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October 17, 2007


Tom Freeman

"These arguments are efforts to remove reponsibility from individuals and give it to "society."
It's obvious that the collectivization of responsibility leads to statism"

Not necessarily. If you're a politician who goes around saying that "society is not the same thing as the state", this approach could license a programme of earnest waffle and regretful hand-waving while taxes are cut and nothing too tricky is personally asked of swing voters. I mean, individuals.


This collectivization of responsibility is nothing new...

Innocent Abroad

In California, it's illegal to discriminate against someone on the grounds that they're obese.

Lawyers elswehere are hoping to bring obesity within the purview of anti-disability discrimination. Of course, being lawyers, self-interest never crosses their minds.

Nor, of course, is there any truth in the scandalous accusation that the rise in obesity is partly an unintended consequence of the success of anti-smoking campaigns.

Chris Williams

Surely there are collective action problems here? This is not a problem that individual decisions create, nor one that they can solve. Staying thin is a lot more difficult if you live in (say) Milton Keynes, given that there's damn all in walking distance, so you have to own a car and get it out to run the merest errand. Note that more and more places are being built like MK.

People stuck in the suburbs doing sedentary jobs need serious willpower to stay thin. 'Responsibilisation' appears merely to blame them all for being feckless. Me I'd rather blame the various gits who plan development at 40 people per acre and let Tesco build a superstore: _those_ were the key decisions that make people fat, not the choice of biscuits.

This govt report (perhaps because it was expert-led) seems to acknowledge these factors. Shame that R4's _Today_ used it as an excuse to invite some eedjit from the British Heart Foundation who said that it meant we (ie the state) should ban all junk food advertising, introduce tougher 'obseity targets' (like this means anything) and make 'high-fat' labels on food mandatory.

It was nice to hear her in a tizz, even though she was being presented as the voice of reason - luckily they had the govt's chief scientist on later, pointing out that this was a structural problem, needing long-term solutions. He even mentioned the c-word.

Much as it pains me to admit it, I think that this might bring out an inherent contradiction in the Dillowverse: what happens when an expert (not a manager) advocates state action?

Taylor Sanders

The effort to diminish personal responsibility for obesity is nothing more than a reasoned conclusion arrived at by looking at all of the facts. The most obvious such fact is that overall people are much fatter than they used to be. Do you somehow think that 'discipline' as a personality trait has declined. It doesn't seem likely. However our lifestyles and the food we eat have changed considerably and they exert increasing pressure on us to gain weight. For some the pressure is too great to resist and despite earnest and intense efforts they become obese when 30 yrs ago they wouldn't have. What does any of this have to do with collectivization?


It also unthinkingly contradicts the principle of getting enough exercise and eating a balanced diet.


As usual, common sense prevails at HYS:

I especially like this comment:
"Living is bad for you. Surveys have found that 100% of those involved died eventually. This realisation has stunned observers and media alike. The government is holding special talks on how to better educate the public on their mortality. It is expected that new measures will be put in place to ensure all members of the public are aware of their impending death, and what they should do to ensure their death has a minimal effect on the tax payer."

Mike Woodhouse

"I'm responsible for kids being miserable"

So it was your fault that my daughter was a bit glum today. Well I hope you're pleased with yourself.


I don't see the paradox. "Yasmin Alibhai-Brown says" means "everything that follows is complete shit" - difficult to have a paradox with that ....

Matt Munro

"1. It unthinkingly contradicts the principle of methodological individualism - that social events are the product, albeit in complex ways, of individual actions. The individual should be be basic unit of analysis of society."

The left, as uncritical disciples of tabula rasa psychology are entrenched in the nurture camp of the nurture/nature debate. The logical extension of that position is the reverse of methodological individuialism - i.e the individual is the product of social events rather than the other way round.
People are reduced to the status of lab rats, and are assumend to respond to the blizzard of "consume" stimuli reliably and predictably. Fat people are thus the unthinking victims of consumerism, and the food indutry are the bad guys. Stand by for some taxing/banning. Maybe in 5 years time fat people will have to stand outside in the rain to eat their cheesburgers, like smokers do now.


You are right that any extreme position here is bound to be wrong. But this issue is not easy. Consider for instance the state of Aboriginals in Australia. Nothing works. Condemning the individuals doesn't improve them (rather the reverse). Throwing money at the problem doesn't either. The fact is that it is difficult to adjust to the enormous social change of moving from a relative leisure rich but highly resource intensive lifestyle to a modern lifestyle and most have failed. Recognising that human socialisation is complex, that people are neither automatons, nor completely in control of themselves either is a step in understanding that the problem is difficult. Look around - see what has worked, try things and measure the result. Na - too difficult, just pontificate.

Sage King

Fine and dandy, adults should take responsibility for their lives, or as PJ Orouke says, you have the right to do what you want however you must take all responsibility for it. BUT what about children?

Children are not responsible for their actions, we cannot offer incentives to 6 year old to eat differently to their tubby parents.or in 38% if children PARENT.

I will happily walk over the body of a heroin user you got hooked and refused help, but I cannot walk past their offsping, and i think we have a moral duty to save any child from their nightmare parents/parent

Chris Wiliams

"The left, as uncritical disciples of tabula rasa psychology are entrenched in the nurture camp of the nurture/nature debate."

I've been a leftist for decades now, and I've met very few leftists who sign up to the tabula rasa theory. Could you provide some evidence here, or will that destroy your comfortable mindset?

Matt Munro

I don't see how you can be left wing (in the true sense) and not sign up to tabula rasa, as without it there is no legitimate role for the state in conditioning behaviour. What did marx have to say about human nature ? Where do you think that positions him in terms of tabula rasa ?

Chris Williams

To be left is to suppport the state? News to Proudhon.

Matt Munro

In general the left believe in big government, do they not, and the right the opposite ?

john b

Economically, perhaps.

Chris Williams

Fabians like big states. Not all leftists are Fabians. Do try to keep up.


I think the problem with left and right labels and big/small labels is that they both try to put diverse groups into confining buckets.

Generally, "the left" is more in favour of using democratic choice, "the right" in favour of individual choice, even if that means aristocratic or plutocratic authoritarianism. (If you like the left places a higher value on egalitarianism.) But within those categories there is a lot of difference on the right from fascists to libertarians on the left from communists to anarchists. The labels are pretty useless really.


You seem to be assuming that it's all or nothing - either individuals are entirely and completely responsible for themselves, or the responsibility lies entirely with the collective. As is generally the way with these things, the real picture is somewhat more complex.

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