We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Monday, April 2, 2012

To Regulate or Not: That is Not the Question

The regulation of behavior has become one of the hottest issues in the culture wars.  Many conservatives, including esp. those on the right end of the scale, fear the Affordable Care Act (a.k.a. Obamacare) because they believe that it expands the areas of life that the Federal Government can regulate.  The issue is the role of government in getting us to do things we know we should, such as eat healthfully and behave in ways that are safe.  It is a matter of balance, finding the line between what government should and should not regulate.  Gun control.  Light bulbs.  There is a dozen issues where regulation of behavior is the issue at hand.  Where do we draw the line?

One of the most important and possibly most contentious points of friction could eventually have to do with sugar.  If not a drug, it is certainly an addictive substance that is widely abused with devastating consequences for society—at least as bad as smoking. A February posting on WebMD entitled, "Americans Sweet on Sugar: Time to Regulate?" describes the case for treating sugar in the same way we treat tobacco and alcohol. The case against "unnatural" sugar consumption (i.e. sugar that is added to a food, not naturally occuring sugar such as in fruit) is a solid one. Two possible types of regulation are described: (1) tax sugar; and (2) prevent children up to a certain age from consuming  sugar additives. It is worth remembering that we control other substances partly by taxation, and we already require infants and children to sit in car seats when in an automobile.

There is only one way to decide on which side of the regulation line sugar falls, and that unfortunately is by way of the political process.  I say "unfortunately" because as a health issue the whole thing is an open and shut case.  Refined, "unnatural" sugar is a social menace and its consumption should be controlled.  Still, there was a time when Sunday morning worship was regulated.  The populace was expected to attend worship and attend it in a government approved house of worship.  In England, for example, there was a time when citizens were to attend worship in a Church of England church and by law forbidden from holding their own "free" services.  Conservatives rightly raise the question of what behaviors should be regulated and by whom. We should note, however, that while culture conservatives are adamantly opposed to some forms of regulation, they are in favor strongly of other kinds of regulation, such as outlawing abortion.  The question is not then whether or not we should regulate.  The issue is one of where we draw the line and what falls on which side of the line.