Sometimes its the little things that get to you. Every day, I read the Chicago Tribune editorial page. I usually come away dismayed, and today was not an exception. Recently there was a letter to the editor published which struck a nerve with me. The vital issue? Eating contests.
The author of the brief letter thought that eating contests were immoral, in light of the problem of hunger in poor countries. Her solution? Make them illegal.
Why did this set me off so much? I have absolutely no interest in eating contests. However, it struck me as an ideal manifestation of the mentality that threatens liberty in our day-to-day lives. Absolutely nothing is considered too picayune or obscure to be controlled by the government.
Its very pettiness and irrelevance revolts me. I can understand people who are willing to use state violence on big issues and grandiose projects, even if I intensely disapprove. It’s much harder for me to relate to someone so lost to any regard for the liberty of others or the idea of limited government power that they’d be willing to use the force of law to prevent eating contests. This mentality- the idea that all your little annoyances and pet peeves and dislikes should be dealt with by the government- is not as obviously corrosive to liberty as the grandiose schemes of utopians and moralists, precisely because it manifests in little things, but it’s just as important to resist.
In a way, in fact, it may be a more dangerous, precisely because it seems so petty. If the government threatens to institute mandatory attendance of Catholic Mass or starts hanging people without trial, there would be an uproar in the public and media. These things are too big to sneak past.
But how many people will get worked up over little things? After all, how many people give a damn about eating contest? How many people would care if they really were outlawed, or if any of dozens of other little activities were outlawed? Not many. It’s a small issue, nothing to get worked up over. And the same will be true of the next thing outlawed, and the next, and the next, because none of them individually will inspire more than token resistance. America’s freedom will not be swallowed whole; it will be nibbled to death.