It is hard to argue with someone who talks about the collective responsibility of our society as a religious person who believes that we all do owe each other certain things. The key is that the law is not morality, and morality is not the law. The key is hearing the word “we” when someone is talking politics and realizing that the person you are speaking to wishes to force the choices of others at the barrel of a gun:
The big news out of New York City these days is Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s proposed ban on the sale of soda drinks over 16-ounces (about 1/2 liter) at restaurants, movie theaters, sports stadia, street carts, fast food chains, etc.
Bloomberg stressed that we have a responsibility to combat obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and that the government must consequently regulate what people can/cannot put in their bodies. Michelle Obama even came down to applaud the idea.
Last night I was out with a group of friends at a chic Soho restaurant called the Dutch, and we started talking about the soda ban.
One of them defended it, saying that ‘we’ have a responsibility to do something about the obesity problem in this country.
“Excuse me,” I asked, “but who exactly is ‘we’…? I certainly didn’t come into this world born with a burden prevent obesity. And I’m pretty sure nobody else signed up for it either.”
‘We’ is one of the most dangerous words in the English language, particularly when bandied about in Western representative democracy.
It’s a term often used when a politician wants to thrust a burden or obligation onto everyone else’s shoulders, but without being too direct about it.
‘We’ masks responsibility by pushing the burden to some nebulous collective like ‘society’ or ‘the country’ rather than directly to individuals. This makes things much more palatable.
For example, it’s easier to say “We have a responsibility” rather than ”You three guys– Don, John, and Bill, have a responsibility.”
‘We’ is disarming. It makes the stakes seems smaller, so it’s easier to achieve buy-in. And this is what makes it so dangerous… because in actuality, ‘we’ is code for ‘you’.
I live my life by the principle that human beings come into this world born free, born without obligation to serve another human being, a government, some political construct bounded by invisible lines… and certainly not to ‘do something’ about the obesity problem.
Simultaneously, government is based on the principle of awarding a small handful of individuals a set of powers that no human being should wield– the power to kill. The power to steal. The power to wage war. The power to control what we put in our own bodies.
Throughout our lives, governments use these powers to create artificial obligations and reduce the natural freedom that we were born with. It’s so commonplace that most people have simply become accustomed to it… hence only 30% opposition to the soda ban.
Such policies, however, fall on a very slippery slope. When government begins regulating X, the regulation of Y and Z will follow by extension.
This is how frogs are brought to a boil– slowly, deliberately, gradually, and grounded in good intentions. The real question is whether you want to be trapped in the same pot as everyone else.
Needless to say, the rest of the conversation didn’t go especially well; we debated endlessly over several bottles of wine, after which I reached an obvious conclusion:
People will either see the light for themselves, or they’ll become victims. Trying to change their minds is fruitless.