In Europe, the fascists goose-stepped; in America, they jog.
– John O’Sullivan
The other day my wife and I went into a Starbuck’s in Santa Monica, California. I selected a fruit-and-yogurt cup and asked for an apple-bran muffin. The young woman behind the counter smiled apologetically, explained that they were out of apple-bran muffins, and offered a zucchini-walnut muffin instead. My wife selected a sandwich and asked where the salt was. The woman did not smile, was unapologetic, and said rather coldly, “We don’t have salt.”
As we ate our unsalted food, I wondered aloud – perhaps a bit too loud – whether Starbuck’s was aware of the vast amount of fat, mainly saturated, in their muffins, pastries, and creamed coffee drinks. I also wondered aloud whether they knew that modest amounts of salt are not unhealthful, except for the minority of sufferers from high blood pressure who are sensitive to salt. In fact, on a hot, humid day like we were enduring, additional salt might be necessary for those who worked or exercised strenuously.
But my ramblings went unnoticed by those around us. After all, they were residents of the People’s Republic of Santa Monica, which is second only to Berkeley and perhaps to San Francisco in its leftist leanings. I was aware that New York’s Mayor Bloomberg was pressuring restaurants to get rid of salt shakers. But apparently the “no salt” policy originated from Starbuck’s management, not from a Santa Monica city ordinance.
Off hand, one might think that this is a plus – that is, that the policy originated as a business decision, not as a government edict. I disagree. If the government issues an edict, everyone knows where it comes from. People, especially Americans, tend to resent being bullied. They are apt to resist being pushed around by officials who theoretically are their employees.
On the contrary, if the decision is “voluntary” – that is, coerced but not directly ordered by the government – then people tend to remain passive. They are unsure whom to blame, so they blame no one. They have less awareness that they are being bullied, so they have less will to resist.
Worst of all, if the program is presented as “healthful” or “green” – that is, “for their own good” – people usually go along. At most, they utter an occasional grumble about a tasteless sandwich or an inedible hard-boiled egg. Much of our popular culture is already tasteless; must our food be tasteless as well?
We see another example of this phenomenon in Mayor Bloomberg’s crusade to have maternity wards in New York hospitals lock up baby formula as if it were a narcotic, and force mothers who do not want to – or are unable to – nurse their babies to ask for each bottle separately, then endure a lecture on the virtues of breast feeding.
Note that this was not a decree issued by the mayor or an ordinance passed by the city council. No, it was a “suggestion” by the mayor, put into effect “voluntarily” by several hospitals in the interest of “child health.”
Breast feeding does have advantages. But the fact remains that the baby-boomer generation, the most healthy and longest-lived generation in our history, was largely bottle fed. If the fundamental choice of how to feed her own baby is not left to the mother, how in Heaven’s name (literally) can these people call themselves “pro-choice”?
Oh, wait, I almost forgot. “Choice” refers only to the choice of whether to abort an unborn baby for any reason whatever, up to the ninth month. But “choice” does not refer to the choice of how to feed the baby if he or she is allowed to live, or what to put into the child’s lunchbox, or even to the choice of what light bulbs or toilets to use, or what talk radio to listen to, or much of anything else.
And then we have the school officials who confiscate the lunches that mothers pack for their children, and force the children to eat the “healthful” school lunch of chicken nuggets – one of the least healthful foods available. The children were taught (1) that their parents don’t know what is good for them but the schools do, (2) that it is okay to waste food, and (3) that officials have the right to seize their property on a whim. Now there’s an educational moment for children in a free country.
Worst of all, the school billed the parents for the meal they didn’t want their kids to eat. That is, they were billed for the parental rights they were not allowed to exercise. Now there’s an educational moment for adults in a free country.
Tyrannical governments of the past resembled Big Daddy. They were oppressive in a forceful, bullying way. They blatantly threatened severe punishment if their dictates were not obeyed instantly. We picture Hitler haranguing the crowd, gesticulating and shouting. We picture Stalin speaking quietly, but with understated menace in his impassive face. We picture the Iranian leaders ranting their homicidal bigotry and hatred.
But like a real father, these masculine-style tyrants tend to evoke rebellion where it is physically possible. On the other hand, a feminine-style tyranny of Big Mommy is harder to perceive as tyranny. It uses words like “health” and “caring” and “green,” evoking the idea of a nurturing mother rather than a bullying father.
Yet in the end, this type of tyranny may be just as oppressive, but even more difficult to throw off. Who would not feel guilty turning his back on a caring mother? Who would not hesitate before contradicting those who speak softly about health and the environment? Who would not have qualms about rejecting what is for our “own good”?
And so we have the worst form of tyranny: one imposed from above, but put into effect by the people themselves – for their “own good,” of course. The restaurateurs who remove salt shakers, the school officials who confiscate lunch boxes, and the hospital administrators who lock up baby formula, do not see themselves as complicit in the advance of creeping tyranny – but they are.
If we can summon up the courage to tell the stooges of government to keep their hands off our babies’ bottles, our kids’ lunch boxes, and our salt shakers, and if we have the guts to tell the bureaucrats to keep their hands off our light bulbs and our toilets, then maybe – just maybe – we will be able to keep the government’s hands off what is left of our freedom.
Dr. Stolinsky writes on political and social issues. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org. You are welcome to publish or post these articles, provided that you cite the author and website.