As Long As They Want Black

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New at Reason: What's the difference between limiting your own options and limiting everybody's? Brian Doherty cures America's option anxiety.

NEXT: The Vanity of Human Wishes

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  1. Of course we don’t “need” 20 oz soda bottles (although I enjoy downing one in a sitting at least twice a week). But we do need choice – for our own good. Letting others make decisions for you makes you weak; the message these nutritionists send is that you are helpless. It’s no surprise people can’t lose the weight they want to.

    People have got to stop being such pussies and take responsibility for their own actions – you can put the cap on the bottle and put it back in the fridge. No, really, you can. Just do what you did to open it, backwards.

    Too many fries? Don’t eat them all.

    Don’t eat the entire big mac.

    Eat the healthy(ier) stuff first.

    Man, I should be a nutritionist. Is there any money in that line of work?

    Anyway, that’s what nutritionsists should be saying. They need to stop encouraging a victim mentality. It’s the same mentality that paves the way for frivolous lawsuits, bloated government, and a country full of big whiny babies who piss me off.

  2. After reading Brian’s piece, I’ve come to the opinion that those who decry options are engaging in a form of laziness. After all, making a choice is sooooo difficult. We might make the wrong choice and get hurt. It’s much eaiser to have those who “know better” make our choices for us.

    World, get off your ass and use the brains you have been sitting on!

  3. We have a choice yes! Yet we are all victims of effective capitolistic manipulation which blinds us all to submit to the ever so powerful advertisements that promote convenience. It is more convenient to stop at a Micky d for a quick Mcgriddle before work. We work, walk, talk so fast that we say yes to evrything they shove down our throats. We do have a choice but nutrionists will always be out numbered in this case by the the simple fact that convenience will always over power the conciously healthy. Maybe some big corporation should build an empire promoting healthier low fat nutritious fast food? How many of us would eat that shit up?

  4. I think of Newton Minow’s convoluted argument from the sixties that cable TV would reduce the quality of programming. The real problem of course was that it was the market, and not Newton Minow, guiding the viewing habits of the great unwashed.

  5. I’m going to have to agree with Mark S. here and say that apple is wrong. I am not effectively manipulated by capitalistic advertisments because I am smart enough to know better. If there’s any “manipulation” going on, it’s my own brain manipulating me into doing things I know are “wrong” for me. But that can be overcome.

  6. I’m reminded of what Bob’s wife said to Elwood: We got both kinds of music, country, and western.

  7. uh huh. My landlord once told me I could paint it any color I wanted, so long as it was white.

    The idea of having bad choices available is just as important as not choosing badly.

  8. I believe the Henry Ford reference is incorrect. It is doubtful that he ever said, “They can have any color car they want, so long as it’s black.” Fords of that era came in a variety of colors. Only the film footage was black (and white). Time to retire that cliche.

  9. If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.

  10. I don’t just passively allow it to happen – when I’m aware of it, I stop. But, using our agreed-upon discourse, did I have a choice about the five of six or ten bites I took before I became consciously aware of what I was doing?

  11. What I don’t get is why people always view nutrition in isolation, as if the slate gets zeroed out after each meal. Even if Joe is right, that once food is placed in front of us, our bodies are incapable of not finishing the meal, there’s still a series of choices you make. It was your choice to go to McDonald’s instead of eating at home or getting a salad. It was your choice to order the Big Mac and heap-o-fries. They still sell cheeseburgers and smaller fries, you know. Or better, yet, the grilled caesar salad with lo-cal dressing comes in under 250 calories. More importantly, diet and nutrition is about balance. For example, I knew that I planned to treat my son to lunch today, so I made sure to have a bowl of cereal with skim milk for breakfast and passed on the donuts at my morning meeting. I’ll be doubly sure to exercise today, and will take it easy for dinner. A cheeseburger and fries isn’t verboten, it just means you have to pay attention to the rest of your diet and exercise regimen. It all comes down to personal choice and responsibility: what right is it of yours to deny me a choice or to insist that a third party stop offering me a choice just because you can’t exercise some responsibility? I’m sick of all the permutations of this, the idea that through governmental intervention, lawsuits or public flogging of private enterprise, we have to reduce our choices to a level appropriate for the least responsible members of society. Some fat bozo can’t stay away from McDonald’s for every meal? Then McDonald’s shouldn’t be able to sell fattening food. You don’t want to exercise responsibility in parenting? Then nothing should be permitted on the airwaves, on the internet or in print that is inappropriate for a six year old. You can’t discriminate between objective information and manipulative advertising? Then any corporation that advertises is clearly immoral. It’s all hogwash.

