I bumped into a post on College Tri yesterday that asked (and attempted to answer) this question: Do we enable obesity? The question, phrased like that after Tuesday’s election results sent me into a bit of a tailspin. I was a bit rough on the young lad and in hindsight, regret the comment I left on his blog, kind of… Before I get into that, I would like to point out a few very decent points that were made in his post:
“Worst of all… because of the rare cases where genetics make overweight-ness and obesity inevitable, it has become “okay” for everyone to be overweight or obese.”
Now, I’ve never seen a case where genetics alone “make” one obese, and studies that show that those who counter their genetics with exercise can beat their bad genes. Too much food and not enough exercise make a person fat. In fact, if you were to put a sedentary person on my diet they’d wind up gaining anywhere between one and three pounds – a week (depending on the time of year) while I struggle to keep my weight up. Of course, I look at things from a very obtuse angle as well. I live with the “alcoholic gene”. There isn’t anything I can do about it – except not drink. A byproduct of being a drunk is that we tend to drive a vehicle in that condition… Should we as a society make it OK for drunks to drive in that state because genetics made them do it? Uh, no – not ever. Should an employer be forced to put up with the fact that I show up to work a little sh!t faced from time to time? After all, it’s not my fault, I have bad genes. Uh, no that would be crazy too. The point is, even if every obese person in America has bad genes, by themselves, they are not an excuse.
Beyond that though, he makes an excellent point – because a small percentage may have bad genes, how has it become OK for everyone to be overweight or obese? It’s simple. It comes down to an attempt to codify BS self-esteem and silly “feelings”. The genetics argument is a method used to shield overweight people from having to deal with their problem. The use of the Genes excuse becomes a manner of stifling discussion and placing blame elsewhere… And that’s exactly where his post goes next (and where I started to take issue):
“We have engineered our way into a life where we can do less physical labor and maintain a high standard of living.”
We’ve also engineered our way of life to get more accomplished in a shorter amount of time – being a desk jockey, I still manage to find my time to exercise – because I will be a miserable bastard if I don’t. Because I don’t want to be miserable and because I’ve worked so hard to drop the 40+ pounds that I did, I maintain my daily workout schedule. While my wife and kids do pay a toll in time (generally less than an hour a day), they reap astronomical benefits because I’m not miserable.
“Now we get to the main point of my post. Are we enabling obesity? We’ve had all this knowledge for a very long time and yet Americans seem to be unable to muster the willpower to make the right choices. Just this year, NYC Mayor Bloomberg pushed for a ban on soft drinks larger than 16 ounces within his city. The city’s Board of Health voted 8-1 in favor of it as well. A lot of people have seen it as a stifling of the choice of individuals. But let’s take a look at what a 16 ounce coke has in it.”
He goes on to list the amount of calories and sugar in a soft drink. This is the problem though – he asks if we are enabling a personal problem. He takes the blame from the obese person and attempts to spread it throughout society, as if it were fertilizer. This is where the politicians imagine their “mandate” and their power (Get that? The mandate and power are both imagined), and considering that we’re about to witness four more years of this, it becomes important to tread very lightly. It is a stifling of choice to limit the size of a container of Coke. This is how the politician sees it: Because you have genes that “make you” (I like, “you use as an excuse to remain”) fat, you cannot be trusted with anything more than a 16 ounce can of soda. Politicians then swoop in to save you – not from the evil soda pop company, but from yourself. This is the control that most people accept as if it were needed. Now this is going to get deep, so stay with me here:
I think, then, that the species of oppression by which democratic nations are
menaced is unlike anything that ever before existed in the world; our
contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I seek in vain for an expression that will accurately convey the whole of the
idea I have formed of it; the old words despotism and tyranny are inappropriate:
the thing itself is new, and since I cannot name, I must attempt to define it.
The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and alike, incessantly endeavoring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which they glut their lives. Each of them, living apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the rest; his children and his private friends constitute to him the whole of mankind. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is close to them, but he does not see them; he touches them, but he does not feel them; he exists only in himself and for himself alone; and if his kindred still remain to him, he may be said at any rate to have lost his country.
