How wide has the divide between those on the left and those on the right grown in the era of Obama? An op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times titled “Three Cheers for the Nanny State” hints at an answer. When defenders of a political ideology begin using pejorative terms as positives, watch out.
The essay, by Sarah Conly, an assistant professor of philosophy at Bowdoin College, argues — as quintessential nanny state Mayor Michael Bloomberg himself argued on this past Sunday’s “Meet the Press” — “there are certain times we [in government] should infringe on your freedom.”
Fittingly, Conly’s op-ed begins:
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Why has there been so much fuss about New York City’s attempt to impose a soda ban, or more precisely, a ban on large-size ‘sugary drinks’? After all, people can still get as much soda as they want. This isn’t Prohibition. It’s just that getting it would take slightly more effort. So, why is this such a big deal?
She goes on to deride the misguided (in her view) perception “we have of ourselves as free, rational beings who are totally capable of making all the decisions we need to in order to create a good life. Give us complete liberty, and, barring natural disasters, we’ll end up where we want to be. It’s a nice vision, one that makes us feel proud of ourselves. But it’s false.”
By way of explaining her viewpoint, she invokes the name of British philosopher John Stuart Mill, whose “harm principle” gives government the authority to intercede on our behalf “when we are acting out of ignorance and doing something we’ll pretty definitely regret.”
But the example with which she leads — the soda ban — is not neither a case of individuals “acting out of ignorance” nor one of their doing something they’ll “pretty definitely regret.” On the first count, as James Taranto points out in The Wall Street Journal, it is “common knowledge that large quantities of refined sugar are bad for you.” On the second, the certainty that people who drink in excess of 16 ounces of soda at a single clip will live to regret it is likewise unfounded.
Bloomberg’s claim that “the best science tells us that sugary drinks are a leading cause of obesity” is belied by some of the views put forth by some of the best scientists. David Just, a professor at Cornell University, agrees that regular soda drinking puts on unwanted pounds but cautions:
[W]e don’t know what happens when we take it away or place limits. People may not drink less, they may not decrease calories, or they may replace it with something else equally caloric.
If people left to their own free will are going to replace one vice with another of equal or greater sinfulness, then what good is the nanny state’s making their decisions for them in the first place?
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