  12. Again, looking only narrowly at the immediate circusmstance, then in a certain sense, no, you don’t have a choice. But you still have the choice to take steps to become more aware of it and sooner. Unless you think people are helpless to change their habits? Actually, you already say you’re not passive–are you saying you’ve hit a wall beyond which it is humanly impossible to effect change?

  13. There are two points from the article I am not clear on. One is D.’s reference to “Constitutionalists.” Who are they, and what have they to do with the net weight of a box of fries at McDonald’s? I thought McD’s were bowing to pressure on the part of nutrition mavens – an aspect of the free martket – rather than some preemptive law.

    Also, he only seems to be talking about choice on the part of the *consumer.* Unless I’ve missed something, is McDonald’s “downsizing” portions not the product of a choice on the part of the producer, and isn’t that also a valid option? Are those who produce somehow required to present as many choices as humanly possible to the consumer?

  14. Maybe some big corporation should build an empire promoting healthier low fat nutritious fast food? How many of us would eat that shit up?

    Subway. Eat Fresh.?

    And, I’m guessing you probably don’t eat Micky D’s for breakfast–the grocery store is filled with fruits, grains, and vegetables, many packaged more conveniently than ever.

  15. There’s an “organic” beekeeper/slash freelance writer in Iowa who gets a lot of ink on the Des Moines Register’s opinion page crying about the good old days, whenever they were.

    One of the things he whines about is how much simpler it was when there was only one local phone company, and one long distance provider in any one area. Apparently the horror of finding the best deal in wired or wireless phone service from among a myriad choices is just too much for the poor fella.

    On one level, I sympathize. I work hard to simplify my life, too, and often find this technological age confusing and stressful. But I do my simplifying through what I believe to be active, rational choices, not through begging others to restrict the options open to me.

  16. Joe,

    Ox takes my point one step further. Put more simply, if you really cannot avoid over-eating in some particular situation, you still have the choice whether or not to put yourself in that situation.

    Now, I know some situations seem “forced” upon one. I can’t control it if someone at work brings in some cookies to tempt me. At least not directly. But I still think you’re still stretching to say it is not my choice to eat one. Actually, this debate reminds me on what I got out of the Buddhist concept of karma. If I got it right, karma in certain respects actually refers to habit, that which we do blindly. But if we become enlightened, we have the ability to break the karmic cycle. It’s a paradox, but not so hard to solve. People don’t always think about what they’re doing, but they always can. Break it down to any specific number of frames you want, Joe, but it still comes down to that.

  17. “People don’t always think about what they’re doing, but they always can.”

    fyodor, that is the single most cogent statement I think I’ve ever read from you.

    Consider a convicted felon blaming the cop for arresting him, his victim for testifying against him, and the jury for convicting him for his incarceration rather than accepting responsibility for his own criminal acts. This is certainly different in character, but not in kind, to the overeating scenario.

    Blaming others for one’s own shortcomings only helps delay one’s personal growth, and can do damage to innocent others. We are all prone to fingerpointing, but any competent person has the ability to break out of this or any other bad habit or addiction. He or she may need help, as in addiction, but still it is up to the individual to begin the process.

  18. “fyodor, that is the single most cogent statement I think I’ve ever read from you.”

