug. Fewer wasted resources and more real consequences could solve a lot of problems before they start.

    I’m also a fan of “making an example.” See, for reference purposes, Acts 5. Worked then, works now.

    Comment by Random Yak — May 4, 2010 @ 12:50 pm

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