Chastened

Reader Court Merrigan, in a comment to last night’s post about New York State’s proposed “obesity tax”, quite rightly calls me on the carpet for likening the Paterson administration’s plan to the public-health policies of the Nazis. As he suggests, I ought to be able to make my case without resorting to such analogies — the point being that the Nazis represent such enormity of evil, such a moral black hole, that any argument or simile that comes within their event horizon is simply dragged down out of existence. Making comparisons to them is worse than useless: in terms of perfidy the Nazis are seen as not just enormous, but infinite, rendering any comparison with any scurrilousness before or since absurd, and utterly discrediting any argument that attempts to do so. He’s absolutely right: it was ugly and counterproductive, and I should have thought better of it.

So to David Paterson and his staff (and to any of you who thought my remarks were offensive and uncalled-for): I sincerely apologize. You are not Nazis, and I lowered myself by invoking their name to criticize your proposal — which was presumably well-intentioned, however frightening.

I do not apologize, however, for likening the proposed policy to Fascism, because it is exactly this sort of thing that is Fascism’s hallmark.

Court argues:

Simply put, we do not live in a level playing field where rational individuals make rational choices based upon perceived benefits and detriments. This is not a simple issue of personal freedom or choice. Rather, in the US we are showered from birth with advertising propaganda to buy sugary soft drinks AND we are hard-wired by evolution to prefer such drinks, wherever possible, so less tasty, more nutritious alternatives. Seems to me that a tax on sugary is just one attempt to level the playing field. Obesity is having a major impact on our country, one that we are going to pay for one way or the other. Just like cigarettes, (though admittedly not one quite as heinous), sugary soft drinks are an unnecessary, unhealthy product, that should quite rightly be taxed in order to help ameliorate its effects and discourage its consumption. I think this is a step in that direction, something that can be tried.

In other words, the supposedly “free” citizens who want to drink soda pop are not making a genuinely free choice; they are not, in fact, to be thought of as adults, fully responsible for their actions, because they lack the rational faculties to overpower the corrupting influences of advertising and human nature. It falls, therefore, to the State, in its greater wisdom, to impose a burdensome tax in order to coerce these helpless and ignorant thralls to live in accordance with the morally and nutritionally correct guidelines its experts have assembled, for the greater benefit of all, as we march forward, together, into a better future.

“All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state.”

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42 Comments

  1. the one eyed man says

    Do you think that alcohol should be taxed at the same rate as milk?

    Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:37 am | Permalink
  2. Malcolm says

    It wouldn’t bother me any (in fact it would reduce my cost of living considerably).

    I suppose, though, that I might be misunderstanding you; you might be suggesting imposing a heavy tax on milk. That stuff’s full of dangerous cholesterol, after all.

    Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:43 am | Permalink
  3. bob koepp says

    Why is it that “sin taxes” aren’t suggested to discourage such things as self-righteousness? After all, self-righteousness causes more misery in this world than virtually any “vice” you can name.

    Posted December 17, 2008 at 3:45 pm | Permalink
  4. Malcolm says

    Hi Bob,

    I was going to suggest that, but it seemed so self-righteous…

    Posted December 17, 2008 at 4:13 pm | Permalink
  5. Such public policies are not really the hallmarks of Fascism. They are merely the progressive tidemarks of demotic republicanism, of which Fascism is merely a particular case. (Mussolini’s slogan — “All within the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” — would hardly have raised eyebrows in the republics of the ancient world.) There are close familiarities, of course, between the policies of all modern public governments and Fascism, but only because, as I say, the latter is a particular case of the former. Yet now Fascism as a particular and viable form is gone. It is no longer as trendy as it once was, and is no longer seen as the progressive wave of the future. Buffoons strutting around in uniforms desperately trying to impart the impression of popular authority are not going to make it in republics that are even more jealous of authority than ever before. A much more viable and insidious form is “ordinary men” working for the “common good”.

    (This was a broadcast on behalf of the anti-democratic royalist party.)

    Posted December 17, 2008 at 6:09 pm | Permalink
  6. Court says

    I commented on the earlier thread that I didn’t know there was an actual law covering the Nazis. This is good to know, and thanks for pointing it out. Glad to read you took my point about the Nazi analogy, and now on with the discussion of the issue at hand.

    Now, I’m not suggesting that the free citizenry be prevented from purchasing soda pop – go on ahead, drink all you like. But in the aggregate, doing so causes public health problems. (I don’t think this is controversial, is it?) Therefore, just as if one chooses to smoke, one pays a tax to damage one’s health, one might also be required to pay a tax for damaging one’s health with root beer. Obesity is a public health menace that manifests itself in individuals. The state has an interest in trying to rein in such problems, just as it has an interest in trying to rein in, say, polio. I’m not sure a tax is the best solution. But surely it is one to be considered, and tried.

    I’m not saying people aren’t free, or even that they are not rational (although it seems manifestly obvious to me that the majority of people are clearly not rational most of the time). It seems disingenous to me to totally disregard the effects of a lifetimes of perfidious advertising and social environment upon an individual’s choices. If for the last 50 years hugely profitable corporations had been pushing pig-hoof juice in every conceivable way, then today we would be debating a tax on pig-hoof juice. The fact is, humans have various buttons that can be pushed, and the cola companies, along with many others, are very very adept at pushing them. Why deny this in favor of some fantasy about all people being totally rational agents utterly consciously responsible for their every decision? This, to me, smacks far more of a dogmatic philosophical position than some accusation of Fascism.

    (Note: I have a nice recording of Ray Charles doing a 2-minute Coke commercial following a rendition of America The Beautiful, if you’re interested.)

    Posted December 17, 2008 at 8:33 pm | Permalink
  7. Malcolm says

    Court,

    Believe me, I would never imagine that most people are rational, even part of the time. I do hold them to be responsible, however, and whatever the proper role of government may be — and I suspect we have broadly divergent views about that — it is certainly not to fill its coffers with our hard-won wages while coercing an ostensibly free citizenry into following whatever diet some power-besotted half-wit bureaucrat in Albany has decided we should be consuming. I am an adult, not a child, thank you very much, and if I want to damage my health, I’ll damage it as I see fit; I do not need the benevolent hand of the State deciding that henceforth I shall be poisoned with aspartame instead of corn syrup. Even leaving aside the utter stupidity of this proposal — as if the only cause of obesity were sweetened soft drinks, which is a palpable absurdity — it is insulting and offensive, and is not what government is supposed to be doing. I would like my government to secure the borders, enforce contracts, keep the peace, pave the roads, and perform similar essential services, and for those I am happy to pay a fair tax. But I most certainly do not need my freedoms usurped by a bloated State that seeks to assume the role of surrogate mother.

    Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:21 pm | Permalink
  8. Malcolm says

    Deogolwulf,

    Nice to see you again. I thought you might weigh in on this one.

    Yes, of course many of the classical states were just as you say. Indeed, it was as a gesture of continuity and solidarity with these traditions that Mussolini chose the fasces as the emblem of his movement.

    Given that the modern exemplars of this philosophy have indeed been the Fascist states (and their Progressive admirers and imitators here in the US, notably Woodrow Wilson and FDR), I see no reason not to apply the term here. “Ordinary men fighting for the common good” is simply the form that Fascism, as the heir to this ancient tradition, takes today; the uniforms are gone, but the ideas are roughly the same. We certainly still have the buffoons.

    Posted December 17, 2008 at 11:37 pm | Permalink
  9. Court says

    Malcolm, I think we do indeed have divergent views on the proper role of government, but this discussion doesn’t need to go that far. As you said, and as I said, you are adult, you can damage your health if you see fit. I reiterate, though, that this is a public health concern. Your action (or rather, your drinking of thousands of root beers over many years) affects me, when you have to receive expensive medical treatment owing to your behavior, and we don’t even have to talk about government here (I am assuming that, as a freedom-loving rationalist in good standing, you will pay 100% of the cost for your medical treatment through private means, with no help from Big Bad Govt whatsoever): my insurance premiums will go up. This effects me. I wish you wouldn’t drink so much Dr. Pepper. If a tax will cause you to drink less, hurrah.

    Again, I think you are not acknowledging the actual manifestation of this public health issue. Your pejorative comments about power-crazed bureaucrats in Albany strike me as a strange caricature; I suspect the real power-crazed bureaucrats in America reside in the bowels of multinational corporations that peddle poison under the guise of a ‘free market.’ I find it strange that a freedom-lover will froth at the mouth of the prospect of a luxury tax (for what is cola, if not a luxury?) but remain silent in the face of some real offenders of freedom, corporations that place insidious advertising in our brains from birth on. Why are you not so righteously outraged at Coca-Cola? Do they not subvert our freedom of choice by their nonstop barrage of advertisement, so that consumers, responding to cues that have evolved over billions of years to keep us alive on the primordial savannah, will respond hungrily to yet another offer of sugary refreshment?

    In short – and perhaps this goes beyond the bounds of this discussion – why the stale old rehash of an attack on the Nanny State? Why not look to the actual situation, and the findings of science, and the effects that such government tools as taxes may (I repeat may) have on righting the ship a little, on reducing obesity?

    An addendum, which I add without citing sources for lack of time: In Thailand, where I live, as recently as 10 years ago obesity among children was almost unheard of. Now little porkers are everywhere; a huge percentage of Thai children are now obese. The main culprit? You guessed it: western-style fast food, particularly sugary soft drinks. A whole nation’s health is being poisoned almost overnight so that a new market can be exploited (quite literally). Do you really think the real problem here is state bureaucrats in Albany?

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 12:55 am | Permalink
  10. Court says

    Also, this topic really got my brain churning, so, as it turns out, I wrote more about it here.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 2:53 am | Permalink
  11. Malcolm says

    Well, Court, that’s why I toil away here night after night: to get brains churning, particularly my own.

    Curiously, I too have been exposed to all sorts of advertising all my life, and yet I only partake of the things I enjoy. I don’t drink soda pop, because I don’t like it. If I did like it, I’d want to be able to make up my own mind as to whether I drank it or or not, rather than having to ask the Governor’s permission. (That’s one of the privileges, it seems to me, of being an adult in an ostensibly free society.) If, on the other hand, children in Thailand are becoming obese because they are now drinking too much of the stuff, then here’s an idea: maybe, rather than calling on government to infringe the rights of people who are not children, their parents should simply forbid them to drink it!

    Likewise, if I have come up with a beverage that I think is delicious, and that other free citizens think is delicious, I think that we ought to be able to come to an arrangement whereby I make the stuff for them, and they pay me a fair price for my efforts, without Big Brother, or David Paterson, getting in the way.

    What you are saying instead is that we are all incompetent to decide for ourselves what is good for us, and too weak to resist the temptations dangled before us by nasty, nasty people who make things that we want so very, very much, but really shouldn’t be allowed to have — and so we need someone wiser and more grown-up to protect us from ourselves. This is more appropriate for a nursery full of mewling infants than a nation of free men, and it appalls me that anyone would so cravenly abdicate his autonomy and self-respect in this way.

    And that we should then willingly choose, in our servile and pathetic weakness, to appoint a gaggle of grasping and self-righteous “public servants” to curb and confine every detail of our lives, even down to our choice of beverages, for “our own good”, is beyond appalling; it is contemptible.

    Yes, it would be wonderful for the common weal if we all led lives of exemplary fitness and dietary purity, so that nobody’s insurance would ever, ever go up. If we are really going to get serious about that, let’s ban all fat, sweets, and alcohol, enforce mandatory Pilates classes, put a $100 government surcharge on trouser waistbands above 34 inches, and lower the national speed-limit to 35. I expect that some of the older folks might cheat a bit, but if we do the right job of educating the children in the absolute moral obligation of every citizen to eat exactly what he or she is told, in order to create a better world for all, then I’m sure we can count on the little tykes to blow the whistle as needed, during their daily reports.

    Have you no sense of dignity? Where will this end?

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 3:20 am | Permalink
  12. Malcolm says

    I’ve just read your post, Court, and I do not think we are likely to agree on this topic. My views are hardly as simplistic, nor as dogmatic, as you suggest, and while I am, I suppose, some species of libertarian, I am certainly no extremist (although I do recall it being suggested that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice).

    What we have here is an axiomatic difference about where the balance ought to be struck between collectivism and individual liberty. I think history teaches us that liberties, once given up, are rarely recovered — and that once you get used to giving them away, next thing you know they’re gone.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 4:30 am | Permalink
  13. Kevin Kim says

    You know, I was fine with the discussion as long as it pertained to root beer, a drink I despise. But then you guys mentioned Dr. Pepper, and now I’m fightin’ mad.

