Thursday, March 12, 2009

Alvarado's War on the Mind

Tuesday's Chronicle ran an editorial supporting Texas Rep. Carol Alvarado's bill to ban trans fats in the state.
It takes just a quick trip around the grocery store perusing the signs on display cases to confirm what you already knew: “No trans fats!” “Zero trans fats!” No doubt about it: Trans fats are bad for us.

If one accepts the premise of the Chronicle's argument--things that are bad for us (such as reading the Chronicle) should be banned--there is no end to the number of activities that should be under control. And why stop at activities that are typically harmful? Why not go after any activity that can have a negative consequence--such as driving, or starting a business, or having sex? (These are rhetorical questions--I am not advocating such legislation.)

But the premise underlying this bill is much more insidious than controlling what we may eat. If the government can control what we consume physically, it is only a small step away from controlling what we "consume" intellectually. If the government can control what we put in our bodies, it won't be long before it controls what we put into our minds.

The argument used for banning trans fats--that they are bad for us--could also be used in favor of banning certain ideas. For example, those who question Obama's proposals could be accused of undermining public morale, instilling rebellion, and in general being harmful to the nation.

Bans on trans fats--as well as similar laws--explicitly prohibit individuals from acting according to their own judgment. Controls on the body are implicitly controls on the mind--they render an individual's judgment moot. If one accepts such bans, one cannot argue against an expansion of that principle to the realm of ideas. Because the law is often a process of extending a principle to its logical conclusions, it will not be long before those controls are made explicit.

That Alvarado would aspire for such despotism is not surprising to those who have much familiarity with her career. A Chronicle profile quotes former fellow Council member Gabriel Vasquez as calling Alvarado's political style the "Chicago ward-boss model." "It's about power, authority and control," Vasquez said.

Ayn Rand often wrote that the initiation of force is ultimately directed at the mind. They compel an individual to act contrary to his own judgment. They force an individual to follow the dictates and judgment of others. This is precisely the end that Alvarado is pursuing. Whether it is banning smoking in restaurants (she led that effort in Houston) or banning trans fats, Alvarado does not want to allow individuals the freedom to make their own choices and act accordingly.

Alvarado and her ilk invariably argue that the actions of one individual have an impact on others through higher insurance costs, or higher government spending on health care, or something similar. They treat the individual as a cell in the organism called "society"--as subservient to the collective. If the "public good" or "general welfare" requires removing a few cancerous cells, so be it.

But individuals are not chattel to be disposed of by Alvarado or the public. Each individual has a moral right to his own life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Each individual has a moral right to act according to his own judgment, so long as he respects the mutual right of others.

In the end, the ideas advocated by Alvarado have killed far more individuals than trans fats. Collectivism and statism have been responsible for the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and the gulags of Soviet Russia. They have been responsible for the killing fields of Cambodia and the genocide of Darfur. They are the true threat, not trans fats.

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