Monthly Archives: February 2014

Uterus Strike

This is a translation of an article by Beatriz Preciado, originally published in Público on 29th January 2013, regarding the Partido Popular’s anti-abortion legislation.

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Locked within individualistic neoliberal fiction, we live with the naive sensation that our body belongs to us, that it is our most intimate property. However, the management of the greater part of our organs is under the aegis of various governmental and economic entities. Of all the bodily organs, it has been undoubtedly the uterus that has been the object of the greatest political and economic expropriation. As a cavity that potentially allows for gestation, the uterus is not a private organ, but a biopolitical space of exception, to which the norms that regulate the rest of our anatomical cavities do not apply. As a space of exception, the uterus resembles the refugee camp or the prison more than it does the liver or the lung.

The body of women contains within it a public space, whose jurisdiction is fought over not only by religious and political powers, but also medical, pharmaceutical and agri-food industries. Hence, as historian Joan Scott points out, women have spent a long time in a situation of “paradoxical citizenship”: if as human bodies they belong to the democratic community of free citizens, as bodies with potentially gestating uteruses, they lose their autonomy and become objects of intense surveillance and political control. Every woman carries within her a laboratory of the Nation-State upon whose management depends the purity of the national ethnos. For the past forty years, feminism has carried out, in the West, a process of decolonisation of the uterus. But the contemporary situation in Spain shows us that not only is this process unfinished, but it is fragile and can be easily revoked.

This 20th of December past, Mariano Rajoy’s government in Spain approved the draft for the new abortion law which will be, along with the Irish law, the most restrictive in the whole of Europe. The new law of “Protection of the Life of the Conceived and of the Rights of the Pregnant Woman” contemplates solely two grounds for legal abortion: risk of physical or mental health to the mother (up to 22 weks) or rape (up to 12 weeks). Moreover, the risk to the mother must be validated by an independent doctor and and independent psychiatrist and it must be the object of a collective process of deliberation. The draft has provoked not only the outrage of left and feminist groups, but also the collective opposition of psychiatrists who refuse to participate in this process of surveillance and pathologisation of pregnant women which restricts their right to decide for themselves.

How can this initiative of Rajoy’s government be explained? Policies governing the uterus, as with censorship or restriction to freedom of assembly, are a good detector of nationalistic and totalitarian inclinations. In the context of an economic and political crisis of the Spanish State, in light of the reorganisation of its territory and its national “anatomy” (consider Catalonia’s open process of secession but also the current discredit of the monarchy and the corruption of ruling elites), the government is seeking to recover the uterus as a biopolitical space in which national sovereignty can be manufactured once again. They dream that  by possessing the uterus they will be able to maintain the old borders of the Nation-State that are in decomposition. This draft law is also a response to the legalisation of homosexual marriage that took place during the rule of the preceding socialist government and which, despite the repeated efforts of the PP, the Constitutional Tribunal has refused to repeal. Faced with this calling into question of the model of the heterosexual family, the Rajoy government, which is close to the fundamentalist group Opus Dei, now seeks to occupy the female body as the latest place in which not only is national reproduction at stake, but also masculine hegemony.

If biopolitical history could be narrated cinematographically we would say that the film being prepared for us by the PP is a fevered porno-gore flick in which the president Rajoy and his justice minister Ruiz Gallardón plant a Spanish flag in each and every one of the uteruses of the Nation-State. This is the message that the government of Rajoy is sending to every woman in the country: your uterus is territory of the Spanish State, the preserve and ferment of National-Catholic sovereignty. You only exist as Mother. Open your legs, become soil for insemination, reproduce Spain. If the law that the PP seeks to implement were to take effect, Spanish women would wake up with the Cabinet of Ministers and the Bishop’s Conference inside their endometria.