    DON’T TOUCH THE DR. PEPPER!

    Kevin

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 1:04 pm | Permalink
  14. Malcolm says

    Well, that’s just the point, Kevin. Who are they to tell you you can’t have your Dr. Pepper? This is certainly not what I want a government for, thank you very much.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 1:14 pm | Permalink
  15. JK says

    Court?

    Normally I would not dare step in such (given my limited skills) a pile of bull poop and so will attempt to keep my focus narrow. From your’s above:

    “Why are you not so righteously outraged at Coca-Cola? Do they not subvert our freedom of choice by their nonstop barrage of advertisement, so that consumers, responding to cues that have evolved over billions of years to keep us alive on the primordial savannah, will respond hungrily to yet another offer of sugary refreshment?”

    I’m uncertain what (or if) you imply when equating my (our) evolutionary path to a freedom of choice? I don’t think the mechanism applies at all to developed responses gathered on the savannah toward determining the differences among say, a hungry lion, a non-toxic fruit tree, an easily ignored bug, and definitely not anything from Coca-Cola.

    Now I admit, I’ve not been tramping about many savannahs of late but were I to-I hope I’d do what my evolved senses advised. Stay away from lions, nibble questionable fruit (or get somebody else to), stomp on bugs, and unless the usual savannah advertising suspects-in my case, a lithe lass with a southern accent, unaccompanied-I’d (hopefully again) exercise somewhat the same degree of discerning I would with the lion. But that sort of advertisement I’d likely fall for.

    In a nutshell, I guess I’ve been exposed to as much advertising from Coca-Cola as the next guy but to my knowledge, the beverage hasn’t passed my lips since oh, maybe 1972. Perhaps Dr Pepper-some recipes are known to call for it. But, like my falling under the sway of the “Georgia Peach” I don’t see how that would rise to the level of a “public health concern.” Certainly not for The Greater Savannah.

    Malcolm (et al) seems to mirror my thinking as to the limits (and necessary restrictions) on government where sin taxes are concerned so. Carry on.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 5:01 pm | Permalink
  16. bob koepp says

    I’m not a fan of Coke myself, or any of the soft-drinks out there — I much prefer fruit juices. And this despite my thinking that the Coca-Cola company has produced some pretty good ads. Still, I tend to be quite critical of advertising for many of the reasons alluded to by Court. And I tend to be even more critical of the professional psychologists who sell their knoweldge about how to push people’s “CONSUME” buttons.

    That said, I don’t think the soft-drink industry is nearly as vile as, say, pharmaceutical companies that persuade people they have diseases nobody ever heard of until Pharma stumbled onto forumlas that would “treat” said conditions. And even worse is the way citizens have been brainwashed into thinking that by participating in oaccasional circuses called elections they influence the course of public affairs. Right… and I’ve got this bridge for sale, cheap.

    So yeah, obesity is probably a bad thing. Getting everybody excited about it might even help to distract them from the fact that they’re being screwed big time by their benevolent handlers.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Permalink
  17. Court says

    Malcolm, I’m certain, after having followed this blog for a while, that your views are far more nuanced than simplistic. That is why I object to the sloganeering you are engaging in here. You have not responded to any of my assertions – is advertising at least partially responsible for our consumption of Coke? Is there a question of public health akin to polio vaccinations or a tax on cigarettes? Does the supply chain that gives you your Coke (although I see you don’t drink it) actually make a lot of the decisions for you, thereby lessening your ‘personal choice’ in the matter?

    Of course I will allow as that personal agency has a role to play – just choose not to drink the damn stuff if it’s bad for you. But surely it is overly simplistic and yes, dogmatic, to suggest that this is the only factor we need consider.

    I think also in your last comment you engage strongly in the fallacy of the slippery slope – a common enough tactic amongst those with, unfortunately, doctrinaire views. And again, I repeat – a real assault on liberties is carried out by corporations and advertising agencies, among others. I don’t see why they should get off the hook here in the name of some ill-defined “personal freedom”.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 8:18 pm | Permalink
  18. Court says

    JK, I’ll repeat: read Don’t Eat This Book. That would be a good start. Look, I’m no scientist, obviously. But from what I understand, we evolved as creatures hard-wired to try and suck up as much efficient nutrition as possible from our environment. It behooved us on the primordial savanna to get that nutrition as quickly as possible, before being eaten by lions and whatnot. Our basic genetic makeup has not changed in the 10,000 years or so of civilization, nor in the last 100 when Coca-cola has been available. (Though I understand this is now controversial among certain scientists.) To wit, then, once exposed (as inevitably in America you will be) to the sugary goodness of Dr. Pepper, your innate mechanisms of survival will cause you, subconsciously perhaps, though I’m not entirely clear on this, to go for such easily obtained “nutrition” again. And again. And again. Your DNA doesn’t know you live in soft civilization. Your DNA thinks (as it were) that you are still struggling for survival on the savanna, narrowly escaping starvation and mauling. The cola companies (among many others) have stumbled upon this mechanism, quite by accident. And they have been exploited it for at least a century. Now the state of New York is trying to right the ship a little. And here we have people screaming as though jackbooted thugs were forcing them to sign pledges of allegiance to El Duce. Such hysteria, such a trotting out of tired old slogans.

    Now, none of this proven, needless to say, as nothing is “proven” in science. It is just that there is a preponderance of evidence in that direction, and so it is rational to believe it. But of course all of the above is subject to change, if the findings change or, as is more likely, I have an erroneous understanding of the current scientific consensus.

    You see, that is the difference between me on the hand, and you and Malcom, on the other (at least in this instance, since you say you agree with Malcolm). My arguments don’t rely upon definitions from the Dictionary of Ayn Rand, er, Liberty. They are subject to change based upon new findings, new evidence, etc. Whereas your views, insofar as I understand them, are based upon rigid philosophical “principles” which not only don’t reflect the complexity of actual reality, but also contain first principles that cannot be changed without causing the whole structure to come crashing down. That is, I think, what we are really discussing here. And perhaps we will just have to agree to disagree, since I think we are rapidly approaching the point of no progress here.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 8:31 pm | Permalink
  19. Court says

    May I inject a note of levity? This is what happens when you are too fixated on your cola. (Scroll down to “Biggest Transformation from Douche to Kinda-Sorta Not So Bad: Bra!”)

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 9:02 pm | Permalink
  20. puravidachicago says

    Interesting discussion.

