What if government treated eating the way it treats sex?

It’s a useful distinction to consider.  A particular moral idea governs left-wing views on social and health matters, and the left’s purpose with political advocacy is to put the power of government behind that view.  By examining the left’s very different policy approaches to eating and sex, we can discern the features of the morality at work.

The left’s governmental approach to sex today involves, among other things, the following:

1.  Advertising it to children through the public schools and encouraging them to explore and participate in it.

2.  Basing policy on the assumption that no solution to any problem lies in individuals restraining or channeling their sexual urges, and therefore even the intractable facts of nature should not be left, with their powerful incentives, to encourage that posture.  It is important, instead, to create an environment conducive to sex unfettered by its natural consequences.

3.  Providing, at public expense, the means to have sex on one’s own terms, but avoid procreation and sexually transmitted diseases.

4.  Providing, at public expense, the means to support children who are born nevertheless.

5.  To adjust the balance between 3 and 4, encouraging and advocating the use of contraception and the resort to abortion.

The suite of policies advocated by the left is designed to encourage sex but limit procreation and STDs.  The social “good,” therefore, is deemed to be unfettered sex, while the social “ills” are the birth of children and the suffering (and infectiousness) incident to STDs.

Let’s compare this moral view and its program construct to the left’s policy attitude toward eating.  In this latter realm, the social “ills” are thought to be obesity and the medical problems that come with it.  But what is the social “good”?  Is there one?  It’s hard to say, because eating – which can be a most enjoyable activity, and far less avoidable than sex – is not, in the left’s moral view, considered a “good” to be promoted on whatever terms the individual prefers.

The left’s governmental treatment of eating is very different from its treatment of sex.  It runs on these lines:

1.  Advertising to children (as well as adults) the evils of certain kinds of food.

2.  Basing policy on the assumption that the people must be nudged or even coerced to eat according to whatever principle is suggested by the most recent studies.  It is important to create an environment in which eaters have to go well out of their way to avoid the choices made for them by government authorities.  The ideal, in fact, is an environment in which eaters can’t avoid the dictates of the government.

3.  Ensuring that the expenses of obesity are, increasingly, born by the public, while fanning political resentment of those expenses, and of the condition of the obese.

4.  Proclaiming that the solution in every case is controlling what people eat, rather than providing for the obese the same publicly-funded relief offered to the sexually promiscuous.

It is hard to make the case that eating a lot is worse than having a lot of sex outside of commitment and marriage.  At the very most, the two practices are a moral wash, one no worse than the other.  Both involve doing discretionary things with one’s body.  Both involve courting well-known consequences.  Both involve the strong potential for inconvenience to oneself and the larger community.  It is making an arbitrary moral judgment, to insist that what causes obesity should be dealt with through coercion and the limiting of options, while what causes unwanted pregnancies and STDs should be the object of solicitude, and public programs based not on denial but on mitigation.

We know that eating in moderation and limiting certain foods generally results in better health than eating, indiscriminately, lots and lots of things we enjoy for only a brief moment.

But we also know that not having sex prevents pregnancy and STDs with unparalleled effectiveness.  We know, moreover, that disciplining our sex drives, keeping sex within marriage, welcoming the children that come from it, and raising them with a father and mother are substantially more effective in preventing STDs, “unwanted” children, poverty, delinquency, addiction, and hopelessness than are government programs to distribute condoms and subsidize abortion providers.

If government treated obesity the way it treats sex, it would encourage schoolchildren to explore their enjoyment of Twinkies, Oreos, and moon pies; it would employ professionals to devise ways of suiting government policies to the principle that our bodies belong to us and we can put whatever we want in our stomachs; it would hold legislative hearings on the overriding importance of the freedom to eat what we want; it would resist the very idea of remedies that involve the individual eating less, or eating different things; it would pay for liposuction, cholesterol drugs, heart surgery, and diabetes-mitigation measures but not for programs of diet and exercise; it would encourage the development of drugs that could prevent fat formation regardless of what one eats; and it would make it a basic human right to be able to eat whatever one wants and have the consequences mitigated by the public.

There really is no case to be made that government should not do this.  If, that is, we accept that government’s current approach to sex and its consequences is appropriate and warranted.

Ultimately, no discussion of these issues would be complete without the observation that if government – and the federal government in particular – wasn’t involved in them in the first place, it wouldn’t matter nearly as much when the people’s opinions and our moral perspectives on them differed.

J.E. Dyer’s articles have appeared at The Green Room, Commentary’s “contentions,Patheos, The Weekly Standard online, and her own blog, The Optimistic Conservative.