Can the Government Force You to Eat Your Vegetables?
“If I wanted to sponsor a bill,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) asked, “and it said, ‘Americans, you have to eat three vegetables and three fruits every day,' and I got it through Congress and it’s now the law of the land... does that violate the Commerce Clause?” Elena Kagan looked puzzled. “Sounds like a dumb law,” she said.
When Kagan failed to say clearly that Congress didn’t have the power to “tell people what they have to eat every day,” Republicans circulated the video of from her confirmation hearings as evidence that she “views the power of government to be essentially without limit.”
Part of the problem was the way the question was worded. Coburn’s hypothetical three-square-meal law would not technically “violate” the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which says nothing whatsoever about what Congress can’t do. Coburn presumably meant to ask whether the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the power “to regulate commerce... among the several States,” would grant Congress the power to pass such a law. And, as Kagan ultimately pointed out, while the courts have traditionally allowed Congress to interpret the Commerce Clause quite broadly, it does not give Congress the power to regulate non-economic activities like eating.
For many conservatives, the broad power to regulate commerce—which is well-established in the courts—is behind the expansion of government into all sorts of things that are none of its business. Congress may not be able to require us all to eat our veggies, but it probably can use the Commerce Clause to regulate the amount of sodium or transfats in foods, just as it can regulate the sale of cigarettes. Key provisions of the health care reform bill—which Coburn admitted was the veiled target of his question—rely upon the Commerce Clause. Of course, conservatives generally object less to using the Commerce Clause to prohibit the sale of marijuana, even where it doesn't cross state lines. And the truth is that it would be difficult for the country to function in the modern world without some national regulatory power.
The idea that jackbooted liberal thugs might take away Coburn’s Hot Pockets may seem silly, but the underlying issue is a serious one. To what extent should the government force us to do what it thinks is good for us? The government requires to wear seat belts on the paternalist grounds that although we may find it annoying it saves many thousands of our lives. We likewise fluoridate the water on the grounds that it is tremendously effective in preventing tooth decay and gum disease. By forcing people to take better care of themselves, these policies also reduce the public cost of responding to injury-accidents or treating mouth disease. These policies nevertheless passed only because most of us don’t find either of them particularly burdensome, although adding fluoride to the water did prompt fears of a communist plot to poison or drug us.
Jacob Appel's suggestion—featured in Big Think’s Dangerous Ideas series—that we also add lithium to the water is unlikely to go anywhere. It may be that putting trace amounts of lithium, which is still widely used as an anti-depressant, in the water would save thousands of lives by preventing suicides. But even in "non-therapeutic" doses lithium would work only by affecting our brain chemistry in ways that are still poorly understood. While the fact that higher levels of lithium are naturally present in some water shows that it is not especially harmful at those doses, deliberately doping the general population with trace amounts of a mood-altering medication without their permission—and without knowing exactly how it will affect them all—surely would violate their rights. And if lithium affects attitudes enough to keep them from killing themselves, it seems likely that it could also affect their attitudes toward the government, which would raise the question of whether the government is using drugs to keep people from dissenting.
But as more people die from heart attacks and diabetes and other diet-related diseases—and the costs associated with managing and treating these diseases skyrockets—legislatures will consider new regulations on what goes into the food we eat. The fact is that whole industries are set up to convince people to consume or do things that are not particularly good for them. Coburn’s fears of being forced to eat his veggies may be misplaced, but new regulations would affect what foods are available and how much they cost. And the question of what the state can do to help us make better private decisions without limiting our freedom will increasingly be at the heart the debate between liberals and conservatives over what kind of government we should have.
Pfizer's partnerships strengthen their ability to deliver vaccines in developing countries.
- Community healthcare workers face many challenges in their work, including often traveling far distances to see their clients
- Pfizer is helping to drive the UN's sustainable development goals through partnerships.
- Pfizer partnered with AMP and the World Health Organization to develop a training program for healthcare workers.
Swiss researchers identify new dangers of modern cocaine.
- Cocaine cut with anti-worming adulterant levamisole may cause brain damage.
- Levamisole can thin out the prefrontal cortex and affect cognitive skills.
- Government health programs should encourage testing of cocaine for purity.
Sarco assisted suicide pods come in three different styles, and allow you to die quickly and painlessly. They're even quite beautiful to look at.
Death: it happens to everyone (except, apparently, Keanu Reeves). But while the impoverished and lower-class people of the world die in the same ol' ways—cancer, heart disease, and so forth—the upper classes can choose hip and cool new ways to die. Now, there's an assisted-suicide pod so chic and so stylin' that peeps (young people still say peeps, right?) are calling it the "Tesla" of death... it's called... the Sarco!
Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:
"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."
Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.
Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.
The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?
Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression
In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.
It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.
Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.
Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.
The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.
It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.
In their findings the authors state:
"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.
Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."
With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.
Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner
As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:
- Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
- Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
- Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
- Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
- Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
- Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
- Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.
It's interesting to note the authors found that:
"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."
You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.
Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:
- 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
- 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
- 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
- 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
- 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
- 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.
Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement
Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:
- Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
- Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
- Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
- Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
- We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
- If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.
Civic discourse in the divisive age
Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.
There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:
"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.
Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."
We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.
This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.
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