    My take: Governments are right in discouraging bad behavior that harms the greater good (soda-diabetes, tobacco-cancer). Gov’ts aren’t right in cracking down on victimless endeavors (prostitution, weed.)

    In the modern, industrialized and urban world, governments must work so solve problems that individual citizens can’t. Right now for instance, my city’s trucks are plowing my street; well done. The more people you live around, the more you need gov’t to solve problems (which, for me, explains the urban-blue/rural-red divide)

    Health care is a public problem. Health care is very expensive, and those expenses are eventually paid by the “public”; employers pass costs to consumers, the uninsured are covered by Medicaid.

    Soda causes diabetes (in part). Diabetes is astronomically expensive to treat – diabetics live for a long time and need amputations, prosthetics, etc. We all pay for this.

    So, when NY is in a pinch, they are right to tax increase taxes on Coke or cheese burgers. Not only does this fill the void in the coffers, it decreases diabetes. Almost everybody benefits, almost nobody suffers (libertarians are rich or if not, they can drink Shasta).

    Libertarianism is a great philosophy if you live on a ranch and churn your own butter. For everybody else, pay your taxes and shut up.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 9:45 pm | Permalink
  21. JK says

    “To wit, then, once exposed (as inevitably in America you will be) to the sugary goodness of Dr. Pepper, your innate mechanisms of survival will cause you, subconsciously perhaps, though I’m not entirely clear on this, to go for such easily obtained “nutrition” again. And again. And again. Your DNA doesn’t know you live in soft civilization. Your DNA thinks (as it were) that you are still struggling for survival on the savanna…

    Now, none of this proven, needless to say, as nothing is “proven” in science. It is just that there is a preponderance of evidence in that direction, and so it is rational to believe it.”

    I admit to occasional dim-wittedness Court, but I appreciate condescension whenever I can get it. That said, I admit, I’ve likely had some Dr. Pepper down the gullet subconsciously rendering me to get fat. (By the way, I hate to hear about the tubbies, last time I was in Thailand was some decades ago.) Anyway, I graduated high school in ’74 at 135. I now weigh 142. But I have been at 160 or so, when more active on “the primordial savannah.” Admittedly my cholesterol is high.

    I don’t consider myself as doctrinaire as you seem to declare, actually for a time my ex considered me pretty doggone pliable. I simply consider it not too whoopie an idea to have a bunch of regular guys like me (ok, they’re more financially sound-having been elected) to create a diet/soft drink/savannah calisthenics program pyramid, make me adhere to it, then make me pay for it. Well since it will be government the “paying for it” will be at the front of the sentence.

    But Court, I’ll not take up two seats on your airplane so, UNCLE!

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 10:01 pm | Permalink
  22. JK says

    Welcome to Smoke and Mirrors puravidachicago, realize, I’m not from NY, I’m from a place a bunch of people from Chicago are emigrating to, Arkansas.

    So. Why not just ban soda pop? Ban tobacco? Cars puff CO/2? That’s some unhealthy stuff, ban it! Some government scientists think your weed is unhealthy so… well for the most part that’s already banned. (And apparently the message of good effective government bans in the form of The War On Drugs is working as good as all the above proposed bans have.)

    So we’ll tax ’em. That will be certain to work about as well as the SEC, the PSC and all the other acronymistics have done at getting the Ken Lays and the Madoffs to eat smaller portions.

    Posted December 18, 2008 at 10:24 pm | Permalink
  23. Malcolm says

    All:

    Thank you for the stimulating comments. Time presses – and what is more troubling, I seem to have just left my glasses in a taxicab.

    Court:

    – “Slippery slopes” are not fallacies, they are very real. Just ask Franz Stangl. Or look at the history of fascism generally.

    – People living in a free society create various “supply chains”, with the intention of making a living by selling desirable products to other people. I am in no way coerced into consuming soda pop; indeed, I make a free choice not to do so, my savanna-forged genes notwithstanding. I would prefer to make my own choices as to what I ingest, rather than ask David Paterson for permission.

    – My free choice is, as you say, not the only factor involved here; of course some people are more susceptible to advertising than others. C’est la vie. The eternal truism that some people are stupider or more gullible than others does not confer upon the government the authority to limit the free choices of free men. I would rather be responsible for my own free choices regarding my diet, and my private life generally, than have the State make them for me. Wouldn’t you?

    – Advertising agencies most certainly do not limit my freedom; it startles me, again and again, that you are so eager to abdicate your responsibility. If I don’t want what they are selling — and I usually don’t — I simply don’t buy it. Try it sometime. It’s empowering. You don’t have to do what they tell you to do.

    – A “real assault on liberties”?? Nonsense. The agency that poses the real threat is a well-intentioned, progressivist government, which insists it knows better than I what is good for me, and is bloody well going to try as hard as it can to make sure I toe the line. Wake up.

    – Yes, we have various genetic predispositions. (Readers of these pages will know that evolutionary psychology is a major theme here.) The soda companies haven’t “stumbled upon” anything — as if it is some dread secret that we like sweets, or lust for sex, or think little children are cute, or tend to be gregarious, or want to believe in God, or any of the millions of other wired-in features that make us tick. This is human nature. People have been making, selling, and enjoying sweets, and sex, and alcohol, and God, throughout human history. Get used to it, and take some responsibility for your own damn behavior. Learn to control yourself.

    You are in charge of your own decisions. Don’t snivel, and don’t blame others, or your DNA, for your choices. It’s unbecoming. It’s childish and pathetic. If you are obese from drinking too much soda, that is YOUR OWN DAMN FAULT. I’m not, and I don’t want to be told that I can’t enjoy a Coke now and then just because others are too weak to take charge of themselves.

    Furthermore, I am sorry that you are going through some sort of painful Ayn Rand breakup here, but I have never even read any of her books, and am most certainly not engaged in mindless sloganeering. (Indeed, I find it rather offensive that you keep trivializing my defense of fundamental American political principles in this way.) You argue that the government’s interest in controlling the diets of its citizens trumps my freedom of individual choice, but you don’t stop there: rather more condescendingly — and, I should add, quite incoherently, as regards the distiction between natural facts and normative assertions — you attempt to seize the high ground of pragmatic science for your political opinions, dismissing any defense of personal autonomy as mere parroting from some “dictionary” I’ve never even read. Readers will know that I regard scientific inquiry as our preeminent tool for understanding our place in the cosmos, and unraveling its mysteries. This has nothing to do with that; it is a disagareement about what sort of government we want to live under, and where the boundary is to be drawn between the powers of the State and the liberty of the individual. You are welcome to sneer at the notion of individual freedom, if you like, and lobby for policies that flush it down the toilet: that is itself, after all, freedom in action. I, and like-minded others, will resist you.

