San Francisco Bay Area resident Patrick Totty writes about his experiences living with type 2 diabetesSee all posts »
Life in the State of Nanny
William Barrett was a Columbia University professor who wasn’t a particularly gifted writer but was a fine thinker. He wrote a book, The Illusion of Technique, which described what happens when people outsmart themselves by substituting appearances for real content.
We’re starting to run into a lot of that in the healthcare area. I live in California where several years ago voters passed Proposition 65. It mandates that all alcoholic beverages carry warnings to expectant mothers about possible fetal damage from drinking. It also mandates warnings to consumers about other possible chemical hazards, such as at dry cleaners.
The illusion of technique by the proposition’s well-meaning authors was that stern printed warnings on labels or business doors would dramatically lessen chemical poisonings and deformed babies.
The only problem is that almost nobody in California reads them.
My friends, who run a political gambit from ultra-liberal to very conservative, all laugh at the idea that somehow a problem has been decisively dealt with simply because grim alerts have been plastered on the items we buy.
In a way it reminds me of Tibetan prayer wheels, where the devout walk past banks of metal cylinders that have been imprinted with prayers on their surfaces. They spin the cylinders as they go by, and prayers go wafting off into the universe, automatically generated by the mere act of spinning.
The difference here, of course, is that an act of devotion to an unseen power is a very human and understandable thing. But the idea that you can transpose this kind of thinking to daily affairs borders on the ludicrous.
In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has decreed that restaurants may not sell sugary drinks in sizes bigger than 16 ounces. The reasoning behind this is the city’s ill-defined “responsibility” to fight obesity.
Unfortunately, Nanny Bloomberg did not think things through. People—consumers and business owners—can easily outsmart the mayor’s illusion of technique. All that restaurants have to do is offer two 16-oz. drinks for the price of one. And all that consumers have to do is take advantage of the offer.
Of course Bloomberg could impose ever more detailed restrictions on the trafficking of sugary drinks, such as forbidding the sale of more than one drink per customer. This would soon have to be amended no more than one drink per four customers, then no drinks sold on days whose names start with an S or T.
And so on, with the government scrambling to pass ever more absurd restrictions before pulling a final snit and outlawing sugar entirely.
This whole approach, ordering people to fit the current politically correct concept of being good, just doesn’t work. It’s never well thought through, and it rankles the rebel in many people. We’re going to see a lot more of this nannyism as the epidemic of type 2 diabetes picks up momentum.