As a body born with a uterus, I close my legs to National Catholicism. I say to Rajoy and to Rouco Varela that they will not set foot in my uterus: I have not gestated, nor will I ever gestate in the service of Spanish nationalist politics. From this modest tribune, I invite every body to go on uterus strike. Let us affirm ourselves as total citizens, not as reproductive uteruses. Not only through abstinence and homosexuality, but also through masturbation, sodomy, fetishism, coprophagy, zoophilia…and abortion. Let us not allow a single drop of National-Catholic sperm to penetrate our uteruses. Let us refuse to gestate for the accounts of the Partido Popular, or the parishes of the Bishops’ Conference. Let us carry out this strike as we would the most matriotic of acts: to put an end to the fiction of the nation and to begin to imagine a community of life post-nation-State, that does not have as its condition of possibility violence and the expropriation of the uterus.

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#GSOC: A brief note on the crime correspondent

The crime correspondent is a servant of the State. It can be no other way. The crime correspondent will never ask: should this be a crime? Instead, the crime correspondent exists to relate what the State is doing about crime. To do this, he -let’s say it is a he- relies on the offices of the State to transmit information. He is therefore a conduit for the ruling powers. Let me stress: it can be no other way. The crime correspondent is a symbol of the established order of things, a spokesman for the way things are done around here. He reinforces the legitimacy of the State and its power to determine what is criminal and what is not, its power to discipline and punish. If the State scapegoats a certain group, the crime correspondent will replicate the scapegoating.

Perhaps the least appropriate person in the world to report on the misdeeds of the police is the crime correspondent. Even less appropriate, I suggest, than a spokesperson formally appointed by the police. If the public is confronted with the police spokesperson, the suspicion will sink in, at some stage, that the police are lying. For the crime correspondent, the prospect of the police telling lies is similar to Lord Denning’s appalling vista: if the police are telling lies, how many lies has the crime correspondent told? Such a prospect is inadmissible.

Let me stress, this is not a matter of personal integrity: it is part of the job definition. Therefore the public will never be confronted with the prospect, before the fact, that the police might be lying. The fact that it is in the nature of police forces to have officers who lie, conspire, undermine, control and condition, will never be taken into account in the crime correspondent’s reporting. If the police were lying, that would mean the crime correspondent was lying too. And you can’t be having that.

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Time of the Snakes

snake

Over the weekend, as I was thinking about events relating to the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, I started to feel as if the whole thing had been concocted as some sort of personal insult. This felt strange: an Irish government perpetrates social outrages all the time, and my expectations of Ireland’s justice system could scarcely be lower.

I think it was the vehemence of Enda Kenny’s initial statement, the one broadcast as the headline news on RTE Radio 1’s 6.01pm bulletin, that gave things a different quality. My expectations of Enda Kenny could scarcely have been any lower to begin with. Unlike many, I don’t consider him to be ‘my’ Taoiseach. The personalised soft-soap treatment afforded to senior political figures, their boiling down to first name terms, such as ‘Enda’, or ‘Lucinda’, or ‘Bertie’, is something that makes my skin creep.

If Enda Kenny comes across as dim-witted in his public interventions, I don’t think he is stupid. On the contrary, I think he is instinctively cunning and committed on behalf of the constituency he serves: Ireland’s capitalist class.

You can see these qualities in his feigned outrage about the victims of violence in the North of Ireland whenever he is put on the spot by Sinn Féin in the Dáil about some entirely unrelated matter. You can see them in the way he was an enthusiastic early adopter of plans to constitutionalise the repayment of banker debt over hospitals and schools, long before the Fiscal Treaty Referendum, presenting such things as good sense, as if Ireland was, in the frame imposed by the austerian imperative, a household living beyond its means. You can see them in his dogged public insistence that “Ireland”, which is to say, Ireland’s working class, will pay “its debts”, which is to say, the debts racked up by Ireland’s financial and property speculating elites. All these things illustrate the reality of a figure who cultivates a public image as a bluff, Bruce Springsteen-loving man of the people.

But for all that, his vehemence in that statement, in which he turned the focus onto the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission, and falsely quoting legislation in order to divert from the primary question of precisely who had been bugging a statutory body, took me by surprise.