    Puravida:

    – Yes, plow my street. That’s the sort of thing I want government to do. Don’t tell me what beverages I can drink.
    – Polio vaccinations are fine. They prevent a contagious disease.
    – Soda may cause diabetes in some people, if they refuse to control their intake of it. Why must all of the rest of us foot the bill?
    – “Libertarians are rich”? Is this supposed to be a serious discussion?
    – Pay my taxes and “shut up”? I think we are done, sir. Thanks for stopping by. Good day.

    I’ll be back within a day or so. Till then, slug it out amongst yourselves.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 1:41 am | Permalink
  24. the one eyed man says

    “Soda may cause diabetes in some people, if they refuse to control their intake of it. Why must all of the rest of us foot the bill?”

    I think Puravida’s point is that diabetes leads to health care costs which are ultimately born by society, and hence society has a legitimate interest in using taxes to discourage its spread.

    The same conflict can be seen in a different context. There was a ballot issue here in California a few years ago regarding whether motorcyclists should be required to wear helmets. The cyclists claimed that they had an absolute right to feel the wind going through their hair, and any limitations on what their riding gear was an intolerable infringement of their personal liberty. Their opposition argued that they didn’t want to be responsible for the collective health care costs when the bikers’ brains were splattered throughout the Golden State.

    Without taking sides in the soda tax — or, as the Times asked this morning, whether their should be a donut tax also — I think that there are instances when state power can reasonably be used to limit individual freedoms, with the helmet law (which passed) as an example.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 1:58 pm | Permalink
  25. Malcolm says

    Peter, I am not an extremist about this (nor about anything else, for that matter — though in this case I confess I do seem to hear the voice of Barry Goldwater murmuring in my ear). I agree, in general principle, that there are of course cases where the common good trumps individual freedom. Quarantining of those with dangerous infectious diseases is a good example.

    But there are those who wish to strike the balance far to the left of where I would place it, and this misbegotten proposal is an excellent instance. One telling point is that those on the left who would restrict freedoms to reduce the expense of the State take it as a tacit assumption that the cost of an irresponsible individual’s lack of self-control must be paid by the rest of us. Taking the view from the other extreme, one could fairly argue that as far as the U.S. Constitution is concerned, if you want to splatter your damfool brains on the highway, well, the rain and local fauna will take care of cleaning them up.

    Regarding the arguments already put forward, a reader emails:

    The mere notion that Coca-Cola has an International Conspiracies Division on Evolutionary Hoodwinking is… Well I don’t really know what it is.

    On a bright note, I have recovered my eyeglasses.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 2:14 pm | Permalink
  26. Malcolm says

    Let me clarify further.

    We need such things as building codes, because when buildings fall down, they injure innocent citizens. I’m all for the FDA making sure that the food supply is free of hidden poisons. A persuasive case can be made for mandatory vaccination. And so on.

    In short, I think it is a justifiable function of government to safeguard its citizenry from concealed risks, and to minimize the extent to which innocent citizens can be harmed by the careless or maleficent actions of others. With that in mind, I am all for the government’s taking an active role in educating the public about risks that they may not be aware of. For example, using tax dollars for funding a study to establish a link between excessive consumption of sugary drinks and obesity, and between obesity and diabetes, and then getting the message out so that people can make informed and responsible decisions, is just fine with me.

    To be clear about responsibility: the extent of our ascription of it regarding the choices people make depends on the information they had available. If you back your car over an infant who happens to have crawled from the neighbor’s house under the right rear wheel while you were parked in your driveway, we see this as nothing more than a horrible tragedy. If, instead, you knew that there was a baby crawling around out there in the yard somewhere, but didn’t bother to look, we hold you responsible for your carelessness. And if you see the baby there, but roll over it anyway, you are a murderer.

    Where I draw the line, then, is punishing responsible adults by restricting their access to things that people may injure themselves with if they use them irresponsibly. Let’s instead hold informed individuals responsible for the harm they cause to themselves and to others, and do our best to see to it that all are sufficiently well-informed to assume that responsibility.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 2:50 pm | Permalink
  27. JK says

    Hey Peter,

    I rather expected your weighing in sooner, I for one am glad to see you. Your arguments seem to tip the scale (in the rational/irrational sense) toward the credible side.

    Our own Legislature is mulling over the issue of helmet law just now but thus far seem to lean toward something similar to our vehicle licensing law. Here, we’ve enacted a requirement that in order to place a vehicle on the State’s highways, one must have liability insurance.

    The viewpoint is that “Sure, if one is a rational adult who wishes to risk road rash and braincase damage, by all means, go for it. But in order for you to go for it, your driver’s license must also carry an endorsement stamp showing that you individually and passengererarily, are also carrying sufficient insurance to cover the costs incurred in peeling your spleen smeared self/passenger off the highway surface.”

    As to whether Court’s insurance costs will rise in the case of some damfool Arky biker that isn’t carrying the policy but nevertheless manages to create an outline of himself and the deer he hit, I dunno. But I think I could support such legislative action.

    Who knows? This could provide an opportunity for the Insurance industry to team up with Coca-Cola’s advertisers and produce 60 seconds of evolution-based flim-flam sure to make the biker (subconsciousnly of course) actually need the policy.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 3:16 pm | Permalink
  28. Kevin Kim says

    Most libertarians are for open, largely uncontrolled borders, right? They also tend to view taxation as theft, if I’m not mistaken. But libertarians come in so many shapes and sizes that it’s hard to know whether the term “libertarian” means anything anymore.

    Kevin

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 4:17 pm | Permalink
  29. Malcolm says

    This from the Libertarian Party’s official platform:

    3.4 Free Trade and Migration

    We support the removal of governmental impediments to free trade. Political freedom and escape from tyranny demand that individuals not be unreasonably constrained by government in the crossing of political boundaries. Economic freedom demands the unrestricted movement of human as well as financial capital across national borders. However, we support control over the entry into our country of foreign nationals who pose a threat to security, health or property.

