Speaker after speaker scorned the notion that individual Americans are responsible for their own choices. Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI—the Ralph Nader spinoff that has already ruined movie popcorn for millions of us), made no effort to hide her agenda. "We have got to move beyond personal responsibility," she pleaded with her audience. In a session titled "The Politics of Food," Skip Spitzer of the radical Pesticide Action Network added that "the idea of 'personal responsibility'" is merely "a cultural construct," ready to be superseded for our own good.Thanks to Will (guest-blogging at the Agitator) for the pointer, and for reminding me of a warning I’ve been meaning to give my readers. The strategy of suing Big Food for the eating choices of individuals is, as Radley and Julian have noted, the leading example of reductio creep: the transformation of a seemingly absurd extension of an opponent’s argument into a serious policy proposal. So what is the next step in the creep? What will be the target of the anti-responsibility lobby’s next campaign?
Amy has the answer. Obesity is caused by two things: consuming too many calories and burning too few. It makes as much sense to attack the latter as the former. So how long will it be before General Electric and other manufacturers of labor-saving appliances (such as washing machines, dishwashers, and escalators) get sued for making people fat? Amy’s faux proposal (warning labels on appliances) could be only the beginning. Amy might have been joking, but I’m dead serious. In principle, you cannot distinguish the case against Big Food from the the case against Big Appliances. If the legal and political systems abandon personal responsibility in the former case, why should they uphold it in the latter? Worse, the argument can be extended to any product or activity that tends to reduce calorie usage, such as movies, television programs, even white-collar jobs (how long before someone sues for workers’ comp because they got fat from sitting at a desk?).
The creep is like undertoe: before you know it, you’re a mile down the beach, scratching your head and wondering where you left your towel and cooler.