Above this race of men stands an immense and tutelary power, which takes upon itself alone to secure their gratifications and to watch over their fate. That power is absolute, minute, regular, provident, and mild. It would be like the authority of a parent if, like that authority, its object was to prepare men for manhood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep them in perpetual childhood: it is well content that the people should rejoice, provided they think of nothing but rejoicing. For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?
Thus it every day renders the exercise of the free agency of man less useful and less frequent; it circumscribes the will within a narrower range and gradually robs a man of all the uses of himself. The principle of equality has prepared men for these things;it has predisposed men to endure them and often to look on them as benefits.
After having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd. [Emphasis is mine]
I have always thought that servitude of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind which I have just described might be combined more easily than is commonly believed with some of the outward forms of freedom, and that it might even establish itself under the wing of the sovereignty of the people.
Our contemporaries are constantly excited by two conflicting passions: they want to be led, and they wish to remain free. As they cannot destroy either the one or the other of these contrary propensities, they strive to satisfy them both at once. They devise a sole, tutelary, and all-powerful form of government, but elected by the people. They combine the principle of centralization and that of popular sovereignty; this gives them a respite: they console themselves for being in tutelage by the reflection that they have chosen their own guardians. Every man allows himself to be put in leading-strings, because he sees that it is not a person or a class of persons, but the people at large who hold the end of his chain.
By this system the people shake off their state of dependence just long enough to select their master and then relapse into it again. A great many persons at the present day are quite contented with this sort of compromise between administrative despotism and the sovereignty of the people; and they think they have done enough for the protection of individual freedom when they have surrendered it to the power of the nation at large. This does not satisfy me: the nature of him I am to obey signifies less to me than the fact of extorted obedience. I do not deny, however, that a constitution of this kind appears to me to be infinitely preferable to one which, after having concentrated all the powers of government, should vest them in the hands of an irresponsible person or body of persons. Of all the forms that democratic despotism could assume, the latter would assuredly be the worst.
This was written almost 200 years ago, by a Frenchman who travelled to America in an attempt to better understand our fledgling Democracy, not even 60 years old at the time. Alexis DeTocqueville’s book is entitled Democracy In America. The chapter that this was pulled from is entitled: WHAT SORT OF DESPOTISM DEMOCRATIC NATIONS HAVE TO FEAR
The definition of a despot is a: a ruler with absolute power and authority
In other words, what sort of absolute authority do Democratic Nations have to fear. If those several paragraphs don’t describe President Obama (and also Mayor Bloomberg) perfectly, you didn’t pay attention – go through and read it again, and let me know in the comments section and I’ll explain it in plainer English. Now, getting deeper into Constitutional History, this sort of Despotism is exactly what the Constitution was written to protect against. This is why all powers not expressly granted by The Constitution go to the States… The idea is that it’s ok to have a state (or a city in New York’s case) with a kook like Bloomberg for a Despotic Mayor because people are free to live there or leave. This is why health care is so important by the way – if it’s implemented by a single state, there is escape – if by the federal government, it is all-encompassing.
This is also why those who find it difficult to institute their ideals of despotism say that the Constitution should be considered a “living document” – because the only way to change it in a way that allows despotism is to say it means something else entirely because “times have changed”. The Constitution of the United States of America was written perfectly, and that is an inconvenient truth.
And that is why I responded to his post the way I did.
From that point on, though, his conclusion is well thought out and I agree with it – minus the “costing the government and economy billions” part – I’d be willing to bet fat people save the government money in the long run. They die young – they pay all their lives into social security and then die before they get to cash out. As far as the economy goes, everyone cashes in on the overweight. How much is the fitness industry in America worth to the economy? If we all ate like rabbits there would be no need. How about the bicycle industry? If we didn’t have the battle of the bulge to fear, who would ride a bicycle over driving in a car?