In the wake of government raids on organic food collectives for the crime of selling raw milk, it would be easy to follow the lead of the Los Angeles Times and seize the opportunity to make lighthearted fun of the hippies, and foodies, and hippie foodies:
With no warning one weekday morning, investigators entered an organic grocery with a search warrant and ordered the hemp-clad workers to put down their buckets of mashed coconut cream and to step away from the nuts.
The "hemp-clad workers" is a masterful touch; I wish I'd written that.
Or, you know, you could examine whether we should be thrilled about the government raiding stores where willing participants sell, and knowing participants buy, exotic food items that satisfy their beliefs about "organic" and "natural" food. Let's be clear: this isn't the Atherton Safeway carelessly putting out raw milk where innocent, unaware Susie Soccermom from the burbs is going to pick it up by accident and give it to little Dakota and Logan. This is an organic collective selling overpriced specialty goods to informed (kind of) consumers who for philosophical reasons want their produce and dairy goods to be as organically filthy and free of corporate taint as humanly possible without them wresting it non-exploitatively from the ground and the empowered cow's teat themselves. Should we really applaud the government stopping them?
The tricks, in discussing limits on government authority to micromanage our lives, are to (1) be wary of the government's categorical frames, and (2) recognize that safety and freedom often exist on a continuum.
The government likes nice, neat frames. The government likes to create categorical exceptions to rights, then cram as much as possible into those categorical exceptions to increase its power. The government likes to get you to accept these big categories first — like "safety" and "homeland security" — and then tell you that what it's doing fits entirely into those categories, with nothing left to go in the category marked "freedom." The government's rationale for pestering hippies is no different:
"This is not about restricting the public's rights," said Nicole Neeser, program manager for dairy, meat and poultry inspection at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. "This is about making sure people are safe."
The government would prefer you believe that its actions are all about one thing or the other, like a light switch. The government doesn't want you to contemplate how safety and freedom are incremental trade-offs on a sliding scale — because then you might start questioning how far the scale has slid in one direction, or maybe even question whether the government, in light of widespread dishonesty and incompetence, really improves safety with its meddling.
But the L.A. Times — ostensibly the government's critic, in longtime practice its compliant lapdog — is unlikely to raise those questions.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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