Thursday, February 22, 2007

I'm Still Gonna Buy Samoas

MeMe Roth and her crew at National Action Against Obesity think that we ought to be boycotting Girl Scout cookies because they're bad for us and they worry about "young females identifying themselves with baked goods".

I happen to like Girl Scout cookies, but that all makes a certain amount of sense to me. And the best counter-argument Katherine Mangu-Ward can come up with is that Girl Scout cookies aren't as bad as Al Qaeda or global warming, so Roth's probably on to something.

What I don't get is why libertarians - who are ostensibly opposed only to government intervention into peoples' lives - get so offended by this sort of mobilization by private citizens. It's almost like the anti-government rhetoric is all just a pretense or something.

P.S. - The NAOO's press release suggests that "Girl Scouts look to Boy Scouts as a model", but I think that's wrong as a general principle. I was a Boy Scout, and I appreciate that the BSA have done a good job of identifying themselves with community service rather than something like cooking. At the same time, the BSA is an essentially discriminatory organization, and there are many aspects of the group that the Girl Scouts would not be improved by emulating.

Update: Mangu-Ward goes full-length with her criticism. She actually offers an argument this time, including the cogent fact that Girl Scout cookies are really, really good, so you don't obviously make the world a better place by getting rid of them.

Fair enough. Like I titled the post, I'm still going to buy and eat Girl Scout cookies at every opportunity. (I had several Samoas this evening.) That kind of dodges the question about promoting obesity, but I appreciate the sentiment.

Completely unaddressed are the feminist concerns, which I think are at least as big a deal as the health issues.


Rebecca C. Brown said...

I'd be way more concerned about encouraging girls to identify themselves with traditional (and I feel inhibiting) female roles than with exposing them to delicious, fattening treats. The Girl Scouts of America principles are all empowering and admirable, but if they're only teaching them "feminine" skills then it kinda cancels out.

It's up to the parents, not the Girls Scouts of America, to look after those girls' nutritional well-being. But maybe I'm being too "libertarian" about the whole thing.

Don't begrudge libertarians the opportunity to apply their underlying beliefs to both government and private organizations. But the last thing I want to start is a discussion about libertarianism.

Paul said...

Well, Mangu-Ward doesn't really apply any principles at all, as far as I can tell, but insofar as they're complaining about purely private parties, I don't see how the principles could be libertarian at all.

And parents certainly play a role and have a responsibility, but since when do people cease to have ethical obligations as soon as they form groups?

Rebecca C. Brown said...

Unless at these private parties GSA leaders are actively encouraging girls to eat cookies, and unless GSA is lying about the nutritional profiles of cookies, I don't see the nutritional problem with a private organization making kids sell junk food. They're not a government org, so the cookies aren't an implied endorement of fat and sugar as part of a balanced diet. Moreover, GSA doesn't claim to promote girls' health with their cookies. I don't detect the breech of ethics that you do.

I guess libertarian principles, whether they pertain directly to government or not, all hinge on individual responsbility, and Cookiegate is all about individual responsibility. I'm struggling to think of a worthwhile analogy. ... How about this: veganism only directly "regulates" what a person consumes, but the main underlying principle (namely, animal welfare) still prevents vegans from kicking dogs, for example.

Man, I just refuse to agree with you this week.

Paul said...

I think you're just failing to distinguish between when it's appropriate to use the coercive power of government to prohibit something and when it's appropriate just to oppose on a private level behaviors you find unethical.

The ethical problem is really pretty clear - to the extent that you promote the association of women with kitchen-oriented labor, you promote bad gender stereotypes. Also, to the extent that you encourage junk food consumption, you encourage poor health. What's not to see here?

What you seem to be talking about is that you don't see very specific ethical problems: you don't see lying, or law breaking. But so what? That's a very small set of possible ethical violations.

It's a strange ideology indeed that not only opposes government intervention in favor of a greater emphasis on personal responsibility, but also opposes private citizens working to improve the state of the world. In fact, I don't think anybody thinks the latter (although that seems to be the position you've talked yourself into.)