Thursday, October 13, 2011

The healthy and tolerant world

(This was something I wrote in July 2003.) 

A news item that caught the eye recently was the proposed tax in New Zealand on rectal emissions of farm animals, creatively labelled the Fart Tax. Apparent such end-of-pipe emissions contribute greenhouse gases and thus to global warming.

On the other end of the globe, at least as we view the earth as flat on our maps, an obesity tax is being proposed. Fat people are a great burden to the economy besides creating a lot of unhappiness around.

Ventilating animals and fat people can now join smokers as communities that are offending civilization today. While we are on a witchhunt, lets tally up some other criminal groups that are creating untold misery to human health and the environment.

The ugly – represent one such group. People with physical disfigurement or are just plain ugly frighten children, create panic in the minds of teenagers and cause considerable economic and psychological damage to society. Economic damage in that ugly people develop psychological problems or indulge in substance abuse or as the ads say on Indian television, families find it harder to marry their darker “ugly” daughters.

In fact, since these are issues that have considerable long term impact on civilization, we must fund some programmes through the United Nations Environmental Programme – lets call the UN PFAF (Programme Against Fat and Flatulence). International studies could be commissioned on consumption of items that create fat and flatulence – chocolate, onions and some such items will definitely be on top of the list.

Given vast differences in consumption baskets of developed and developing countries, obesity is a greater problem in rich countries. We could envisage a global trading mechanisms to reduce obesity or atleast restrict it – the net fat around the world does not increase. Undernourished and starving people in developing countries would overnight become possessors of rights (since they don’t eat much anyway and are thin) they can sell to fat people in the United States, who can then exceed their regulated quotas of food. The income from such sale of rights can be used by the poor for several purposes including food.

The flatulence issue will be more complicated. But we can commission studies by leading scientific institutions to evaluate levels present, key causes and develop a hit list of banned products.  Such studies could also recommend phasing out of farm animals that are gross violators of mandated emission levels.

At least, one more UN secretariat, several regional bodies, large sums of funds to research institutions and civil society organizations, could be the end result of such an effort. International media will, of course, cover such events with great gusto. Its an economic win-win for several organizations.

Apparently, while we are promoting various global institutions that preserve plants, animals, bacteria and disease at the cost of human beings our tolerance of the diversity of human beings and the things they do to live are reducing.

There is a selective weeding of non-conforming social behaviour. Such behaviour is built into a large scale villain with the help of omnipresent media often a willing partner to cover the next big fight.  One Oprah Winfrey show had an audience gasping “NOO!”, while she asked them if they could imagine a world without toilet paper. Another had a shocked audience viewing a photo where she displayed underarm hair while she presented the defence of the one-off case. Clearly promoting toilet paper and shaving women’s underarm hair could potentially be a global priority. Civil society organizations form to propogate the idea and seek legislative action at the national level. Eventually, if these moves are in more affluent nations, there are moves to make an international law.

As a result of these laws, some of the world’s finest minds – economic, political, social and scientific – will spend their time in debating and trying to resolve fairly low priority items compared to starvation, disease and general deprivation that afflict at least 30-40% of the world’s population.

If we take these moves to their logical extreme, we are looking at a human society that will be homogenous - talk, dress, think and behave alike – within some narrow pre-ordained parameters. Does this sound a bit like cloning? Or did some bloke called Adolf  have similar views (wonder what happened to him?). Maybe the anti-cloning groups must rethink their stance.


  1. "Taxing" (through money or societal condemnation) is an old form of reining-in people into their own personal accountability. It does give an immediate result, though. Lack of control on how much sugar to consume has pushed some law makers to restrict the size of soda cups - main argument to oppose this law is -"don't take away my freedom to do what I want to do". If only animals had the same "freedom and rights", humans would have been wiped out by now :-)

    Diversity causes conflicts - always; entropy of such system dictates the lowest/easiest solution, i.e. eliminate odd-balls.

    Interesting topic you touched on...
    -Rekha Rao

    1. hey, thanks for making the time to read this and comment! While some of my biases are on display in this piece as well, an objective is to think about stuff and, hopefully, have a few laughs at ourselves while doing the serious stuff!