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”?