Public Equals Private, Right Equals Wrong

H/T to DP’s Link Tank for this Telegraph piece by Brendan O’Neill:

I have written in the Spectator this week about the muzzling of New York City by its miserabilist Mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and his joy-killing sidekick and health commissioner, Thomas Farley. These two health freaks are zapping the spirit from what Walt Whitman described as a “mad, mettlesome, extravagant city” by instituting all sorts of lifestyle-related rules and regulations:

Bloomberg has banned smoking, trans-fats, and soda pop, as O’Neill continues in the Spectator:

New York is currently governed by a gaggle of health-obsessed bigwigs who believe they have a duty to grab New Yorkers by the scruffs of their outsized necks and drag them towards lives of bicycle-riding, non-smoking, booze-avoiding, fruit-snacking conformity. City Hall, under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, is awash with that new breed of psycho-politician known as the ‘nudger’, who believes that he has the right to use psychological techniques and brute censorship to manipulate and ‘improve’ human behaviour.

The Bloombergers have become world-beaters in the banning of public smoking and the demonisation of junk food. It is testament to their successful colonisation of these islands that the banning of smoking in all public parks, pedestrian plazas and beaches passed without incident, and even without much angry commentary, on 24 May…

Much of this stuff comes from Thomas Farley, who is championed by both Bloomberg and the liberal media as an admirably thin jogging aficionado who believes in the power of the nudge to remould the citizenry. He is a ‘superman’, the New York Times recently gushed, who has ‘grasshopper-like legs’ (eurgh), a result of the fact that ‘he exercises seven days a week, loves his vegetables and has never smoked a cigarette’…

Farley openly boasts about his ‘behaviourist message’, as originally outlined in his 2005 book Prescription for a Healthy Nation: A New Approach to Improving Our Lives by Fixing Our Everyday World, which had chapters titled ‘Humans behaving badly’ and ‘Curve-shifting people’s behaviour’. ‘People aren’t logical’, Farley wrote, because there are ‘so many aspects of our environment that encourage risky behaviour’.

Farley is a a New Orleans pediatrician (natch) and epidemiologist (natch again) that Bloomberg appointed in 2009 to run New York’s health department. Their latest scheme is to encourage New Yorkers to make the city their gym.  All this just a couple of weeks after the new outdoor smoking ban was introduced, that New Yorkers were to police themselves.

“New York City is a great place to get healthy and keep fit – anyone can make the parks, streets and sidewalks into their own personal gym,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “Many New Yorkers get their exercise while getting from place to place, on foot or by bike. In addition, we want to make it easier for people to get together for group exercise, which is why we turned BeFitNYC into a social networking tool. This week-long celebration of fitness should demonstrate how easy it is to incorporate physical activity into everyday city life.”

I think the key word in what Bloomberg said there was “personal”, as in “anyone can make the parks, streets and sidewalks into their own personal gym.” In New York city, public space has become private space. It’s become somebody’s own personal, private gym. Which makes it obvious why the smokers had to be kicked out the week before. They were polluting the atmosphere in a private gym, and of course they had to be thrown out.

But while public has become private, private has become public. Because smoking bans routinely override private property rights. A privately owned bar or club becomes a public space for the purpose of one smoking ban, and a public park becomes a private space – “a personal gym” – for the purpose of another smoking ban.

Private and public have become the same thing. The difference between private property and public property has been erased. Everything is equally public and equally private.

New York City has become the private property of Michael Bloomberg, and he’s converting it into the sort of place he and his healthist chums would like to see. He’s a very rich man, after all. And most likely so are they. And it’s probably not an overstatement to say that NYC is Bloomberg’s private property, because he seems to have become mayor-for-life there.

In the fall of 2008, Bloomberg successfully campaigned for an amendment to New York City’s term limits law, in order to allow him to run for a third term in 2009. Bloomberg won the election on November 3, 2009.

What’s to stop him running for a fourth term and a fifth term? Nothing that I can see.

One might imagine a slightly different Bloomberg encouraging New Yorkers to “Make the city their personal race track,” with most cars pushed off the roads so that F1 or Indie racing cars could speed round its streets the whole time. It would be the same thing. Just a different preference.

What seems to puzzle Brendan O’Neill is that nobody protests.

For me, the most striking thing is the lack of criticism of Bloomberg’s antics. Liberal commentators, especially at that bible of East Coast righteousness the New York Times, have either turned a blind eye to his authoritarian bans on smoking, fatty foods and soda pop, or have cheered them on.

I wonder why that is? Perhaps it’s because everybody knows they shouldn’t smoke, and shouldn’t drink, and shouldn’t eat cheeseburgers, or salt, or sugar, and should get some exercise. Bloomberg is maybe just the authoritarian manifestation of their own guilty conscience. To protest against Bloomberg is to protest against what they themselves believe, even if they don’t live up to it. Maybe they even approve of Bloomberg making them do what they know they should do, just like an (ex-) friend of mine was looking forward to the smoking ban because he hoped it would make him stop smoking.

