Monday, June 04, 2012

Bloomberg's Soda Ban

I've been spending a lot of time with a newborn baby recently - I don't want to be one of those people who pulls sappy lessons out of everything she does - but it struck me interesting how she grasps things. I can put my finder in her hand, but she won't grasp it until I try to take it away - then she holds on tight - and quite determinedly for someone two weeks old.

It does seem like we take whatever we have for granted until someone tries to take it away. That seems like a natural reaction. I wonder how many things we only value when they're threatened? I could care less about 95% of the channels on my TV, but if only 5% of them were working, I would be upset.

This week NY Mayor, Michael Bloomberg announced that they'll be taking measures to limit the size of sugary drinks available in restaurants in the city. Some people have responded with vigor and rage. While I am pleasantly surprised to see just how many New Yorkers agree with the ban, it's equally disappointing how seriously and tragically its opponents are reacting.

There are cries of freedom in defense of giant sodas; I think those people are a bit confused as to what freedom means. No one is making big, unhealthy drinks illegal - they're just making them a little more difficult to get. If Bloomberg was leading a group of crow-bar wielding thugs in handle-bar mustaches into secret basement warehouse and destroying kegs of Dr. Pepper prohibition-style, there might be a case for freedom violation.

As Steve Martin tweeted, "Use this algorithm to maintain obesity and get around proposed over-sized soda ban in New York: Buy two."

Freedom doesn't mean a right to laziness. The promise of the American Dream, I think, was that hard work pays off - not unlimited access to anything at any time. That's not freedom, it's gluttonous malaise.

Call me crazy, but I see the only useful purpose of government as an entity empowered to make us do good things we don't have the self discipline to do on our own. I recognize that it's unsafe to drive down a crowded highway at 90mph - but if I'm in a hurry, I might do just that to save time (what's more, some crazy incompetent driver in the next lane might do the same thing).

But that's a public safety issue - this is personal; I can be decide to eat terribly unhealthy things if I want to - it's my life. Of course that's not true. The defense of the idea of individualism is what I dislike most about US culture. None of us is an individual. We can choose for ourselves, but our choices never effect only ourselves. We were made to be in community. We have to live in community and sometimes let others decide for us - or else we're not being human.

The natural human inclination is to selfishness, usually for the good purpose of self-preservation. Of course, not every selfish desire will lead to our own preservation; we balance immediate gratification with long-term survival. We tend to do a poorer and poorer job of balancing with each passing year. I also recognize the fruitlessness of living 100 years if they're all mediocre.

i don't think Bloomberg is making this push towards smaller sodas because he thinks it will actually make people drink less (in fact, stubborn humans are likely to drink more out of spite), but this move will make us think about how much we're drinking - when we order two or three sodas at once, or when we go back for refills time and again.

If fact, I suspect, if people will move their pride out of the way, they likely won't notice much difference. Most of us drink what's in the cup and don't give a second thought when it's gone. Half the people up in arms have never even seen a super big gulp and couldn't tell you how big a "large" is anyway. This whole argument is more about perception than reality.

I don't much care one way or another, if there's a limit on soda size or not. I do respect someone who's trying to make us think about our choices. In the end, I just can't morally justify defending, "I can have as much as I want whenever I want it." I don't mind that reality existing - I just can't ever call it good.

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