I’ve got a million ugly words for what you are

(c/o ): The Mississippi Legislature introduced a bill this week to prohibit restaurants from serving food to fat people:

Any food establishment to which this section applies shall not be allowed to serve food to any person who is obese, based on criteria prescribed by the State Department of Health after consultation with the Mississippi Council on Obesity Prevention and Management established under Section 41-101-1 or its successor. The State Department of Health shall prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese, and shall provide those materials to all food establishments to which this section applies. A food establishment shall be entitled to rely on the criteria for obesity in those written materials when determining whether or not it is allowed to serve food to any person.

The weblogger who broke this apparently called the state rep who authored the bill and asked if he were serious.

He kindly took a moment to answer my question while the legislature was in session. He said that while, regrettably, he doesn’t believe his bill will pass, this is serious. He wrote it, he said, because of the “urgency of the obesity crisis and need for government action.” He hopes it will “call attention to the serious problem of obesity and what it is costing the Medicare system.”

I said that making health insurance the government’s business would create a “trojan horse” by which increasing control over civilian lives would be justified. Giving HHS a vested interest in my health means they have a vested interest in my lifestyle choices – whether or not I smoke, get a tattoo, drive too fast, eat trans fats, run twice a week or never at all. And I said, “unless you can prove that, contra the 20th Century, the world is getting more free and not less, I’m going to be worried.”

You told me I was crazy.

I said that banning trans fats was a predictable next step from banning cigarette smoking in restaurants, and that the active persecution of fat people was only a matter of time. Far from being a slippery slope, this was a logical progression from deciding public policy where one benefit – making people incrementally healthier – outweighs every conceivable cost – civil liberties, consumer choice, entrepreneurship, the simple fucking notion of “live and let live.”

You told me I was crazy.

People can marginalize and mock the libertarian viewpoint all they want, but the truth will out: culture shifts on precedents. It’s not that the Guvmint is imposing some draconian new laws on us out of the callousness of its heart – it’s that the legislators who pass these laws arose from a cultural institution in which individual choices just don’t matter compared to some nebulously defined Social Good. Reps Mayhall, Shows and Read of the Great State of Miss-iss-ipp aren’t insane – they proposed this bill because they thought it was a good idea. Because they thought sane people would agree with them. And in a country where health insurance is mandatory in some states (and, if Romney gets elected, probably in the rest of the country), who’s to say their guess was wrong? A law like this isn’t a sea change – it’s a drop in the ocean.

When I say that liberty is an all-or-nothing thing, I don’t mean that to come off as extreme as it sounds. What I mean is: surrendering your freedom to choose on one front – be it abortion or smoking or wages or flag-burning or breast implants or genetically engineered food or anything – means conceding an argument in the future. It means you’ll have one less argument when someone wants to ban, mock or ostracize something that you enjoy doing. It’s not a question of electing Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians or Greens or whoever. It’s a question of changing the culture you live in. And when the question of whether or not we can forbid fat people entrance to a restaurant is even debatable, we live in a culture that does not value liberty.

A century ago, Evelyn Beatrice Hall (in a quote frequently attributed to Voltaire) wrote: “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” She understood that free speech has to transcend the gross preferences of personal taste. If you start making exceptions for words, images or thoughts that you find personally reprehensible, you are no longer a defender of free speech. Some people get this. But they don’t get that it applies to freedom as a whole.

Tell me I’m being an extremist. Tell me I’m fighting a futile battle. Tell me I’m missing some finer point that justifies banning this harmless life choice but not your pet cause. I’ve heard it before.

Just please stop telling me that I’m fucking crazy.

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