“Fat is now a political issue”; so says Minette Marrin in the Times on Sunday. She directly targets her argument at libertarians (such as my good self), saying essentially that she agrees with the government’s initiative to do something about the obesity of the nation. Marrin utilises several devices to argue for state control of the people in this area, but it is clear toward the end of her article that she actually blames everyone BUT the individual themselves for obesity – an attitude which has never failed to baffle me. Like the lady who tried to sue McDonald’s for medical bills because her son turned out like an oversized tomato from eating too many cheeseburgers. A bizarre lawsuit, it has to be said, a similar concept to me in my old age filing a suit against Sony for my loss of hearing caused by all those years pumping rock music into my eardrums using one of their walkmans.

The initiatives of Toning Blair, John “Slim” Prescott, and the rest of the flabinet will be as follows: to FORCE food companies to make labelling clearer, to STOP companies marketing certain foods within some criteria, to STOP celebrities being employed in advertising of this sort, to BAN vending machines in schools, to increase TAX on fast-food (unbelievably), and utilisation of other ways of coercing individuals who are trying to make an honest living. To increase the government levy on purchases at McDonalds because of some moral vendetta. HOW DARE THEY. But Marrin, writing in the Times on Sunday, says “We cannot really argue with the prime minister. He is right. Fat is bad. Flab must be fought. We must not only start exercising and stop smoking, AS HE SAYS; we must eat less, eat better, drink less -” oh please stop, lady, because this is making me sick. HOW DARE THEY. WHAT business is it of the government whether I smoke or do not smoke, eat chocolate or do not, fry the breasts of humpback whales for dinner everynight or anything else for that matter? HOW DARE THEY. Marrin argues that “fat presents serious problems these days” for libertarians like me. So lets find out why.

1) “It is hard for even the most heartless of libertarians to stand by while parents allow their children to become not just fat but also obese.” This is a ridiculous statement. No matter how much heart the libertarian has, no matter how hard it is to stand by watching bespattered little brats get bigger by the burger, this does not justify state coercion of the individual; something which should be a last resort, restricted to a tight criteria of principal by which each proposal is considered.

2) “It cannot be right to allow parents to abuse their children’s health in this way…” This is a wonderfully succinct way of saying to the millions of parents who take the responsibility they have for their children very seriously, ‘You do not deserve the right you have to bring up your children in the way you wish. You have no rights, actually, because WE know better. You clearly don’t know what you are doing, so WE will presume to take control of this area of your disasterous parenthood in your place.’ HOW DARE SHE. She says that “children at least ought to be protected” – this is true. But the realm of control that exerts from politicians, even under the guise of ‘tax’ or ‘government’, should never be allowed to extend to effectively telling people what they should and should not eat. Because I do not believe that their influence should extend this far, I believe it would be a similar thing for me to show up at someone’s door from some pressure group, WITH A GUN, a ‘Initiative for Healthy Eating in The Suburbs’ with a dump truck and inform them that I was imposing a levy on any kinds of food which fall under criteria that I set, and that they would need to pay this levy or else dump the food. The concept is clearly ridiculous, no matter how laudable the intent or how moral the cause. Why anyone would want to submit the nation to the coercions of a group of people who think they know what is best for them and their family I have no idea. (Lack of trust, I’d say comes closest to the answer.)

3) “Libertarians also must and do concede that private choices can have serious public consequences. The private choices that make adults obese inflict illness and disability not only on them but also on the public purse.” Oh, I’m SO glad Marrin brought this up! You see, I consider the National Health Service an infringement on my liberty. I have money taken from my salary whether I like it or not to pay for a healthcare of which I have no choice. So, in reality, the obesity of society in a libertarian society would not come out of my purse after all, it would come out of the purse of the individual who allowed themselves to get into such a flabsome state, or their insurance companies, who can rightly impose some of the controls she has been mentioning by charging higher premiums for the obese, for smokers, etc. Of course the acts of individuals can affect more than just them, but unless the acts infringe on the equal rights to freedom of someone else the government should have no right to interfere. So the answer is not to impose on the rights of individuals to eat what the hell they want, the answer is to privatise the NHS! Thanks, Marrin, for making my point so perfectly, by the way.

4) “Education – in Britain at least – is mainly in the hands of the politicians. It is they who can …. astonishingly – permit vending machines for unhealthy sweets, snacks and fizzy drinks in state schools.” The standard libertarian answer I’m afraid – privatise state schools, stop the government putting interfering fingers in places they shouldn’t be, including what my child learns throught the early part of his life AND what chocolate bars he can have access to. I agree – its astonishing they have that kind of control.

I take issue with the article on some other points too, like Marrin’s contentions that “richer people don’t buy cheap junk food … better-off people buy expensive natural and organic foods, avoiding additives and microwaves … unfat, unpoor people don’t approve of fast-food, sweets and fizzy drinks, solitary grazing and snacking or irregular meals…”. She had better speak to my parents, my wife’s parents and most of the other middle class people I know who are not fat, definately not poor, like fast-food a lot, enjoy chocolate regularly, keep irregular hours for meals frequently and snack in between. But the major flaw in her article is this: she not once places the blame for any increase in obesity where it squarely belongs, with the individual (or their parents if a minor). I believe in a society where the individual is a rational, capable human being, responsible for themselves. I believe that a truly civilised society does not control its citizens by means of coercion, but protects their rights of freedom to do as they want. Isn’t that a novel concept?

Let not any amount of statistics quoted by these people, nor number of obese children, nor weight nor belly circumference nor threshold of pounds gained EVER breach the right of the individual to do what they like. Let not our law be pragmatic rather than principaled. The concept of government is so loosely defined in the UK that it is not bound by anything other than a vague notion of ‘democracy’ – we, unlike the United States, unfortunately do not have a constitution which defines government and the arena of the power it can exert over the ‘collective’. The ‘collective’ is just a notion, believe me…. we are NOT a collective, we are individuals; we are not one, we are many. Let each man and woman, and the children they are responsible for, be accountable for his or her own body and its size, shape or diameter.

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John Wright

johnwright@softhome.net