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[Ben]:Reductio ad absur ... what, seriously? Discuss This [2 comments so far] View Comments
For years, when involved in debates about legislation I've been hit with an argument that goes something like this:

The government exists as an extension of the people to provide for the public interest through enacting legislation for the public benefit. Thus, insert item / behavior considered dangerous or self-destructive here is certainly something which should be prohibited by law in accordance with the purpose of the government.


I've distilled the essence of the idea and reworded it in a far more rational format than it is usually presented, but that's the basic point. Government exists to protect the public interest through judicious use of force, and self-destructive behaviors (such as certain recreational drugs or not wearing seat belts) are fully within the purview of legislative restrictions, commandments and prohibitions.

For years my standard retort to this concept was that obesity and the associated conditions (heart disease, diabetes, etc) were every bit as damaging as the item or behavior that was being vilified by my opponent. I'd often reference CDC statistics and mention that it would seem that given their position, it would make more sense to mandate government intervention into

As an example, two years ago I was debating some folks about the issue of recreational drugs and discussing the basis for the prohibitions they advocated. I've got no real dog in the fight since the only recreational drug I use is caffeine, and I don't even use it very often. I equally condemn the abuse of any drug whether legal or illegal, but I don't feel that my drugless position needs to be imposed through deadly force.

Here is one of my posts:
someone else wrote: The primary function of government is to make and enforce laws in the interests of public policy. Is unfettered drug use in the public interest? That's what the debate is about. Drug use is not AFAIK, a constitutionally guaranteed right as is RKBA.


With regards to this post, anything and everything can be justified using "public interest" - just depends on which part and how much of the public you care about.

Is widespread obesity resulting from poor diet and exercise in the public interest? Does that justify government regulation of fatty foods and sedentary lifestyles? What about possessions that tend to support sedentary lifestyles such as console games, televisions, computers, books, etc? Of course, it would be ridiculous for the government to ban or license Playstations and X-Boxes and restrict fatty foods to combat obesity, but that is completely acceptable with your line of reasoning of controlling people "for the public good". Indeed, it is the inevitable result of your school of thought. Note I didn't say inevitable conclusion, as there is no conclusion when it comes to the idea that one person should dictate to others how to conduct their personal affairs.

The desire to control people's personal lives through threat of deadly force "for the public good" and the mind-set that you or your agents can and should live other people's lives for them in the "public interest" is contradictory to the idea of freedom. One cannot advocate both. That is what this debate is about. Not whether we should pass out heroin at grade schools.

I went on at some length, backing my position up with stats that showed that both obesity and alcohol (a legal drug) are each more costly - both physically and economically - than all illicit drugs combined.

Essentially, my goal was to show that if someone wants to ban things because they are harmful, they'd be better off targeting self-destructive things that the majority of people abuse - like unhealthy food, alcohol and a sedentary lifestyle. My thought process at the time was that if I could show people the impossibility of trying to improve health through legislation and subsequently show them that trying to use the force of law to make adults take care of themselves was a concept entirely antithetical to the concept of freedom, and that the implication is that your body and productive capacity is not your own.

Needless to say, my attempts failed and as I alluded to in the final paragraph of the above post, most responses devolved to "If you don't support fighting a war on drugs at any cost (in terms of dollars, lives or freedoms), you want to give heroin to toddlers!"

Ah well.

Unfortunately, however, it seems that my arguments did worse than backfire. Rather than convince people of the stupidity of using the government to micromanage a person's health, I've caused people to demand more. I honestly don't think John Edwards means ill. He just wants power and will tell people whatever he thinks they want to hear to get it. In fact, I think it's great for people to engage in preventative health care and to seek professional assistance in taking care of their body. My problem lies in 1) socializing health care and thereby forcing everyone to pay for substandard care and 2) requiring people to seek government mandated treatment.

I know, I know … it is unlikely that I had any influence on John Edwards' proposed police-state health care. Much more likely, the laws prohibiting certain recreational drugs from being consumed by adults, enforcing seat belt usage, prohibiting smoking in private establishments, gun control and so forth are all just steps in a nation running away from the concept of individual freedom and responsibility.

Freedom is scary. Freedom means the possibility of failure. Freedom means consequences. For all that, I prefer freedom.
  2007-09-05
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Reductio ad absur ... what, seriously?
 
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