To use the words of a person I’m very fond of, I believe that “life is meant to be lived away from the television,” the History Channel, HGTV, sports, and Family Guy notwithstanding. I think Americas could stand to consume less TV, internet, video games, blogs, the other usual suspects, blah blah blah, kids these days, etc. Old-fashioned fresh air is under-appreciated. I also believe that although anthropomorphic global warming (i.e., that it is caused by human activity) is very likely a big hoax, propagated by some well-meaning media types because it is allegedly supported by a (relatively infantile) scientific field, we could all use our resources more appropriately and look for more efficient ways to preserve our world. I really do. Honest.
Apparently the California Energy Commission is considering a proposal that would ban the sale of non-energy efficient televisions, effectively taking 25% of TVs off the market in the state, most of them 40 inches or larger. For a lot of people, this would require a lifestyle change– relatively minor, I’d argue, and maybe for their own good– all thanks to emerging environmental consciousness. Again, I’m not knocking this new consciousness per se; I happen to think that it should convict us in a lot of ways. Yet, as government stretches to impact a heretofore mundane aspect of the lives of private citizens, it’s an appropriate time to worry how far this consciousness can reach, and whether this consciousness is fully based in reality (the latter perhaps being better saved for another post).
The problem is, under the current environmental/public health paradigm, nearly any activity or lifeform can be characterized as a hazard. We’ve all heard of taxing methane-producing (i.e., farting) cows– why not tax marathon runners? Surely, they produce an disproportionate amount of carbon dioxide. This may strike one as absurd, but consider– British researchers have already determined that overweight people harm the planet by eating and driving in cars more than some arbitrary normal. “We need to be doing a lot more to reverse the global trend toward fatness, and recognize it as a key factor in the battle to reduce (carbon) emissions and slow climate change,” the British scientists said. If the government believes these things are true, might it not also reasonably ration food (and food production), how far one can drive, and, in essence, prohibit someone from being overweight? I realize this might come off as a theoretical exercise in the slippery slope, but really– where do you practically draw the line then? We’re already considering telling people they can’t buy big-screen TVs, and mandate what sort of light bulbs they can have in their houses. Heck, a pack of cigarettes in Manhattan now costs over $9 thanks to new federal “sin” taxes– I’ll give you a guess as to what the impetus was there. And remember, these types of emerging consciousnesses have a tendency to keep emerging in a given direction, so what may seem absurd to us now…
All of this begs the question: thanks to legislation, we may live in a “healthy” society, a well-adjusted society, a clean and environmentally-conscious society, a smoke-free society, but (and I hate this question, because it’s cliche, and because it involves a matter of degree and nearly endless haggling over definition) but would we live in a free society? Is that still important? Which is better? Are things as simple as consumer choices worth jeopardizing the planet over? Or do these choices comprise a sort of spiritual freedom– the very liberty heralded by those venerated Founders– which in the balance outweighs the decrees of some well-meaning bureaucrats and scientists? Or does democratic society, however enlightened it may be, still need to forfeit its discretion to its betters in these types of cases?
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