In an Irish Times opinion piece on Saturday, former ombudsman commissioner Conor Brady rightly described Kenny’s ‘proprietorial, almost dictatorial tone’ in delivering his remarks. Brady also noted that the ‘Taoiseach seemed to have no understanding that GSOC is not answerable to Government (in the same way as the Garda Commissioner) but to the Houses of the Oireachtas’. This is far too generous by half. I believe Brady’s judgment in this matter is clouded by the intimacy of Ireland’s political and media establishment circles, in which Kenny figures as an amiable, jovial character respected for personal decency.

In a democratic State, what would be the consequences, if the State’s highest public official were suspected of misleading the public on basic matters of legislation and regulatory institutions? Such an act would be treated with the utmost gravity, and some kind of formal process of inquiry would be initiated.

What has happened here, however, is that Kenny has escaped largely unharmed, and his weasel words about ‘excessive meaning’ ascribed to his statement have been consigned by opinion formers to the annals of Curious And Diverting Things Our Leaders Said That Enrich The National Political Spectacle.

I should admit to a little rhetorical sleight of hand. I don’t think there is, strictly speaking, such a thing as a democratic State. I think there are States that are democratised to a greater or lesser extent. I don’t think Ireland is a democratic State, but I do think, on the whole, that it’s a bit better than North Korea. But that isn’t saying much. We might say there is a citizen body in Ireland -a demos– that exists within a complex set of rights and freedoms: expression, assembly, opinions, minimum working conditions, access to health and education, and so on. But what does it do, exactly?

I’ve written quite critically in the past about the MacGill Summer School. But there is one address from it, from a few years back, that sticks in my mind. It was from political scientist Peter Mair, now deceased.

It won quite a lot of acclaim in the organs of respectable opinion when it came out. It sticks in my mind because there were things about it I found quite objectionable, but at the same time, there was a core of truth to it. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the text, though it is behind an Irish Times paywall for those of you inclined to pay for such things. In it, he says: this is ‘our’ fault. “We don’t respect our State. We have never respected our State. We have never had a sense of belonging for our State. If anything we have viewed the State as the enemy, as an oppressor, as something not to be trusted but to be taken advantage of”. He went on to say that he agreed with Michael D. Higgins that Ireland’s political system of “local amoralism” “disaggregates the poor”, but  “it doesn’t just disaggregate the poor, it disaggregates everybody except the special interests”.

As I said, this address won a lot of acclaim. Last year, the MacGill Summer School held a debate in his memory. The debate asked: ‘Where Are Loyalty To, And Respect For, Our State’. If you look at the website, you will see the way the debate -which included Michael McDowell and Joan Burton as participants- was framed in terms of ‘citizens being encouraged to refuse to pay legitimate taxes imposed by the State to pay for services provided by the State.’ What this indicates, I think, is the way the operative ‘we’ is, in Irish politics, something of a floating signifier. The words “We do not respect our State”, can, in the right mouth and the right microphone, mean “the great unwashed do not respect their betters”.

When I read Mair’s ‘It’s our fault’ speech, my reaction was: “who, me”? And not just in a “Not I, said the fly” way. Neither I nor any of my immediate family living in Ireland going back two generations had anything to do with the politics of the Irish State, because we lived outside its boundaries. Who else is excluded from this ‘we’? My partner, for instance. Round about the time Cardinal MacRory was organising collections for Franco, her grandmother, who was several months pregnant, was fleeing Málaga on foot with thousands of other refugees, terrorised by aerial bombardment from Franco’s fascist forces, forced to walk hundreds of miles, her husband dead after the bombing of the military base where he was stationed as a soldier in the army of the Republic. How is it her fault? Or any migrant’s fault? And even within the boundaries of the Irish State, how is it the fault of those incarcerated or cowed by its disciplinary institutions – industrial schools, laundries and psychiatric hospitals?

Elsewhere, Peter Mair writes about a democracy without a demos: sets of institutions that are formally democratic, but operating on behalf of a passive and disengaged citizenry. This is where the core truth of “it’s our fault” lies: if Enda Kenny makes dictatorial declarations that are intended to deceive, it is because he has no fear of a public holding him to acccount, no public that takes the words ‘Ireland is a democratic State’ seriously, or knows how to.

