Let me simply note that the American people have a deep faith in certain things that actual science cannot touch. We can measure this faith by looking at the areas in which our politicians and regulators are allowed to hassle us, and the areas where we will not allow them to speak reassurance to us. Because we are a technocratic society, we pretend that this is a matter of science when it is nothing of the kind.
This is what I mean. Do we have ample scientific reasons for believing that drinking alcohol in moderation provides positive health benefits? We most certainly do. Now, the question is this. Can you imagine merchants of these health-giving benefits being allowed to put the results of these studies on the label? Not on your life. If there is anything negative, that could go on there. The surgeon-general has seen to it that we are all warned about possible risks to pregnant women, operators of cars or machinery, and we are informed that the contents of the bottle “may cause health problems.” Now how many health benefits would have to be shown by how many scientific studies before a brewery or vintner would be allowed to say so? On the label, or in an ad? Well, the answer is that until we repent of certain underlying assumptions about God’s grouchiness, the number of scientific studies is irrelevant. We think we already know, but we don’t. We have defined fish as anything larger than the mesh on our net, and what our net don’t catch ain’t fish.
Here is another example, a little closer to home. The laughable BMI manner of calculating whether someone is overweight gives us a “scientific” basis for joking learnedly about a friend’s breakfast order at a restaurant being a “heart attack on a plate.” The problem is that America has an anorexic eye, and we are blind to the fact that our health problems are not caused by butter. Someone who is fifty pounds overweight is far less likely to have health problems than someone who is five pounds underweight. Is this valuable information going to show up any time soon on the side of your biscuit box?
Morbid obesity is a problem, followed closely by the problems of being skinny. Skinny is not healthy. Those cute girls in the J. Crew catalog are going to die next week. Yo-yo dieting is a health problem, that’s true enough. But being a bit overweight is a health benefit. Hold on, I have to type a bit faster before they come and take me away . . .