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More soft paternalism

The obesity crisis, epidemic, or whatever (is fatness contagious?) continues to keep the chattering classes busy. In the Daily Telegraph today, Andrew O’Hagan, of whom I was blissfully unaware until about a month ago when he sprung to the defence of Mel Gibson after he made his anti-Jewish rant, argues for stuff like taxing “junk food” and encouraging a whole cultural battle to get the moronic lower orders off their dietary habits. It is an article reeking of disdain for vast swathes of the UK population. Perhaps it is deserved. Many Britons are disgusting people, I suppose, but being the wild-eyed libertarian that I am, do not consider it my business to nag them into eating better by a mixture of state exhortation, punitive taxes and compulsory five-mile runs.

I am not entirely sure what to make of Mr O’Hagan, or indeed the decision of the right-leaning Telegraph to hire him. I thought his article on Gibson was a terrible piece, both patronising towards Jews, other groups, and offensive but perhaps a one-off lapse, one which might not be repeated. But pretty much everything he has written since seems to be entirely lacking in humour, grace or wit. I fear that paper is in one of its down-cycles. O’Hagan may perhaps fit in nicely into the modern Conservative Party.

For a related article on obesity, diet and the nanny state, read this by Jacob Sullum.

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18 comments to More soft paternalism

  • If force (i.e. using the state’s laws) is justified in order to make the lumpen do what their ‘betters’ like Andrew O’Hagan, think is best for them, I think mandatory electroconvulsive treatment for folks who have a pathological urge to impose their will on others is also justified… for the common good, of course.

    In truth there may come a time when the desires of statists to control others is recognised as the mental disorder it is.

  • veryretired

    Oh, Perry, wouldn’t it be fun to see the faces of all those compassionate analysts and therapists if some highly renowned researcher got up at the annual convention and delivered a paper that said people who can’t leave other people alone to live their own lives are psychologically disturbed?

    Well, it’s a nice daydream, anyway.

  • Eleutheria

    Is it not Munchausen by proxy?

    In [Munchausen by proxy] a caregiver, usually the mother, feigns or induces an illness in another person, usually her or his child, to gain attention and sympathy as the “worried” parent.

    Fits to a T, does it not? 😉

  • darkbhudda

    When there are no fat politicians, then they can come after the rest of us.

    Reminds me of the Centre for Science in the Public Interest or whatever they call themselves. They issue press releases saying certain fats kills hundreds of thousands of American each year and similar unscientific claims Then they serve greasy hamburgers and fatty chips in their own cafeteria.

  • Maybe we should impose an E. coli tax on organic food.

  • Perry, I really think you may be on to something there. Can’t we raise a fund for research?

    Seriously, I do think there may be something pathological in the behaviour of those people, their own lives usually as dysfunctional as anyone else’s, who feel the need to deploy State force to dictate to others how to live. These people need help. I would be prepared to pay an extra penny of income tax to fund the special hospitals where they could be treated.

    I don’t know why, but the name David Blunkett would not leave my head as I was typing the above.

  • MarkE

    Some time ago I was criticised for writing here that no one harboured political ambitions unless they suffered from a fundemental personality disorder. Healthy individuals get out of bed each morning hoping to earn a living and provide for themselves and their family, while enjoying the satisfaction of a job well done. Politicians get out of their beds believing they have a unique insight as to what is best for others, and hoping to force those others to comply “for their own good”. I have a good life, but I am not arrogant enough to recomend it for everyone, still less try to force it on them.

  • Is it not worth considering that if we, via the State are forced to pay for people to eat, then surely there should be some say in WHAT they eat? Go to a charity soup kitchen and pepole are not ordering from an unlimited list of takeaways. They eat what they are given and understand that is the deal. In WWII, people in the UK had a good diet – they were healthier than they had ever been, in fact. Why? Because of rationing which created a carefully controlled, balanced, if borderline, diet.

    Maybe people on benefits need to be set such a ration.

  • Julian Taylor

    I’m still intrigued as to where the notion that England has the most obese population in Europe came from, apart from the top drawer of the NuLabour fantasy cabinet. Personally I would have thought that Greece or Germany topped us quite easily but no, The Health Profile of England report (done in nice easy pictures for those politicians who didn’t get their GCSE in reading) apparently shows that 23% of Britons are obese, compared with just 12.9% of Germans and 8.5% of Italians.

    Something about those results smells of dead fish to me …

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Is it not worth considering that if we, via the State are forced to pay for people to eat, then surely there should be some say in WHAT they eat? Go to a charity soup kitchen and pepole are not ordering from an unlimited list of takeaways. They eat what they are given and understand that is the deal.

    Well, if a private charity raises money to provide food for the very poor, there is nothing wrong, of course, in the donors deciding what sort of food to give folk. I have no quarrel with that. I don’t really see how this affects the issue at hand, however. O’Hagan and other power-lusters are demanding that the food people buy with their own money, and not just state handouts, should be regulated, taxed, etc.

