(/sites/default/files/uploads/2012/03/obese-travel.gif)Flyers feeling violated by airport x-ray scanners or TSA pat-downs may find a new proposal just too heavy an intrusion. A professor wants to add scales to airports for carriers to weigh passengers. The pounds on the scale would determine the price of the ticket.
“Is a person’s weight his or her own business?” Peter Singer asks in a Project Syndicate article. “Should we simply become more accepting of diverse body shapes? I don’t think so. Obesity is an ethical issue, because an increase in weight by some imposes costs on others.” The Princeton bioethicist notes that a plane’s load factors into the fuel it consumes.
But some 747s weigh 1,000,000 pounds. Does the 230-pound woman sitting in 11C really make such a big difference?
Singer tacitly admits it doesn’t by shifting the discussion away from the ostensible subject of the piece, fat passengers weighing us down with heavy fuel costs, to eclectic matters more germane to his interests. The bioethicist argues that the increased fuels burned to propel large people to their destinations emit a spare tire of greenhouse gases around the earth, which contributes to global warming. He further justifies elephantine ticket prices for rotund travelers by noting the corpulent health-care costs of obesity. Singer reasons, “These facts are enough to justify public policies that discourage weight gain.”
The unfocused reasoning is a staple of the Australian’s argumentation. He finds no “ethical distinction between a Brazilian who sells a homeless child to organ peddlers and an American who already has a TV and upgrades to a better one” since the money for the better television could have been used to help homeless Brazilian children. He argues for a $30,000 cap on income to pay for life’s necessities but not its luxuries. He wants to take away the right to bear arms, to smoke tobacco, and even the right to life for babies. In Rethinking Life and Death, he writes that “in the case of infanticide, it is our culture that has something to learn from others, especially now that we, like them, are in a situation where we must limit family size.” While he advocates legalizing the murder of newborns, Singer condemns eating hamburgers, imprisoning whales at Sea World, and what he describes as the Auschwitz-like conditions of chicken coops.
“Many of us are rightly concerned about whether our planet can support a human population that has surpassed seven billion,” Singer concludes in the Project Syndicate piece. “But we should think of the size of the human population not just in terms of numbers, but also in terms of its mass. If we value both sustainable human well-being and our planet’s natural environment, my weight—and yours—is everyone’s business.”
If such a private matter as one’s weight is the public’s business, then the question arises as to what, precisely, remains one’s private business? One’s finances, one’s weight, one’s choice of doctor, one’s plasma-screen television, and even the meat on one’s plate all become the business of Big Brother in Singer’s expansive vision of the state. Singer’s is the logic of totalitarianism. Since any private action can be rationalized as having a public consequence, all becomes the interest of the government. Singer advocates copious limits on private behavior. Where are the checks on the state’s gargantuan appetite?
The enormous arrogance required to force people onto scales as a prerequisite to boarding a flight is a natural consequence of Singer’s philosophy. The Ivy League philosopher is an heir to the utilitarianism of Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, the idea that whatever maximizes the greatest pleasure for the greatest number is ethically correct. Who determines the greatest good? Why philosophers like Singer do. People aren’t free to choose. The ideology errs in making calculus of philosophy. The moral decisions individuals face become the moral decisions for their betters to make under utilitarianism. A philosophy empowering big brains to dictate the behavior of small people engorges a narcissist’s ego. Why would it be palatable to anyone else? Transforming a moral question into a mathematical one always yields the wrong answer.
The founder of Singer’s school of thought infamously devised a one-size-fits-all constitution for countries he had never stepped foot in. Jeremy Bentham’s leading contemporary exponent faithfully follows the leader when he advocates reordering a massive half-trillion dollar industry in which he has never worked. Gluttony is a sin of bellies and brains.
Boeing executives don’t tell philosophy professors what readings to assign their students. Why is a Princeton philosopher telling airlines how to run their business?
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