Over the past week, it has been Minister for Justice Alan Shatter and Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan who have been to the fore of public suspicion, and it is no wonder, since their activities have been suspicious. I have seen people complain that in other countries with higher standards, Shatter would already be gone. I am that sort of person. The fact that these people still hold public office is what gives weight to my feeling of a personal insult. But what is the point of saying these things, unless you’re going to do something about it? And, what is the effect of saying these things and then not doing anything about it? It is the absence of an active public, not the contemptuous attitude for democracy that pervades the Irish establishment, that is the crucial factor here. What is clear to me is that the ‘we’ through which we are led to understand and think about public affairs and politics draws us into the circles of clammy intimacy and personalised informality that sustains the likes of Enda and Alan and Martin in the present regime. If we are interested in democracy, then a different ‘we’ has to be born. You and me, and not them.

A final thought: in the drawing above, El País cartoonist El Roto shows a snake who is saying: we have a bad reputation because we bite back when they step on us. According to myth, St Patrick cast the snakes out of Ireland. On occasion, I have seen protesters carry placards depicting politicians and bankers as snakes. This kind of imagery identifies St Patrick and all that is good with the people of Ireland, and the snakes with the unwelcome individuals who speak with a forked tongue and disrupt the community with all their sexual suggestiveness and encouragement to eat forbidden fruit. I think we should revise our opinion of the snakes. What if the snakes are really the figures of dispute and dissent and resistance and liberation and knowledge that the ruling powers constantly strive to expel and trample underfoot?

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#GSOC: “Paul Reynolds, thank you for that”

“Paul Reynolds, thank you for that”

This is a transcript of the report by RTE crime correspondent Paul Reynolds on News at One, 13th February 2014. You can hear the report here. Previously: #GSOC: Who are the subversives?

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Presenter: Well, the controversy over alleged bugging of the Garda Ombudsman Commission offices is continuing, today there have been calls for an independent inquiry. Former Garda Ombudsman Conor Brady has said that an independent body should deal with concerns over the potential bugging of the office. Let’s speak now to our crime correspondent Paul Reynolds. Paul, we know now (that) what led to the GSOC public interest investigation was information emerging from the office and not a routine investigation or a routine audit as Minister Shatter had said earlier this week. This really is a complicated and messy chain of events, is it not?

Paul Reynolds: Yeah, I mean, it all started towards the end of last year, towards the end of GSOC’s biggest public interest inquiry, the Kieran Boylan case. He’s a convicted drug dealer, there was an allegation he was colluding with the Gardaí, GSOC spent four years investigating that, they sent a file to the DPP, the DPP decided that no prosecution within four months, there was not enough evidence, but at the, after that, at the end of that investigation there was controversy between the Gardaí and GSOC. GSOC noticed that information was leaking from its offices. They began an investigation. Now, they began a security sweep. This is where the minister and the chairman differ because the Minister said the sweep was routine, but the chairman Simon O’Brien said it was initiated because information from GSOC was appearing in the public domain. The information, which included the UK, the investigation which included the UK security company found three anomalies, so they suspected they were under electronic surveillance. Therefore they launched a public interest inquiry, under the Garda Siochána act. Now that’s very serious, because every time they have launched one of these investigations, they always informed the Minister and the public, they issued a press release. They didn’t do it in this case, and that’s the first time ever.

Now this was -this inquiry was launched under Section 1024 of the Garda Act, which means that they’re investigating the Gardai, they have one suspect and one suspect only. So the investigation was focused externally. It doesn’t appear to have considered that the information leaking from GSOC, that GSOC was concerned about, could have come from inside GSOC. That there could have been what Simon O’Brien described yesterday as an internal mole. The investigation started in October, it discovered no evidence of Garda involvement, GSOC suspects it could have been electronically surveilled but it has no conclusive evidence, it may have been the victim of this surveillance, it still doesn’t know, so it shut down the investigation.

Presenter: And Paul, as you say there, the Chairman has indicated an internal issue himself, there is now a likelihood that somebody within that organisation is leaking information, and isn’t there only one way which people will find out whether that is the case, and these calls for an independent inquiry are beginning to gather momentum and are increasing pressure for that, are they?