    I would be loathe to tell recipients of Welfare cheques that they can only buy food that some government official has deemed not to be “junk” food. That would be a nanny-statist’s wet dream.

    The real problem is the Welfare State per se, and the progressive infantilisation of a large part of the population over many decades. The sort of nannying that O’Hagan favours will not reverse this, only a consistent drive to promote liberty and personal responsiblity can do that.

    How about a national campaign, voluntarility funded, of course, such as: “Take pride in your body and your health and stop bleating about McDonalds” sort of thing?

  • The real problem is the Welfare State per se, and the progressive infantilisation of a large part of the population over many decades.

    Totally agree. Ideally there would be more voluntary involvement but until there is, the State is not spending our money, more abandoning it. Since when does the rights of the receiver become superior to the rights of the giver?

  • GCooper

    Julian Taylor writes:

    “Something about those results smells of dead fish to me …”

    I think this is very close to the truth. The liberal (sic) middle classes have been casting around for another panic to play with and an obesity epidemic fits nicely alongside their food obsession, ‘golden age’ pastoral fantasies, innate anti-Americanism and other fashion crazes.

    There is, pretty clearly, a problem with people’s diet in the UK – but the situation is far, far more complicated than the control freaks are trying to make out.

    Some prominent figures on the eco-Left have been working themselves up to this for a long while and I suspect they might see it as a potential apotheosis.

  • Nick M

    Oddly enough I was talking about this sort of thing with my girlfriend last night. She stated that one of the things that really winds her up is when feckless single mothers complain that they got up the duff ‘cos they didn’t have “enough sex edukashun innit?”

    How much do you actually need? Furthermore, given that they clearly had an interest in sex weren’t they intrigued enough to find out more for themselves? It’s not like books about sex are held in the Waterstone’s special collection in brown paper wrappers under the counter…

    Well the same applies about food. We Brits are a nation of lardy bastards. And the vox-pops on TV always call for clearer food labelling, more edukashun and basically for the government to “do something”. Which is odd because what someone eats or feeds their kids is de facto their own personal choice. And if they don’t feel they know enough to make an informed choice there is TV, books, internet. The finding out for yourself thing with food is even easier than it is with sex.

    Maybe the welfare state is partially to blame for this bovine attitude but I suspect a lot of blame lies with our abysmally dumbed down education system which doesn’t give kids the knowledge or tools to reason and suggests that nanny knows best. One only has to look at the new GCSE science curriculum (it was in The Times yesterday – sorry ain’t got the link) to see this pitiful situation is getting worse, not better.

    The sooner more people begin to realise that sex and food (and many other things) are no business of the state and take control of their own lives the sooner the state can be rolled back.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    TimC, I still cannot see whether the issuers of welfare chits can reasonably control the foodstuffs that receivers of said chits get. How the hell would that be enforced? Would they be only able to buy their food from state-approved shops?

    I’d love to see Blair or Cameron argue that we scrap welfare cheques and instead insist that poor people go to state-approved feeding stations only able to sell “wholesome” food. Bet that will be a winner.

  • John K

    I’d love to see Blair or Cameron argue that we scrap welfare cheques and instead insist that poor people go to state-approved feeding stations only able to sell “wholesome” food. Bet that will be a winner.

    Yes, we could call them “British Restaurants.” It seems to me that many people in Britain have never got over the War, or at least the War mindset. What bliss it must have been to be a bureaucrat back then. I think that’s the impetus behind much of the global warming mafia too. It’s a way to get control of what people do, and regulate them to your satifaction, because, of course, you know best. Bureaucratic heaven!

  • Brian

    Johnathan said:
    “I would be loathe to tell recipients of Welfare cheques that they can only buy food that some government official has deemed not to be ‘junk’ food. That would be a nanny-statist’s wet dream.”

    Well, we’ve a bit of that here in America. Peruse the ailes in any supermarket of relevant size, and you will undoubtably notice the little “WIC* Approved” stickers next to the price labels for certain foodstuffs.

    *WIC = Women and Infant Children (public assistance food coupons for the stated population group)

    I usually chuckle when I see the aforementioned stickers attached to foods that obviously do not accommodate creation or maintenance of the body beautiful. To be fair, such assignments are rather rare. But they are there from time to time.

  • Brian

    Ah, bollocks. I misspelled “aisles”. Many apologies.

  • Julian Taylor

    I still cannot see whether the issuers of welfare chits can reasonably control the foodstuffs that receivers of said chits get. How the hell would that be enforced? Would they be only able to buy their food from state-approved shops?

    We don’t quite have the sword of Damocles that health insurers can wield over obese US policy holders but what if the state started to deny obesity-related NHS services to the overweight or charge for those services, as they do in some health trusts to smokers for smoking-related diseases?