Monday 28 July 2014

Dr Sarah Wollaston and the "duty to intervene" - how health fascism works


Dr Wollaston MP, il capo di tutti capi of nannying fussbucketry, who chairs the House of Commons Health Select Committee has called for laws to ban 'supersized foods':

“Supersized” food and drinks should be banned by law in a bid to combat Britain’s obesity epidemic, the new head of the Commons health select committee has said.

Now in one respect this is just another judgement on a particular type of food service - one that is most popular with ordinary folk who can't afford to pig out in Michelin starred restaurants. But the most disturbing aspect of Dr Wollaston's call wasn't that she wants a ban - such is the default position of nannying fussbuckets everywhere - but rather that the government has "a duty to intervene".

For a Conservative MP to set out such an argument is quite disturbing. For sure, we've had our flirtations with the intellectual underpinnings of fascism before but this is a disturbing rationale - government must intervene to stop people making a choice that may (or may not) have a negative impact on their health. The context for this is apparently:

"You go into the cinema and someone will ask if you want to supersize for an extra 20p - we don’t need that.”

Now apart from being surprised that anything at all in a cinema is priced as cheaply as 20p, this argument presupposes that people are mere automata programmed from childhood to exclaim 'yes, please' at every piece of marketing communications. Even offers mumbled at the buyer by a food service operative in a cinema queue.

Indeed, Dr Wollaston, in an indication as to the scale of her ignorance of how marketing works, has this to say:

“The scale of the marketing towards children of unhealthy foods is wholly unacceptable in my view given the scale of the problem."

This is straight from the Naomi Klein "brands-are-evil" playbook - again an odd position for an intelligent Conservative MP to adopt. We are to believe, Dr Wollaston says, that consumers are rendered incapable of choice when presented with the question 'would you like to supersize that?' or 'would you like a large one of those?' This reflects the infantilising of society by lawmakers - people aren't fat because of their own poor decision-making but because the marketing of food 'targets' them, 'forcing' them to consume 'unhealthy' products.

All this suggests that those people - the majority of people as it happens - who remain at a healthy weight are stoical ascetics. Or else (and I'm inclined to this view) Dr Wollaston and her fellow fussbuckets are peddling nonsense about the marketing of food.

So where does this 'duty to intervene' come from? It's clear that no such duty exists so what Dr Wollaston is saying is rather that she thinks only 'tough' measures such as bans can deal with the 'obesity crisis'. As I'm inclined to kindness in these things, I could say that Dr Wollston is befuddling her duty as a doctor to advise her patients with some sort of wider duty falling on the state. However, regardless of Dr Wollaston's motives, the result of setting out a concept such as a 'duty to intervene' is to redefine the role of the state, to turn its role from guarantor of rights and provider of services to a primary role of shaping society.

Which is why the term 'health fascist' is entirely appropriate to describe Dr Wollaston's position. The central tenet of fascism is that the state has a duty to change men so they serve the wider purpose of the nation - we are subservient to the needs of that state because it understands what is necessary to build the right kind of society. So it is with the 'duty to intervene' - people ordering 'supersized' boxes of popcorn are not merely damaging themselves, they also damage society by placing a 'cost' on us all. Such practices are decadent with the sin compounded by the suggestion that someone profits from making people eat larger portions.

So to put this right government has that 'duty to intervene'. The wider interests of society - defined with the term 'obesity epidemic' - are served by banning a person from entering freely into a contract with another person because the state has decided that large servings of fizzy-pop and popcorn are unhealthy.

This rejection of choice in a free society because of associated 'health risks' or the 'normalisation' of somet proscribed behaviour represents a degree of control and a justification on the basis of wider society's 'interests' that can only be described as fascist. Yet this health fascism - the view that bans and controls are needed because of the 'cost to society' - has become ever more common. That we are weak and make poor choices is undeniable and society should help us to deal with these problems but this does not justify saying that I cannot be allowed the option of a 'poor' choice. The former is good government, that latter health fascism.



Gawain Towler said...

On the button

Anonymous said...

Agree with every word, as Gawain said on the button.
Greg Burrows, Dewsbury.

Curmudgeon said...

I've quoted you at length here.

It has to be said that, while Conservatism is not Libertarianism, it is very hard to understand how she can self-identify as a Conservative.

I also have to say I think open primaries are a bonkers idea and I struggle to understand why the likes of Douglas Carswell are so keen on them.