Those of you who think this is about to become a lecture on unusual sexual practices may leave.
Okay, now that the ten thousand or so are gone, the twenty of us left here can talk about the real point: private versus public.
When I was growing up in the seventies, under an increasingly leftist regime in Portugal (mitigated only by the fact that Portugal is so unorganized that any central planning is so only in name) I heard over and over, at school, at speeches and just about everywhere at all that your right to swing your fist ends where another’s nose starts.
As a statement it is irreproachable. It’s also empty of meaning. Like saying “we’re all naked under our clothes” or “people weren’t born with clothes, man” which were what the (older) hippie guys used to try to get me out of mine, they are indisputably true but to our purpose, nothing.
Or to put it another way – it depends on how many fists, how many noses and how they’re arranged. Given enough will, it is possible to hem a potential fist swinger all around with noses so that he can’t breathe let alone swing his fist.
More importantly, when arguing hypothetical noses and fists, it’s all too easy to say “but you could hit a nose – if someone moved suddenly or a kid came running.” Eventually it comes down to no fist swinging unless you have wrapped your fist in a feather pillow and after that, the appearance of swinging your fist can be perceived as a hatred of nose, and you must control your speech so you don’t even mention fists.
Yes, this is about chicken sandwiches, again. Sort of. What hit me, as I was watching it, was that the whole thing arose because we’ve got completely confused about what is public and what is private. So a man’s private opinions which in no way affect how his business is run (they both serve and employ everyone regardless of sexuality) become part of public debate and discourse – and his private donations, from his profit, which is what he gets out of his work running his business are taken as evidence of corporate malfeasance.
All of which is nonsense, but it’s a type of nonsense we’re used to at this point. The right of property supposedly secured to us by our constitution has become hemmed in with so many takings that are considered legitimate and for the common good, that sometimes it’s only by poetic license that we can say we own anything.
No? Then explain to me why, when replacing a century-old railing on a century-old porch (a tree had felled it) I had to make sure the slats were no further apart than those in a crib? Because a baby MIGHT crawl on the porch and get his head wedged between them. Let alone that I didn’t have a baby at the time – we did sell the house, so that wasn’t so far an hypothetical – why would anyone in their right mind let a baby crawl unsupervised on a porch floor? And ignore the baby long enough for it to wedge its head between slats? You’ll say “it could happen” and undoubtedly it could, but look here, if a baby is being raised like that, you have WAY bigger problems than porch slats. If in a hundred years, during which time the house was often an apartment house or a rooming house, used by various transients and what was once quaintly called “the under class” no baby had managed to wedge its head between the slats, what is the rational to have the city tell me what the distance between the slats must be. No, it wasn’t that difficult to adjust, though it required a redesign so it didn’t look completely stupid, but it was a great piece of nonsense, and an unwarranted taking, which required me to submit plans to the authorities and delay and spend more before I was allowed to rebuild my railing.
This is a minor thing, you’ll say, and why am I so exercised? Because we’re hemmed in with “little things” that all but paralyze life and the market place. Say you find yourself unemployed and you decide, instead of taking unemployment, to open a business using your sainted grandmother’s cookie recipe, your very own kitchen oven, and your car. You’ll make cookies, then take a license (well, it is a public space) to sell them near that park where all the school kids hang out in the summer.
Do I need to tell you all of this is a pipe dream? You’ll need your kitchen inspected, certified, licensed and it’s so hard to pass the certification you might as well rent a commercial kitchen, for which you of course don’t have money.
“But Sarah,” you say. “That’s different. That’s food safety. Upton Sinclair.” Upton Sinclair was a socialist, writing apologetics for government control. His book is filled with the type of “reality” that underlies all the blades put in apples given to kids on Halloween, and all the poisoned candy, too – it might have happened once, somewhere, but it was for reasons specific to that place, and it had bloody nothing, or less than that, to do with conditions most places.
Were food preparation areas less sanitary in the nineteenth century or even early twentieth than now? Arguably EVERYTHING was less sanitary. If you want to find what your great grandmother was up against, turn off the electricity and the running water, then try to clean the house. (I’ve found myself in this situation several times, in the aftermath of a disaster.) Add to that the lack or difficulty of refrigeration and you’re going to have food conditions that would make us go “ew.” And probably the food of the time would sicken any of us. BUT on the other hand, our ancestors had a level of resistence we don’t have. (And less asthma and fewer other auto-immune diseases. Our species didn’t evolve to be sparkling clean.)