    And I’m getting more cogent all the time, just you wait!!! 🙂

  19. Joe, been thinking and I decided to grant you this: Our choices can indeed be influenced by others and by circumstances, and thus if you want to take fast food corporations to task for influencing their patrons’ eating habits in a bad way, you have that right. I’m not particularly interested in going there myself, and titus has a good point that such public pronouncements could potentially be counter-productive. But I will at least back you up that you’re making sense as long as you stick to influence and not claim that people are literally being manipulated or controlled or that they don’t have a choice. It’s a subtle distinction, but an important one. In fact, this was the distinction I tried to make (futiley) to Jean Bart when he accused Ronald Bailey of accusing anti-GMO activists of controlling African leaders’ decision not to import GMO. No, I said, he only accused them of exerting a bad influence by spreading misinformation, and that’s not the same.

  20. Ox, your comment makes sense, but it’s not really what I was getting at. I think the philosophical questions around the concept of “free will” are a lot more interesting than policy questions about fast foot. Anyone, there is zero coercion going on against food companies, because the court cases have less than a fraction of a percent of a ghost of a chance of ever winning. They’re responding to a changed business environment – good for them.

    In my example, it seems that the relatives who taught me to clean my plate, and not the restaurant serving pasta by the bucketful, are the ones complicating the free will.

  21. how much we’re free or not free of the past and depression-era mentality parenting (my parents would make me sit at the table for hours if i didn’t eat my vegetables, and so on) is a convoluted and almost impossible to answer question.

    however, one can bypass all this by working with the framework we’re stuck with – using smaller plates and dishes might be a start.

  22. ^Seriously! Has anyone else noticed the ceramic manhole covers restaurants are using lately?

  23. “Man, I should be a nutritionist. Is there any money in that line of work?”

    Titus, there is money there, but not if you say what you’re saying. There’s money in quick fixes, in “eat as much of what you like *AND* lose weight”, in “willpower is an illusion”, in any “new miracle diet!!”. But you’re not gonna make money by advocating a “difficult but worthwhile” approach. We all know that approach and it’s difficult.

  24. An interesting piece, and the willingness to admit to the costs/harms of his favored position in the last paragraph says good things about Doherty. But a lot of this line of thinking, especially as expressed above by titus and Mark S ignores the way people work.

    First, I was taught as a child to clean my plate. As in, I don’t sit at the table wanting to stop eating and forcing myself to finish; I will keep eating on autopilot until the food is gone, even if I am already full. Sometimes I “come to” and stop myself halfway through, sometimes I’m not aware of what I’m doing until I’m staring at an empty plate with an overfull belly. If choice is defined as a conscious act of will to take one path and not another, I don’t think I’m actually choosing to overeat in this situation, and the serving of normal-sized portions would not be robbing me of a choice.

    Another factor, which sort of goes beyond the point of the article, is the tendency of “options” to become mandatory. The proliferation of cell phones, internet, fast food, it’s-9-AM-somewhere globalization, and other forces have vastly increased people’s ability to choose to be more connected, and live faster, and be busier. They have the choice of logging into the company intranet from the airport. But then such connectedness became the norm, expected of everyone, and the consequences of choosing not to follow the herd became more severe. If my “choices” are to grab the handle of the sword or the blade, do I really have a choice?

  25. good call, joe.

    What would we do without cell phones and mapquest?

    I’m also surprised that the article didn’t delve more into the notion of choice. It seems from the article and most people’s posts that they didn’t make a choice, rather action just took place. It’s like hair growing on my arm. My body makes the choice, but “I” never give a thought to the process.

  26. Joe, regarding your eating habits, maybe in a certain sense of the word (and remember words often have more than one meaning, including a variety of connotations within any one dictionary meaning), you are correct about not making a concious choice. But at the same time, you still HAVE the choice whether or ot to allow that to happen, and you HAVE the choice to try to change your habits. And if you choose not to think about it, well in that case I refer you back to Geddy Lee’s post! 🙂

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