Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up at the start of the year to a bunch of newspaper articles about freedoms restored and taxes lowered? Yeah, I know, keep dreaming. While even in Europe — sclerotic, over-governed, destitute Europe! — occasional embers of liberty still flicker, as seen in Holland’s repeal of its ‘fat tax’, here in Australia the technocratic nanny state is doing its best to snuff out personal choice and free exchange at every turn.
Own a bar in Adelaide? Don’t even think of having a ladies’ night after the start of this year: such promotions are banned as of 2013. Lighting up a smoke while waiting for the bus in NSW? Likewise banned. And while we’re on the subject of smokes, one company may find itself on the wrong side of the law for giving away free cigarette cases.
But instead of throwing up our hands and impotently posting quotes from J.S. Mill and Frédéric Bastiat on our Facebook walls as we bemoan the latest ratcheting-up of the nanny state, perhaps it is time to give the banning brigade a taste of their own medicine. Lovers of freedom should pick some targets — any targets — and use the same tactics (dodgy ‘public health’ studies suggesting something costs society billions of dollars per year; regulations restricting promotion and consumption; education campaigns; expensive gravy train bureaucracies; and the pièce de résistance, a coalition of ‘researchers’, activists and government officials working to enforce a full-on ban). It’s easy to do once you speak the language.
Here are a few potential targets picked at random which show just how easy it is to justify bans backed up by the imposition of the good offices of the state. More to the point, they underline that from fast food to tabloid newspapers to cigarettes, the current push to restrict freedom is not so much about health or economics — these are just cover stories — so much as they are about aesthetics.
Any automobile whose modifications cost more than its purchase price. Loud exhaust? Crushed. Sub-woofer that shares its primitive thuds with everyone in a five-block radius? Crushed. Stupid racing car stickers? Crushed. Surely some public health academic could come up with a study suggesting that four or five billion dollars a year are lost every year as these vehicles cause neighbourhood sleep loss leading to fatigue, loss of productivity and even on-the-job accidents leading to injury or death.
Opinion pieces that contain the phrase ‘Which is why…’. Sheer wastes of bandwidth, time and newsprint, such advocacy articles by politicians and thinktanks spend a few hundred words building a straw man as big as the Ritz before incinerating it with a call for support for a particular taxpayer-funded project. Which is why, if the Finklelstein folk want to go after inaccurate or misleading statements in the media, this would be as good a place as any to start.
Tibetan prayer flags. Nothing brings down the tone of a street like a string of multicoloured rags hanging across a terrace house balcony. Their mere presence announces to the world that this is a shared house full of students, or people who may as well be for all of their hygiene and income, and nearby residents will be subjected to loud parties, the wafting smell of pot and patchouli over the back fence and angry notes on windscreens complaining about cars parked across the driveway when none of the residents owns an automobile. Bad for property values. Banned.
Tattoos. One of the signal achievements of Ted Baillieu’s utterly disappointing, leftward-listing, small-target stewardship of Victoria has been his ban on solariums. Given that in Sydney, tattoo parlours are regular magnets for bullets, firebombs and other sundry malfeasance, it wouldn’t be a hard call to just shut them all down, would it?
I kid, but only just. But it is far too easy for those who have control not just over Parliament but their confederates in government bureaucracies and universities to band together to enforce their shared sensibilities. It’s not enough to just avoid McDonald’s and teach one’s children that the stuff is only for cretins (the preferred, and very successful, approach taken in this household), they have to take the joy out of it for everyone else.
Similarly, everyone agrees that smoking is a Bad Thing, but the gleefulness with which public health academics have lately been reporting that smokers say their plain-packaged ciggies taste worse borders on the sociopathic. With a generation of academics weaned on Noam Chomsky and who believe at their core that capitalism is a con designed to hoodwink a gullible public, one can only wonder what naughty pleasure will be next to be de-branded.
It is ironic that the side of politics which once stood up for free love, free speech (Oz magazine would never have made it past today’s crop of bluenoses on the grounds of misogyny alone) and doing what you feel now stands for doing what you’re told and making sure it doesn’t hurt the bottom line. Isn’t there something creepily totalitarian about a worldview that seeks to reduce every action to its impact on the national accounts?
When America’s Founding Fathers set down the markers for their new republic, they came up with the revolutionary phrase, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ Although not adopted formally by Australia, it is an important point for any small-l liberal society to remember: individuals are ipso facto imbued with a right to make their own decisions in pursuit of their own goals, no matter how daft they may be.
James Morrow writes about food, politics and culture at prickwithafork.wordpress.com.