But how does everyone get to know what they should and shouldn’t do? Is it really their own private conscience at work, or something that has been manufactured by the public mass media? Is knowing that smoking and drinking are wrong any different from knowing with equal certainty that burning coal and oil and gas is wrong because it produces carbon dioxide and causes global warming? Doesn’t everybody kinda know that too?

And what about this? Not so long ago, everybody knew that divorce was wrong, and that homosexuality was wrong, and atheism was a sin. How come nobody seems to know that any more? When exactly did divorce and homosexuality and atheism become okay? When something is wrong once, doesn’t it stay wrong always? And if something is right once, doesn’t it stay right always? Or are “right” and “wrong” just things whose meaning can be flipped any time you want – like “public” and “private”?

About Frank Davis

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15 Responses to Public Equals Private, Right Equals Wrong

  1. ” In addition, we want to make it easier for people to get together for group exercise,” LOL! Why am I getting this image of a billion Chinese doing mornign calisthenics in front of their houses while singing the Chairman Mao song in unison?


  2. Leg-iron says:

    Exercise? Don’t the Americans know there’s no safe limit for exercise?

    What baffles me more than the lack of backbone in New Yorkers is that they voted him in three times. Then again, this country votes in the same kind of pompous dross every time too.

    • smokervoter says:

      Leg-iron, actually he’s on a popularity downtrend. He spent a small fortune running for that third term and barely won. He wouldn’t win a fourth term. You either like him or utterly despise him. Thankfully when this third term is up we’re done with him. He makes noise about running for the presidency as an independent, but there’s no way he’d win and he knows it. Everybody calls him the Nanny Mayor. He is synonymous with an overbearing posture that a growing number of people are becoming completely fed up with here.

      Incidentally, New York came in dead last in terms of freedom as measured by the good folks at George Mason University. Even worse than California, which came out a wee two notches higher at 48 out of 50.

      Cross my fingers and hope this link works out as planned.

  3. Mike F says:

    With due respect, speaking as a lifelong New Yorker, Bloomberg (a believer in global warming with his own private jet) is much nuttier than portrayed in your post.

    In 2006 NYC schools banned “whole” milk because it contains too much fat. Children can only have “low” fat or skim milk; in some schools, chocolate milk (low fat, of course) once a week. (Like out of a million children in the school system, there isn’t one skinny kid who could use a little extra fat.) And it’s not just milk. “We got rid of white bread; you’ll never see any white bread in our schools — it’s all whole-wheat bread, frankfurter buns, hamburger buns,” said Martin Oestreicher, the executive director of school support services who oversees school food. (NY Times 2/2/06) It’s only a matter of time, I’m sure, before they ban frankfurters and hamburgers.

    I had a recent knock on my door from a high school student selling candy to finance extra-curricular activities. The school won’t allow (allow!) the kids (high school kids!) to sell chocolate, so I bought a few granola bars. I haven’t eaten the granola bars. I damn well won’t eat the granola bars. Maybe I’ll feed them to the dog. But I like the dog. I’ll go out and buy some chocolate. And whole milk. And white bread. Until these too are banned. And then I’ll buy them on the black market. (Apologies to people who like granola bars.)

    More than “health” is involved in Bloomberg’s NY. There are also issues with education, public services, taxes, etc. I’ll spare you the list. Bloomberg runs the city as if he is Chairman of the Board; citizens are employees who must follow whatever crackpot policy he deems to be in our best interest.

    There have been three (repeat three) referendums where roughly 75% of NYC residents voted for a two term maximum for political office. Many of the selfless public servants on our City Council (those who changed the law) benefited because they also could run for a third term. (Two referendums before the law was altered; one after; so much for the will of the people.)

    Bloomberg spent maybe 100 million dollars on his third campaign, and maybe 150 million on the first two. And that’s just officially recorded money. (Don’t take these amounts as gospel, but in the last campaign Bloomberg probably outspent his Democratic opponent by 10 to 1.) It’s not impossible to fight this amount of wealth in American elections, but it ain’t easy, either.

    The New York Times has been anti tobacco for well over 100 years. Just mention smoking, obesity, or global warming and the Times will jump to the head of the parade, batons twirling.

    Do any of you English blokes have a room to rent? Smoking permitted, of course….

    • Frank Davis says:

      I’m sure you know far more than I do about him. For me he’s just someone who’s distantly puzzling and faintly alarming over the pond. Particularly since there’s a long history of things starting life in the USA and getting exported to the UK. We have been warned. Repeatedly.

