From Free Life, Issue 25, May 1996
ISSN: 0260 5112
Not Just Tobacco: Health Scares, Medical Paternalism and Individual Liberty
Chris R. Tame and David Botsford
FOREST, 2 Grosvenor Gardens, London, SW1W 0DH, 1996, 39pp., £4.00 (pbk)
(ISBN 1 871833 72 8)
Just after the Berlin Wall came down, bringing much of Western socialism with it, I recall wondering what the next big intellectual threat would be. I identified many small threats, but reached no definite conclusions at the time, seeing nothing to match the apparent coherence and appeal of socialism. However, this work should leave no one in doubt as to the answer. The new big threat is all the small ones added together.
The collectivists have simply moved from economics into health. They no longer claim that freedom makes us poor, but now that it makes us unhealthy. On the whole, this move has strengthened them. If the old collectivist army had a more regular look, it was easier to defeat. Our blitzkrieg was the economic calculation debate. But the enemy now is more decentralised. Having won what we thought was the great battle, we find ourselves in a countryside controlled by guerilla bands. And these can deceive or terrorise more support from the population than the old army ever could.
For the new skirmishes, weapons irresistible in a frontal assault are shown to be useless. We can win these skirmishes – in many cases, they have already been won. But they are all about details more or less unconnected, becoming familiar with which often seems unprofitable in itself. What is the epidemiological evidence for passive smoking? Does coffee give us cancer? If so, which cancer? What about food irradiation? Or “mad cow disease”? Or fast food? Or cholesterol? Where to begin? How far to go?
The value of this pamphlet is that it surveys the new battlegrounds. Messrs Tame and Botsford go through the main issues – tobacco, alcohol, sugar, fat, gambling, boxing, and so forth, matching claims against replies. Into a single place, they gather dozens of outrageous quotations. They quote this, for example:
Much was accomplished during the Second World War when, owing to rationing and control, it was difficult to obtain an ill-balanced diet.1
If you are a piece of meat you are subject to a knife…. Rape too is the implementation of violence in which the penis is the implement of violence….
The hearty meat eater… is not only a symbol of male power, it’s an index of racism.2
On the one hand, these make an entire arsenal of debating points. They cut off the standard collectivist reply: “Oh, come now, no one says that”. They do; and here it is set out chapter and verse, for the opposition to repudiate or accept. On the other, they reveal the loose but effective attack on freedom of which these are but elements. I said above that we need to enter into the details of each claim. But we need also to keep in mind that we are doing more than to deny – say – that parcel string is carcinogenic. As the authors say,
[t]he fundamental case against health fascism and its scares remains a moral and political one. It is the reassertion of the liberal view that individuals are autonomous agents with free will, and not mindless zombies dazed by the forces of advertising and social conditioning. [p.33]
I am also glad to see that they treat the business responses to health fascism with justified contempt:
Their tendency is to engage in what can only be called pre-emptive cringing. They lean over backwards to be “reasonable”. Instead of confronting, refuting and defeating their enemies, they produce platitudes. They have no conception of the nature of the opposition they face from enemies determined to cripple or destroy them. They “compromise” when compromise only encourages their opponents, and opens the door to the next restriction. They rely on PR hacks who have little understanding of the power of political ideologies and no idea how to combat them. They think things can be sorted out with behind-the-scenes “deals” with politicians – who cannot be trusted and will succumb to whosoever exerts the most pressure. [p.33]
It is, I agree, sad to watch these people in action. They think opposition can be somehow bought off. They are not even above trying to use it against their competitors. They have no respect for ideas, and none for their own businesses. Of course, this largely follows from the separation of ownership and management. What interest has a corporation man in wearing himself out against the health fascists, when a “voluntary” agreement may shut them up until after he has been promoted? The real wonder is that organisations like FOREST and the Social Affairs Unit remain in being to put the case for freedom, not that there are so few of them.
But this takes me from the subject. I will just repeat that this is a valuable pamphlet. Buy it. Read it. Pass it round. Do your bit in the guerilla war against collectivism.
Edward Hume (Sean Gabb)
2. Carol J. Adams, The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist Vegetarian Critical Theory, Polity Press, London, 1990, p.54.
© 1996 – 2017, seangabb.
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