Obesity and Liberty

Lots of people are talking about obesity these days. Time Magazine’s current issue is all about it. Out of an entire issue, Radley Balko was given 350 words to support the individual responsibility side of the argument. Please read it, along with the response, and be very afraid (well, concerned, at least).

As some of you know, I’ve recently been losing weight. I made a personal decision that the health risks associated with carrying too much weight exceeded the benefits of convenience and some epicurean pleasures.

As many of you also know, I have many opinions about what choices others would be well-advised to make.

But, I am strongly committed to the idea that an important aspect of morality consists of generally* refraining from coercing other people into behaving the way we would prefer them to (whether we think it would be for our good, or for their own).

It wasn’t long ago when the suggestion that governmental regulation of smoking might lead to further regulation of unhealthy activities like eating fatty foods would be guaranteed to elicit laughter and ridicule. Now, such regulation is being seriously suggested everywhere and taken seriously by most people.

Collectivism is the enemy of liberty. To call obesity a public health issue, rather than an issue of individual responsibility and of liberty, is to deny individual liberty entirely. Liberty is not just about having the right to vote for the lesser of two evils. It’s about being free* to live one’s life as he chooses; what to think, what to eat, what to say, what to read, what to watch, what to do.

Of course, people will make bad choices. But that doesn’t mean that we’d be better off with experts making (what should be) personal decisions for us. The growth of knowledge requires errors to be made and corrected. We have to be free to make most choices for ourselves in order to enjoy the benefits of being human. We need to be responsible for ourselves.

As Radley says:

If you aren’t responsible for what you put into your mouth, chew and swallow, what’s left that you are you responsible for?

*I say generally, because there are certainly exceptions in cases of self-defense, or the prevention of force or fraud. But, regulating someone’s diet certainly falls outside of these exceptions.

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