    I agree that the term “libertarian” is confusing, and I never describe myself as one without suitable disclaimer. I sharply disagree with the Libertarian Party on many issues.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 4:30 pm | Permalink
  30. JK says

    Sometime ago, I think in about the thirty-third quarter of our most recent electoral process game, Malcolm posted a link to a quiz that determined for an individual just where on the political affiliation map an individual might self-locate.

    As I recall, a great many of us were at least somewhat surprised by our results, Malcolm perhaps more than somewhat. I had alway considered myself located more in the conservative ranks. Taking the test however revealed I sat right in the nexus of the centrist crosshairs. Had the graph been rather a sniper’s scope than a simple online quiz, well. Suffice to say ‘ol JK wouldn’t be presenting a target for even the most inept SWAT team member.

    http://www.quiz2d.com/

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 5:19 pm | Permalink
  31. Kevin Kim says

    JK, thanks for the link. I scored “left-leaning freedom lover” (a bit left of center in the “libertarian” part of the chart), which is markedly different from the results I got on a different quiz that had the same purpose, i.e., plotting where you stand, politically. That quiz, which I took twice over a period of about two years, showed me as what I feel I am: an out-and-out centrist. My position on the map changed very little over two years.

    I need to dig around for the link to that quiz, though… if I find it, I’ll post it in this comment thread.

    Kevin

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 7:27 pm | Permalink
  32. Court says

    Malcolm,

    You’re denying that science has any role to play in this? Really? So we’ll just throw out any discovery of links between obesity and soda pop in the name of your political opinions? Look, that’s just ludicrous, I’m sorry to say. Science has everything to do with whether a luxury tax on unnecessary, unhealthy products should be brought in or not. Indeed, I can’t think of any other metric that could reasonably be brought to bear. Oh, I see in your next comment up there, you do agree that the science should be brought to bear. Whew. That’s a relief. I was afraid this discussion had just gone completely off the rails. Now the question is: once the science (as I think it already has) has established the links between obesity and soda pop, are you going to be willing to do anything besides some sort of “Just Say No”, or “Just Drink Less” campaign? (Look how well that’s worked for illicit drugs, as you are of course aware.) Or would you be willing to support some direct action – which I believe is the stage we are at now with the proposed tax.

    The slippery slope is indeed a fallacy. You have not specified any of the steps from “18% tax on soda pop” to personal liberties being “flushed down the toilet”. Go on ahead and try. I suspect you’ll find it difficult.

    I think we’re just going to have to part ways here. I’m not “abdicating” my responsibility or my freedom; I’m just taking a realistic view of it. Reality is complex. I’m not trying to explain it away.

    I’m suspicious of all-encompassing terms like “human nature”. What does that even mean? I certainly don’t know. And certainly people have been producing and selling various unhealthy goods throughout history. What is different about Coke is the scale, cheapness, and easy availability of it. (Along with lots of other factors, of course, more sedentary lifestyles, etc.) That changes the game. I don’t see why this should be denied out-of-hand with some schoolmarmish admonition to just behave yourself. It’s what I keep saying, again and again: reality is complex. There are lots of factors to consider. In my view, we are better off considering as many as possible, in order to effect the best social policy. Yes, I said social policy. Unless you happen to live in, say, Somalia – you live in a country that has one. Or several. A fact of life.

    Man – all the hyperbole. No one is telling you can’t enjoy a Coke. They’re talking about a tax on it. You can still get it. You might just have to pay a little more.

    If readers out there deny that our evolutionary heritage has anything to do with our preference for sugary soft drinks and that Coke hasvisibly profited from this preference they are simply ignorant. I’m not saying it’s some vast consipiracy.

    And yes, advertising affects our freedom. Of course it does – that is its whole point. Look at how your frame your choice – I’m not going to do what they tell me to! I’m free! Well, bully for you. Meanwhile, you think your “freedom” comes down to being able to choose Coke or water. Score one for Madison Avenue.

    The notion that government is the only entity capable of influencing our political lives, our freedoms, is just so … well, so naive that I don’t quite know what so say. That all we have to do is keep government in check, while letting multinational corporations run amuck – in the name of freedom? Oh, my. Well, look. Read Collapse, by Jared Diamond, the chapter on mining companies in Montana. They took advantage of good, freedom-loving individualists such as yourselves, took their profits, and left one hell of a mess behind. There is a similar metric at work here: the soda companies are taking their profits, and leaving the mess behind. In the real world that we live in, not some pseudo-Jeffersonian fantasyland (no disrespect to the great man intended), you will pay for the obesity of your fellow citizens, one way or the other, whether you like it or not. Now, you can either try to recoup some of these costs at their source, or you can get hoppin’ mad about your individual freedoms (or any number of other free choices you are free to make). But until you secede and create some sort of agrarian republic in, I don’t know, Vermont or somewhere, you are going to pay. So, why not work to some sort of reasonable path of action? As I’ve said repeatedly, maybe the 18% tax isn’t the best idea. So what is? I know this for sure: pious cant about my rights and liberties and freedoms, etc etc etc., is not.

    And I’m going on holiday break starting after today, so unless any other interesting comments are made in the next few hours, I’m done. Happy holidays and new year, everyone.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 9:29 pm | Permalink
  33. Court says

    One note that may be of some oblique interest here: Morality and Evolutionary Biology, just published by Stanford. Obviously I haven’t done more than skimmed then thing as of yet, but it does seem to lend some credence to my position to these sorts of discussions can hardly take place in a vacuum where the science of evolution and the evolution of science are ignored.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 10:04 pm | Permalink
  34. JK says

    “Now the question is: once the science (as I think it already has) has established the links between obesity and soda pop…I’m not “abdicating” my responsibility or my freedom; I’m just taking a realistic view of it. Reality is complex.”

    I think waiting for the science is a pretty good idea, I think I’ve read somewhere that at least one person agrees that a government funded study might be useful, and necessary. I would hope however that any included scientists would not, prior to the study say, “…as I think it already has…” that would seem to be a guarentee for an outcome.

    Playing in the field of non sequitor you have no equal Court.

    “And yes, advertising affects our freedom. Of course it does – that is its whole point. Look at how your frame your choice – I’m not going to do what they tell me to! I’m free! Well, bully for you. Meanwhile, you think your “freedom” comes down to being able to choose Coke or water. Score one for Madison Avenue.”

    Run that by me once more, please feel free to go back and read your previous posts, then please collate, synthesize, distill. “Reality is complex.”

    Indeed.