      Bloomberg (a believer in global warming with his own private jet)

      I thought he might be a believer. And I thought he might have his own private jet too.

      In fact, I sort of knew that he would be like that. It seems to come with the package. There’s a whole set of standard beliefs in it, like a box set of spanners. There’s a pattern there somewhere. I’ll bet he doesn’t approve of perfume or eau de cologne either.

    • nisakiman says:

      “I damn well won’t eat the granola bars. Maybe I’ll feed them to the dog. But I like the dog. I’ll go out and buy some chocolate. And whole milk. And white bread.”

      Ha! Same as that. Anything in the supermarket labelled “light” or “low-fat” doesn’t make it into my basket. Lord, have you seen the crap they put in Diet-Coke and the like? Give me wholesome, natural sugar any day.

      What beggars belief about NY is the total acceptance of all this authoritarian garbage. Will they ever grow some cojones? As you say Frank, the most worrying aspect of the current climate in NY is that it will inevitably cross the pond, where the pursed-lips brigade will welcome it with open arms. (Although thankfully I rather doubt that it will make it’s way this far south in Europe – they haven’t really made the smoking ban stick here yet, despite many years of trying.)

  4. David says:

    Er – that was just a test!

    What I wanted to say was, didn’t t the nazis in Germany and the commies in China have this obsession with outdoor gyms and fitness? Jee-sus – history IS repeating itself! And we have the anti jewish rhetoric to go with all the health obsession, AND governments encouraging people to spy on each other and report back to the local authorities. DING-A-LING-A-LING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Those are the alarm bells, people.

  5. Junican says:

    Bloomberg must doing something which pleases enough of the people! Who knows what that is? I do not know enough about USA politics to know.

    The problem with his removal is that only the man at the top changes. The structure (similar to our health dept) remains in place. It is a difficult task to remove the vested interests. Easier to go along with the health stuff – after all it’s doing no harm, is it?

    But there will come a point where the healthist juggernaut steers into a swamp – as Global Warming has and as has Plain Packaging in Australia. I don’t think we can see where the swamp is yet – which, of course, is why the juggernaut will blunder into it!

  6. Jay says:

    “….to encourage New Yorkers to make the city their gym”

    I read (I think in ‘Spiked’) that ‘nudging’ in action could result in cities being designed to force people to take exercise. I have a vision of commuters doing step aerobics along kerbs OO

  7. Jay wrote, “‘nudging’ in action could result in cities being designed to force people to take exercise. ”

    Yep. Not hard to do at all. Make bus stops every 2nd or 3rd block instead of every block. Reduce parking options. Zone new construction to forbid elevator stops on the bottom two floors and get rid of escalators. Tightly limit fast food outlet licenses. Subsidize bicycles, increase gas taxes. Offer an extra vacation day to all employees to participate in lunchtime calisthenics. Charge by pound on air transportation. Phase out all newscasters and children’s program hosts with a BMI of over 22. Tax foodstuffs by the calorie. (Painless to do step-by-step with electronic check out and a 1 cent per kilocalories beginnning.) Steeply tax wireless home phones. Outlaw driving childen to schools within one mile of the home residence. Ban addictive chocolate. Remove sugar from fast food coffees and outlets. Make Coca-Cola taste like lard. Remove words like “Light,” “Lo-Cal,” and “Diet” from food descriptions (We all know that they’re just a plot by Big Food which knows that people will simply consume more to make up for it.) Give school kids T-Shirts that say “My Mommy Loves Me: She’s Not A Fat Pig!” to any kids who can document mumz with under a 20 BMI. Eliminate lunch breaks (Just THINK of all the money that would save the economy!) Outlaw power lawnmowers. Eliminate zoning for sit-down restaurants. Ban washing machines (think of all the fun housewives can have again doing communal hand washing and chatting!) Enforce jay-walking laws w/ minimum fines of $500 (Jay walking not only endangers the jay-walker but risks the lives of all around them as cars are forces to swerve! Jay walkers kill Children!) Double the initial flag up charge for taxis to discourage short trips.

    Hey, that’s just a START!

    – MJM!

    • Frank Davis says:

      Make bus stops every 2nd or 3rd block instead of every block.

      Hey, why not just get rid of the buses altogether and make people walk everywhere?

      In my view, all these sorts of measures amount to a reversal of economic growth. Instead of making people’s lives easier for them, they are being made harder. It’s reverse economic growth, and is otherwise known as “getting poorer”.

  8. Jay says:

    “Hey, why not just get rid of the buses altogether and make people walk everywhere?”

    Already happening – at least the getting rid of buses bit. I’ve met non-motoring pensioners who are effectively prisoners in their homes because their village has no train station and the bus service has been pulled.

    People are going to snap sooner or later.

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