HOWEVER food companies that wanted to stay in business COULDN’T logically make it a point to kill their customers with tainted food. Yes, I do know what I’m talking about here. I have no idea if there was the equivalent of an FDA in Portugal when I was growing up, but if there was it worked with the efficiency of other Portuguese institutions at the time. And in the seventies, when the economy was in a state of semi-collapse (or slow-mo collapse) people could – and did – out of need for survival take the cookie route outline above. In an economy where the price of bread was hard set by the government, and the bakers went on strike every other week, it was possible to knock at certain doors and buy fresh baked bread that the housewife had just baked and would give you for a consideration. It’s how most of us got bread. And while the price of meat went through the roof, everyone had a backyard chicken coop and a flock of goats, and for a little more, you could buy your meal ready prepared, again, by knocking at the back door and saying “so and so sent me.” Unless you were already a customer. In the same way, if you were handy with a sewing machine, you could sell not just clothes but handicrafts at the flea market. Most of my jewelry at that time was made by unemployed recent college graduates, with no license, no supervision, no formal training. The same sort of people would sell pastries in street corners.
Were there cases of food poisoning? Of tainted jewelry? Undoubtedly, though the only time I got food poisoning was from an established, licensed deli. Most people – PARTICULARLY those working on a slim margin – were terribly careful not to do something that might give them a bad rep. Because people talk. Heck, if a pastry vendor where I normally shopped was coughing in the morning, I was likely to tell my friends “not today. I think he has a cold and I don’t want it.”
In the same way, farmers who routinely watered the milk got known for it, and people didn’t buy from them. And that was enough. The general public had to pay a little more attention, and be aware of what they were doing. On the other hand, frankly, don’t you have to do that now? Do you really trust the government seal? Do you think someone followed the piece of food from harvest to store? You’ve never heard of tainted peanut butter, then?
Tell me, how many people have you heard of, recently, poisoned by the tamales sold out of the back of their car by some of our more enterprising citizen-aspirants? You think they have licenses and their kitchens underwent inspections? Guys, those people don’t even want the police near them in case it’s la migra. (And by the way I have nothing against them. They’re showing spirit and a desire to fend for themselves. I say we put everyone with an illegal tamale and roasted chilli stand a fast path to citizenship. We’ll call it the Dream-Tamale act.) There was one station wagon near my older son’s highschool, there through summer and winter and they were always mobbed with customers. The chances of this if their stuff was tainted is zero.
And this, ladies and gentlemen, is in food safety, the place where we “self evidently” need government supervision. That is, we need to pay government to imagine all the circumstances in which an hypothetical nose might be in the path of an hypothetical fist.
Are there places where the public, legitimately has a right to stick its long nose? Yes, of course there is. I’m partial to “providing for the common defense.” Also, it probably should intervene in private wars among citizens (that is, at least if the bodies aren’t properly buried and are left to pose a public health hazard.) And it could be argued, though we’re on treacherous ground, that the community has an interest in protecting the defenseless: minor children and impaired people who lack other means of supervision and defense. After all, taking care of the widows and orphans has often been judged beneficial by older cultures than ours.
However, that does not include the right to poke one’s nose into every home, to make sure children are being treated according to government regulations. (No? My kids had meetings at the schools where they were specifically asked how they got punished at home, among other things. Fishing expeditions. Fortunately my kids, being my kids, wouldn’t admit the sky was blue if it were a school official asking them.) I’ll also note that even our over regulated society has spectacular cases of child abuse and neglect, often serial and often by STATE LICENSED CARE PROVIDERS. Because once the government seal is on something people stop inspecting.
Look, it’s got so insane that I’m not allowed to drive my own car without wearing a seat belt. It’s MY car, it’s my seatbelt, it’s my LIFE. (For the record, yes, I do wear it – because I talked to an EMT once and he said they’d never cut a single dead man out of seatbelt. BUT it should be my decision.) I’m not allowed to buy the lightbulb I d*mn well please to put in my own light socket in my own house. It’s been deemed that the Earth’s nose is burning up (or is it freezing this week?) and therefore I should not be allowed to spend whatever I deem I should spend on electricity.
I say it’s time to step back and take a deep breath. Someone wants to build a house that’s not up to code? LET THEM. At most advise them, but they have the right to roll their own eyes at you. (As we’ve all talked about even to-code houses have massive safety failures. They’re human-built. They’re imperfect. Deal. you pays your dollar, you takes your bet.) NONE of the houses we grew up in passed current code, and most of them are still standing and our parents still live in them with no ill-effects. Someone wants to sell food and someone else wants to buy it? What exactly is the government’s interest in interfering in a lawful transaction. Yes, the food might be tainted. So might licensed food. Sellers who willfully taint their food for short term profit don’t last. Neither do customers who buy from fly by night here today gone tomorrow outfits. You can’t save people from their own folly. Not forever.
It’s time to admit that somewhere, somewhen, a swinging fist might meet a nose. That’s fine. It happens. We live in an imperfect world.
Meanwhile let the owners of the fists and the noses look to their own safety and liberty and do what they want with their private property. The main consequences of their actions should fall on them. No third party with no skin in the game can judge as well as they can.
Let people decide what to do with what they have. Get the government’s long nose out of my fist.
Let a million fists swing.
*crossposted at Classical Values*