Don’t Eat This Post

I few weeks ago, I came across a book entitled Don’t Eat This Book. Intrigued, and wondering whether the implied reference to to Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book was intentional, I decided to take a read.

Ah, it was written by Morgan Spurlock. I’d never actually seen his documentary about fast food, but I’m not a fan of American eating and food practices, and I had a vague idea that I would approve of Spurlock’s thoughts.

Well…

Let me put it this way: fairly early on in the book, there’s a discussion about how teenagers drink quite a lot of soda, how consuming acidic beverages causes the body to draw on calcium reserves to maintain homeostasis, and how a lot of important bone growth takes place during adolescence and early adulthood. The book goes on to ask why soda companies are harming our children.

No, really.

I – slowly, as progress was too painful to endure for an extended period – read the rest of the book. There’s one small part at the end where it’s advocated that we should send a message by changing our purchasing and consumption habits, “voting with our plate”, but it’s very brief. Further, it by implication contradicts the preceding 99% of the book in which is made abundantly clear that we’ve already voted with our plates as a society and we chose to eat junk.

It’s not so much that the factual content of the book is wrong, but that there’s so little of it – and so much loaded language, illogical arguments, and points intended only to emotionally activate the reader. It’s rabble-rousing, pure and simple.

The book claims the reason people ingest things that are unhealthy for them is that they’re advertised. There’s an extended discussion of a failed attempt to sue a fast food corp. for a person’s obesity and health problems. It was acknowledged that the judge ruled against the attempt because no case was made, but it was spun as “leaving the door open” for further lawsuits asserting that the corporations deliberately misrepresented the consequences of eating their food; a direct comparison is repeatedly made between fast food and nicotine, fast food companies and tobacco product manufacturers.

It’s not that the idea of being responsible for checking and evaluating claims about things presented in a way to make them desirable is rejected. It’s never brought up – by exclusion, it’s not even considered to potentially be the case. Consumers are not talked about as if they exercised choice and carried the burden of responsibility for their decisions, it’s the producers of fast food that are given ALL of the blame. And those producers are always treated as corporations (which admittedly they usually are, but not necessarily), and corporations are treated as fundamentally evil and vicious entities. Pretty much the standard position of political correctness, but hugely inflated – if I’d read the content out of context, I would have thought it was a parody. At many points I thought this book must surely be a parody, then I’d read some more. Nope.

I tried to think of a way to describe the perspective taken by the author and presented as something the reader should accept. Without explicitly saying so, it seemed to hold that:

People could not be expected to evaluate options they possessed.
People could not be expected to recognize that options they’d chosen were harmful, or respond appropriately if such harmfulness was pointed out to them.
Presenting an option as favorable or desirable was equivalent to forcing it on people.
By making harmful options available and promoting them, the companies that produced fast food are responsible for the consequences of how people choose accept them.

Finally I recognized the approach being taken: it advocates the same attitude that parents take when their infants become toddlers and begin to move about. Objects with corners that could be fallen against must be moved. Dangerous items must be put out of reach and protected with locks that can’t be easily opened, because the toddler isn’t capable of understanding danger, and leaving something available is just asking for the child to manipulate or consume it.

It’s infantilization. That’s the word that sums up the attitude.

What’s shocking is that the author isn’t writing about some other group or class, he’s including himself in the category of people that society needs to infantilize. And it’s not just in this book, it’s an entire pattern of arguments that I recognize as being forms of “the world must be made safe so that we can move through it without being expected to think or restrain our impulses”. In discussions of the economy in which it is expected that prosperity is something that is provided by society to passive recipients, discussions of the quality of various kinds of goods in which people complained about bad products but refused to try to distinguish between them or refuse to purchase things they wanted if they couldn’t determine they were actually good, in politics, religion – I could go on for hours listing examples.

TGGP once referred to my discussing Aristotle’s belief that some people were born worthy only of being enslaved. I can’t speak as to what Aristotle thought on the matter, but I think that’s an inaccurate statement.

“Being enslaved” is a change in status; it’s something that’s done to someone, even if they do it to themselves. Rather, some people are born slaves. They aren’t turned into them, it’s what they are. In classical thought, the absence of self-determination is what defines a slave – they’re not permitted to make decisions for themselves, they merely carry out the decisions of others.

There are people who seek to be liberated from the burden of thinking and choosing. They demand that they be treated as infants and that their world be made suitable for infants. They reject systems that require them to exercise discretion or judgment as a necessary part of the system’s functioning, and insist that someone else – anyone else – take care of making the choices.

They aren’t enslaved. They are slaves. They demand to be treated as such. This book is an example of such a demand.

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3 Responses to “Don’t Eat This Post”

  1. Yes, Aristotle’s position was that they are born slaves, not merely destined to be enslaved. A ‘slavish nature’ leads to exactly the sorts of behavior you’re talking about.

    And yes, the movie was just about the same. The occasional note that we might be able to choose to stop buying fast food, coupled with constant rhetoric claiming that we’re being forced into it.

    It’s pretty horrible.

  2. I don’t recall using the phrase “be enslaved”.

    I recall Radley Balko having a site called Spurlock Watch. I’m generally not a fan of such things but I can’t say I’m more irked than average on the choice of him as a target.

  3. People who want a baby-proofed world frighten me, for a variety of reasons, most especially because many of the institutions our society is based upon can’t function if a substantial number of people are infantile, but also because baby-proofing tends to be harmful to everyone but the baby.

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