Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Butter Ban" Not a Laughing Matter

As has probably been deducted from my readers who have read my first Power of Epistemology piece it is clear that I reject the Standard American Diet. I do so in favor of the "Paleo" diet. I thought it might of interest to incorporate some dietary politics into this blog given my interest, though, to stay relevant to the overall theme of epistemology, ethics, and politics, I will not do such things as examine the merits of nutritional findings or display recipes (I might do the latter for Musing Aloud).

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According to Daily Mail Dr. Shyam Kolvekar is calling for a ban on butter and is suggesting "healthier" substitutes such as margarine for the purpose of reducing incidents of heart disease.

The absurdity here is obvious and does not require lengthy discussion given the context of this blog: this doctor is proposing an impractical, immoral law that would utilize physical force in its enforcement, all on the basis of the evidence-less theory that fat consumption causes heart disease. The cruel irony is that the doctor's suggestions for healthier substitutes would actually increase heart disease rates, as the human body isn't meant to handle such large amounts of vegetable fats as would be present in a tub of margarine, thereby leading to adverse effects (obesity, dense LDL cholesterol, etc.). If such a proposal were enacted it would be promptly contested by a black market and would result in greater heart disease rates in law-abiding citizens.

But as absurd as this proposal may seem -- enacting a law prohibiting a food substance absolutely! -- we must be extremely careful not to brush it away nonchalantly. Here we must keep two sayings in mind to remind us of the danger. The first is by Ayn Rand: The uncontested absurdities of today are the slogans of tomorrow. (Quotation marks omitted in case of inaccuracy.) For number two I do not know the originator, but paraphrased: No idea has ever been so absurd that some philosopher did not take it seriously. The point of these two sayings is that ignoring an absurdity may be all it requires for it to become culturally accepted, and nothing is so ridiculous that at least one person won't seriously entertain it. If we dismiss and laugh at this "butter ban" then we could put ourselves at risk for seeing it come to pass.

And we do have evidence that such a thing could come to pass if uncontested, even in the United States. In the same country where this proposed ban originates, the United Kingdom, there was an incident where an egg company had one of its commercials censored ("Go to Work on an Egg") because the government agents thought it promoted an unhealthy way of living and judged it morally appropriate to silence them. In my very own America the selling of raw milk would be banned almost entirely if it were not for the random states that keep it legal and for the legal loophole that allows a person to drink milk from their own cow (thereby leading to the development of "cow share" programs). Naturally fed meat (e.g. grass-fed beef), although this may be unintentional, has largely been driven into unnecessary scarcity by way of the government subsidizing grains, thereby making it an artificially cheaper stock feed. And so on.

From these we observe that some governments are actively willing to exert force in the name of "public" health, that there are laws already banning some food substances, and that even random bad economic policies (grain subsidies) can have a dramatic impact on diet via unintended consequences (grain-fed beef becomes more common than grass-fed). So it is in all seriousness we must take this proposal, for the laws of the same nature already exist and there are people present to take it seriously.

Most of all, the philosophy is there, the systematic worldview that gives ideological justification for such actions. In today's culture -- worldwide, not just in the United States -- Altruism is the dominant code of morality, and within that code of morality lies the tenant that it is proper to deal with men via physical force in order to uphold morality. Knowing that every law is backed up by physical force, take for evidence when a politician enacts a law and gives it an explicit moral endorsement. It is here we must wage the battle to win not only against this proposal, but against all proposals of this nature.

The reason why I bring this topic up to begin with is to put forth that while on the road to statism some very absurd proposals may pop during the meanwhile, but it does not change the fact that it's a symptom of statism. Aside from this "butter ban," I have also noted other absurdities. Dan Kildee proposed that destroying property would help Flint's economy, but no evidence was given for why this would be. Senator John Kerry proposed giving bail-outs to the newspaper industry, but a shallow examination of basic economic principles reveals that such an idea could never be helpful, thereby indicating Kerry's intention may be to influence the speech of the papers (censorship). And so on. I'm not sure if this is a credible source, but apparently there are laws that go beyond extremes in absurdity, such as it being illegal to peel an orange in a hotel room or to walk on your hands on a crosswalk.

All of these laws may make us smile and laugh when they pop up, causing us to dismiss them as unserious, but if we ignore them for so long and find ourselves without control of our lives -- then we won't laugh.

1 comment:

Steve D said...

“But as absurd as this proposal may seem…”

Have you ever seriously looked at any of the thousands of epidemiological experiments published on diet or drugs? One of the most consistent yet least commented on feature is the tremendous variability in response between test subjects.

What that means in practice is that what is the healthiest diet varies considerably between individuals. Why do you think most diets work for some people and not others. Even when it works you still have to experiment to fine tune it.

That’s the name of the game, experimentation. It works for a lot of other aspects of life as well.

It makes any attempt to impose a one size fits all diet from above a practical impossibility. Its immoral of course to try but doing so will by necessity impose a less than healthy diet on a lot of people. This is true no matter what diet you impose.

An egg for breakfast is unhealthy. That’s a new for me though and I thought I had heard everything.