    You’re welcome Kevin, I’d like to see the other test you mention as well. Hope you find it. The first time I took it, as I said, I was smack dab in the cross hairs. After I posted the link I was curious and so retook it. This time I came out “Moderate-freedom lover.”

    I think it had something to do with subsequent bailouts and my related changing views on subsidies. I was happy to see that I am not so stalwartly rigid as ______ would have me. Rather than Ann Rynd I’m more like Pork Rind. In moderation.

    But I remained close enough to the center of the graph that had the SWAT sniper been using a shotgun – well I’d no longer be visiting waka to revel in Court’s absence.

    Just kidding Court, my children have all grown and moved away and I miss their innocence.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 10:47 pm | Permalink
  35. Court says

    Sorry to disappoint you, JK: I just can’t stay away. Possibly (probably?) you are right that the science isn’t in yet. I don’t know – but perhaps we ought to find out, before coming to a final stance on this issue, no?

    I took the quiz. Turns out I’m a Social Liberal. Who knew.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 11:22 pm | Permalink
  36. Court says

    A lawyer has weighed in on my blog.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 11:43 pm | Permalink
  37. JK says

    I’m amenable to waiting. However I’m also amenable to reading and considering a general ten item, single sentence, (perhaps bulleted) list of your proposed prescriptive Stamp Act. I am simply overwhelmed when it comes to staccato boldface and so much verbiage.

    I don’t participate in many of these sorts of discussions (which if you look back in the many posts) easily verified. I prefer specific types of topics. Somewhat frequently I leap before I really look. (Simply view the most recent post.) I’m a simple hillbilly.

    I’ve gone through phases. When I was quite young, I thought all my problems and, by extension, everyone’s could be laid at the feet of Ho Chi Minh. Until I came to this conversation I thought most of my problems came from Washington DC, or perhaps Wall Street. Then I really went through some changes, first it was my DNA, then an unrealized thirst for sugar water, the uninsured, diabetics, next the Coca-Cola Corporation. Madison Avenue (I think) it turns out is who I should lay awake at night worrying about what conspiracies they’re insidiously formulating machinating ongoing efforts to deplete my precious bodily fluids.

    A ten item list would be most helpful, definitely appreciated.

    Posted December 19, 2008 at 11:54 pm | Permalink
  38. JK says

    Oh, and a header sentence outlining what the problem is, who (or what) is to blame.

    As stated earlier, I admit to occasional dim-wittedness.

    Posted December 20, 2008 at 12:41 am | Permalink
  39. Malcolm says

    Yes, Court, I do think we may have to be content simply to disagree here; you seem quite incapable of addressing the point of my remarks, and prefer instead to lecture me like a schoolboy about elementary concepts in evolution and biology, and to tilt at straw-man caricatures of my position. Do you actually think that I need to be told that science shows that drinking rivers of soda can make a person fat? Or that we have various ancient and adaptive preferences that in the modern world can be, in various ways, liabilities? Have you read any of what I have written here over the last four years? We have, you might be surprised to hear, a rather well-informed and scientifically literate group of readers here, and one of the recurring themes of this website is evolutionary theory; do you really think you are telling us anything about “science”, or human origins, that we don’t aready know?

    You may link to Wikipedia all you like, but history is replete with examples of gradual erosions of freedoms, and accelerating slides into various forms of perfidy. (Again you are obstinately misreading me, and getting my point backwards: I am not making a formal argument that government restrictions on soda must, as a matter of logical necessity, lead straight to Mussolini-style Fascism, but rather that we have ample historical evidence that when such systems do take root, this is how it begins.) The elementary fallacy you are guilty of, however, is your tacit assumption that the natural fact that we are predisposed to eat lots of sugar means that we ought to impose governmental restrictions to “right the ship”. This is not a scientific matter in any sense whatsoever — nobody is disputing that eating and drinking too much sugar will make people obese. It is a question of what we want to do about that perfectly obvious fact, a fact that you seem to relish presenting as some hitherto-unsuspected scientific “reality”. You write:

    Science has everything to do with whether a luxury tax on unnecessary, unhealthy products should be brought in or not. Indeed, I can’t think of any other metric that could reasonably be brought to bear.

    The central point here, to which you seem blithely and entirely oblivious, is that different people, given the same set of scientific facts, might have different opinions — and please, they are opinions, not objective moral truths, as if there even were such a thing — about what to do with them.

    Above all, what vexes me here, Court — and what has moved me to the brink of intemperate language — is that having been welcomed aboard as a commenter, no sooner have you got to your seat than you have taken it upon yourself to offer instruction to us all, in the most condescending tone, about matters with which the community here are already intimately familiar. Do we really need to be reminded reiteratively by you that “reality is complex”? Do you think we are children? Has anyone here ever, as you imply, denied “that our evolutionary heritage has anything to do with our preference for sugary soft drinks and that Coke has visibly profited from this preference?” It is one thing to publicly miss the point; it is quite another to do it with such swagger and bluster. You condescendingly suggest that I ought to read Jared Diamond’s Collapse — presumably so as to bring my level of understanding of these “complex realities” somewhat closer to yours — when as it happens not only have I (along with many of our readers here) already read it, but also devoted a series of posts to it in these pages almost two years ago.

    If you are going to inaugurate your membership in our little group by lecturing us on subjects with which we are already well acquainted, we might at least hope that you would give some care to expressing coherent sets of ideas. But with one breath you announce that you are “suspicious” of the very idea of human nature, while in the next, when it serves your shifting rhetorical purposes, you launch a tendentious and patronizing account of introductory concepts in human evolution, patiently explaining to everyone that we are utterly powerless to resist, in the absence of State-imposed penalties, our evolved preference for sugary foods. You sneer at a Jeffersonian attitude toward governance as a “fantasyland”, and then profess your pious respect for “the great man”. Please choose a viewpoint, and try to stick with it, at least for the duration of a single comment.