Paul Reynolds: Yeah, I mean, in fairness to the journalist John Mooney, he broke this story, he got a scoop, he did his job, and he published it in the public interest. But it has caused a major problem for the Ombudsman. Because Simon O’Brien knows that he has a major security problem in GSOC, he has at least one mole and possibly more than one mole leaking secret information and details, possibly documents, in an organisation that holds highly secret and confidential information, and it’s been going on for almost a year. And GSOC still doesn’t know if it was under electronic surveillance. And if it was, by whom? And it doesn’t know if it’s got just one security problem in the sense of internal mole or moles, which is responsible for also the electronic anomalies, or two security problems, one internal and one external, involving external, external surveillance.

So, they are now conducting an internal inquiry and Simon O’Brien says there’s only seven people, including himself, who had access to that top secret report. The situation is, however, that GSOC is investigating GSOC, and the pressure today is coming on, after the Garda Associations representing twelve and a half thousand Gardai, sergeants and inspectors, eh, Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald again today in the Dáil, Fianna Fáil its leader Micheál Martin again today on Sean O’Rourke’s programme, and this morning, a former Ombudsman Commissioner, Conor Brady, all calling for an independent inquiry, and Conor Brady suggesting that it should be a senior counsel under the Commission of Investigations Act. Now we have a statement from the Minister in the last few minutes, saying that he will await the outcome of GSOC’s internal investigation to establish the facts about a possible unauthorised disclosure of information, and he expects to be informed of the result, before he decides what to do.

Presenter: Paul Reynolds, thank you for that.

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#GSOC: Who are the subversives?

 

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I couldn’t help but notice the emphasis given in last night’s Prime Time, as well as in other snippets of coverage of the GSOC bugging story I caught yesterday, to the contracting of a British firm to do the security sweep. It was as though the act of contracting a British firm were suggestive of some kind of treasonous disloyalty to An Garda Siochána and all those other impeccable institutions of Saorstát Éireann, I mean, Ireland.

Contrast this to when the Department of Social Protection spends €140,989 on an internal management report from the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion. No-one cares about the fact that this entity is based in Britain, and it is hard to see why they should, given the fact that so many of the firms contracted to provide services to state bodies are not Irish firms. But part of chasing the Ombudsman –which is scarcely independent of An Garda Siochána by any reasonable measure- through “the woods” (which is where RTÉ described it last night) means characterising it as some sort of foreign body.

The other night on RTÉ news Taoiseach Enda Kenny led the charge against the Ombudsman for its failure to report the security breach to the Minister for Justice. In doing so he told a barefaced lie about the legal requirements on the Ombudsman to report such breaches.

The Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan and the AGSI General Secretary John Redmond followed the Taoiseach’s lead in singling out the Ombudsman as the source of the problem. The dominant frame established for the reporting of the story was that of a beleaguered Ombudsman incapable of doing its duty. Writing in the Irish Times yesterday, political correspondent Stephen Collins said that the episode ‘appeared to have damaged the reputation’ of the commission, as if writing such a thing had no bearing on creating the appearance of a damaged reputation.

Such a mobilisation allows us to speculate about the workings of the collective unconscious of the Irish establishment: complaints from the public about State abuses carried out against members of the public are the work of seditious foreigners. Or, in simpler terms, the public is the enemy of the State.

The fact that there have been attempts to bug Garda Ombudsman ought to be the primary matter of concern for the public. The Ombudsman is supposed to operate, after all, on behalf of the public, to ensure that An Garda Síochána does not abuse its powers. Therefore any attempt to interfere or frustrate its operations is nothing more than an attack on democracy. The fact that the Taoiseach, the Garda Commissioner and the AGSI General Secretary all mobilised, with the aid of Ireland’s public broadcaster and other media outlets, to turn this into a problem with the Ombudsman, and not with the attack on democracy, is, simply and unambiguously, a subversion of democratic rule.

Who, then, are the subversives that need to be pursued?

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To be many and suffer little

This is a translation of an article by sociologist and essayist César Rendueles, which was published on the Podemos site.

