Victimology – Or How The Left Uses “Science” For Its Ideological Agenda

Barack Obama promises that science will no longer be “twisted” to fit an ideology. But of course using “science” to advance their political agenda has been a tool of the left for years. A perfect example can be found with the issue of obesity. Andrew Ferguson provides the anatomy of how a personal failing becomes a disease and those who don’t have the self-discipline to resist over-eating become “victims” – all with the aid of “science”.

First comes the misappropriation of the language of epidemiology. The terms are liberated from their scientific meaning and then attached to a widely shared activity or condition. The condition, in this case obesity, is renamed a “disease,” suggesting that some kind of contagion is making the rounds. Then the disease inflates into an “epidemic,” suggesting an urgency that only the foolhardy would ignore. “We find ourselves,” says Paterson, “in the midst of a new public health epidemic, childhood obesity.” Any libertarian qualms are quickly overridden, since not even the most hollow-eyed anarcho-capitalist would deny that government is obliged to guard against runaway disease.

To intensify the urgency, Paterson deploys neutral statistics from sources that are already on his side. The statistics are always improbably exact. Unnamed public health researchers at Harvard have discovered that obesity is “associated” with 112,000 deaths in the United States every year; not 113,000, and not 111,000. Each can of soda pop “increases the risk” of making a child fat by 60 percent. Not 59 percent. Not 61 percent. An increase of $1.25 in tobacco taxes saves more than 37,000 lives and $5 billion in health care costs. And Paterson’s 18 percent tax on sugary soft drinks will reduce consumption by 5 percent. Not four.

From here the rest of the argument tumbles like dominoes, clack clack clack. Fat people are not merely drawn to eating unhealthy food; they are “addicted.” As addicts, they are rendered helpless by their addiction. Helpless, they deserve the status of victims. Like all victims, they must be victimized by something. By unhealthy food? No: Not food merely, for food and commercial marketing combine to create the TFE–the “Toxic Food Environment.” The TFE is everywhere in today’s America; it is today’s America. It emanates from the seductive advertising of food, from the media’s quasi-pornographic obsession with food, from the scandalously low price of food, from the ubiquitous sale of food in such unlikely places as gas-station minimarts. (In simpler times, Americans got gas when they ate food; now they eat food when they get gas.) Created by cynical corporations, the TFE is the ghastly miasma in which we live and move and have our being, swelling with every Frito.

Thus a private failing becomes a public menace.

If you don’t believe that’s what is happening, consider this statement by NY’s governor, David Patterson:

“What smoking was to my parents’ generation,” Paterson says, “obesity is to my children’s generation.”

And we all know, given the tobacco outcome, that the target won’t be the “victims”. You see, they’re excused:

“Weight bias exists,” they explained, because weightist bigots believe that “the only reason people fail to lose weight is because of [they’re not teaching grammar at Yale these days] poor self-discipline or a lack of willpower.” This wrongheaded notion “blames the victim rather than addressing environmental conditions that cause obesity.”

You pretty much know how the rest of this will go now. Patterson, of course, is proposing a “fat tax” on sugared soft drinks, all bolstered by the “science” above.

[Crossposted at QandO]

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