    I am not admonishing anyone to behave himself, and certainly not “schoolmarmishly”; once again you appear not to have listened to anything I’ve been saying. People will behave as they will. What I am saying is that, in my opinion, people ought (please note the word “ought” here: I am afraid I must point out to you once again, however futile it may be, that this a normative remark about the sort of society I’d like to live in, and as such not amenable to rebuttal by any scientific data whatsoever, except in the context of other normative valuations) to be held responsible for the choices they make, and not seek instead to blame everyone around them but themselves for their being too fat. I have already made it quite clear in my comment above that responsibility implies being in possession of the relevant facts, and that I wholeheartedly support a robust governmental role — funded by our tax dollars, of course — in unearthing and disseminating such information, in order to have the best-informed, and therefore most responsible, citizenry possible. Your preferred solution, on the other hand, is that the State should simply coerce people into adopting the behavior it demands, on the assumption that they are too irremediably ignorant — or too much in thrall to the human nature you deny in one sentence and assert in the next — ever to assume meaningful responsibility for their own behavior.

    In a strikingly unpersuasive paragraph, you make the bizarre assertion that “of course” advertising “affects our freedom”. I cannot imagine what sort of meaning you ascribe to the word “freedom”, but as I, and I think most people, understand the word, advertising does nothing of the sort. Advertising seeks to persuade; my choice, however, remains entirely my own. Is advertising effective? Of course. Does that mean that those affected aren’t making a free choice? Of course not. Once again you seem curiously, almost supinely, eager to surrender your virtue to any proximate suitor. You conclude, mockingly, with “well, bully for you”, as if by simply making up my own mind, as an autonomous adult, about what I shall drink, I am preening and showing off. (It may surprise you, but many of us do this sort of thing all the time.) You then jeer at the idea that freedom might consist of choosing between whatever options are actually available. If I drink a glass of water, how is that “score one for Madison Avenue”? I must confess I find all of this quite incomprehensible. (If any readers have kept awake long enough to follow along this far, and are able to make sense of this, please feel free to explain; if there is in fact a rational argument of some sort here, I should hate to have missed it.)

    Returning to Jared Diamond’s book, his point about corporate environmental policies, if you actually read that far (it was rather late in the book, and judging by your remarks I suspect you may not have), was that ultimately it has been the power of public opinion, exercised through the free market in the form of non-governmental, independent environmental-certification agencies such as the Forest Stewardship Council, that has actually led to genuine and sustainable improvements in the way large corporations conserve environmental resources. These companies simply realized that it was in their own best interest to behave — how shall I put it? — more responsibly.

    Toward the end, and to your credit, you acknowledge that a tax on soda pop may not be the right solution to the problem of rampant obesity. But it is no sooner said than you dismiss as “pious cant” the bedrock American idea that individual liberty is worth defending. A pity.

    Finally, before dismissing class for the holidays, you suggest that our ponderous ignorance might be leavened slightly, and our philosophical horizon broadened, if we were to take an “oblique interest” in the evolutionary underpinnings of morality. I thank you for calling this field to our attention, for the sake of our improvement; it does indeed sound interesting (and the linked article is a very good overview of the subject). But as it happens, this is also a topic to which we have devoted the keenest attention for quite some time, and which has already been the subject of searching discussion in these pages. (And as it also happens, the article emphasizes, as I have tried to do here, that the philosophical move from is to ought, even in light of recent developments in evolutionary psychology, and despite your insistence to the contrary, has yet to be made. The choice of which political system we would like to live under is, I am afraid, still a matter of individual human preference, and no appeal to science is about to change that.)

    I must say, and it saddens me, that our promising relationship, only a few weeks old and still green in the bud, seems to have wilted ever so slightly in the course of this thread. I’ve spoken harshly here, but I’m certainly not angry, and I do not hold grudges. Perhaps we might have more productive conversations on some other topic.

    It is my habit, when I feel discussions have reached the point of diminishing returns, to offer guests with whom I have intractable disagreements the last word. Feel free to take it, if you like.

    Posted December 20, 2008 at 1:25 am | Permalink
  40. JK says

    If one is simply looking for ways to increase taxes by blaming fat people for increasing everyone else’s health care costs as a means for Gov. Paterson to continue running the snow plows (as some patent lawyers posit) tax Internet connections so prohibitively high that people have to choose between eating and accessing medical research.

    Obese people with a live internet connection could form a lobby and force Gov. Paterson to adopt taxes on some surprising stuff if he tries to use obesity as justification. Likewise, the obese could force the State to adopt even more drastic healthcare cost rises because after all, “If you’re trying to get me slimmed down through social legislation, read here.”

    We’re gonna have to go after those ear infections:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-08/apa-cei080808.php
    We need tubing inserted into our intestines, again if we poop it out:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-11/mgh-sop112408.php
    Let’s not forget a little brain surgery (no Court, nothing evolutionary here):
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-10/uoo-oa101308.php
    Everybody needs Xanax:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-06/w-pml060208.php
    And/or mushrooms:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-08/epr-nms081408.php
    Does soda pop contain MSG?
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-08/uonc-urf081308.php
    Don’t plop that crying infant in front of the TV:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-04/hms-eum040408.php
    No nanoparticles for you:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-11/tuot-n111308.php
    And you can just forget about looking forward to the weekend:
    http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-07/wuso-wsw070108.php

    Don’t limit yourself Court, there’s a bunch of stuff you can target besides Madison Avenue. Oh, and to the citizenry of New York? A black helicopter just landed in my driveway and the pilot is insisting I move from Arkansas to Nova Scotia. He’s armed.

    Posted December 20, 2008 at 2:36 am | Permalink
  41. Court says

    This discussion puts me in mind of After Virtue, where, as I recall (probably imperfectly) MacIntyre says that the reason contemporary debate is interminable and generally fruitless is because the interlocutors are not even speaking the same language. What we have here appears to be an example thereof.

    I confess to not having read every entry here. No doubt it would behoove me to do so. But certainly I have overstepped the bounds of etiquette as, as you say, a guest. Running your yap never did no one any good, as my grandfather used to say. Apologies, Malcolm. Rest assured I will consider well before doing so again.

    Posted December 20, 2008 at 2:58 am | Permalink
  42. Malcolm says

    I hope readers will not consider me in violation of my last-word policy if I comment once more to say thank you, Court, for your gracious apology.

    Indeed it is often the case in debate that no resolution is possible because the parties cannot even agree on philosophical axioms or the meaning of common-language terms, and this seems to be, in part at least, what we have here. This is why democratic politics is such a ghastly mess. From this Babel governance must somehow emerge, and it is a marvel that things work as well as they do.

    Blog-comment matches can get awfully feisty at times, but even in a spirited rumble like this, nobody gets hurt. You are obviously an intelligent and thoughtful person, Court, and I hope you will continue to read and comment here.

    Posted December 20, 2008 at 12:01 pm | Permalink