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To be many and suffer little (or, confessions of an abstentionist who has supported the Podemos candidacy)

I recall a conference by Agustín García Calvo in the Madrid Atheneum. During the time for questions a man criticised the obscurity of his argument. “I didn’t understand a thing..” he began to say. García Calvo didn’t let him go on. “You understood me perfectly!”, he shouted. I liked that a lot because I think people on the left must say something like that. But not to others but to ourselves: they understand us perfectly!

The left has become a political tradition for moral and intellectual heroes. We think that what people who get excited about the Sunday match or a David Bisbal concert need is a good slap and an intensive schooling in Toni Negri. We have to break with this poisoned legacy. Because it is precisely the opposite. Rosa Díez said that millions of Spanish people support UPyD [a right-wing populist party with a marked anti-political slant – R] but don’t know it. She is right. But there are also millions who are anticapitalists and do not yet know it. In fact, they are the same people. We are living at a strange moment in which one can be on the verge of becoming anti-capitalist or UPyD. The direction the balance gets tipped depends on us. Because today the aspirations of most people are deeply subversive. Setting up a home, looking after our family and our friends, acquiring a trade, being respected by our peers, learning and growing as free citizens…all of this means transforming the world we know from top to bottom. Mere common sense means we have to confront the suited maniacs who from the parliaments and boards of directors are attempting to destroy our lives.

A few days ago, my dentist explained to me that he was going to give me a kind of filling that is no longer used much but which she considered preferable in my case. She told me that pharmaceutical firms constantly bring out new products whose efficacy is arguable. The majority offer aesthetic improvements, though they tend to be worse from a medical point of view. Industry takes advantage of our need to appear immune to the passage of time, our rejection of our own fragility, she said in a reflective tone. We are laying hens, she concluded, the only thing that matters is that we keep on producing for one more day, as if nothing were happening. Lying there, dazed by the sound of the drill and by the anaesthetic, I thought that if the left is unable to convince someone like my dentist that our political project is also theirs, then we do not deserve the opportunity to change things.

Rafael Barrett, an anarchist writer at the turn of the 20th century, recalled thus the monarch who reigned whilst the French Revolution was underway: “Louis XVI from adolescence on had the habit of writing down daily events in a little notebook. There could be nothing more suggestive of the mental emptiness of this wretch, who never learned of what was happening in his country. The King’s favourite occupation was hunting. According to the statistics that he himself collected, Louis XVI over 13 years killed 189,251 specimens and felled 1,274 deer; on the 28th of June 1784 he killed 200 swallows. He writes in his diary of the 43 baths that were prescribed for him in 26 years, two bouts of indigestion, various colds and attacks of haemmoroids. When there is neither hunting nor audiences nor illness, he was happy enough to write: Nothing. The convulsions in France did not reach him. On every famous date from 1789 and 1791 one reads in the notebook the everlasting word: Nothing”.

For three decades we have been letting politicians, businessmen and mass media outlets write “nothing” in our diaries. In every debate, in every editorial, in every TV news bulletin it’s the same thing: “nothing”. We have ended up believing it ourselves and we say it to ourselves: nothing, nothing, nothing…but, what if it had already happened? What if the Bastille had already been taken and we simply needed to believe it? We nearly always forget how things were scarcely four years ago. We now speak and think in a different way. My baker knows what an escrache is, my retired neighbours hate bankers, in the children’s playground there is talk of strikes…

We need this energy to flood the institutions. It is true, we could hardly find ourselves in a worse situation for it. The poet Antonio Gamoneda spoke to me once, in a very ironic tone, about his participation in an anti-Francoist groupuscle in 1950s León. “There were few of us, but we did a lot of suffering”, he said laughing. It is an excellent summary of the recent history of the left.

It says a lot about the state of our democracy that our best option should be the candidacy of the debate panellist with the pony tail. I don’t need anyone to remind me of this. I am an abstentionist, I have never voted except against the European Constitution. So I have a whole load of cynical arguments against Podemos. In reality, I have only one motive to be in favour, though it is an incredibly powerful one: it is working.

Yes, it’s working. In a way that is disordered, abrupt, contradictory, ugly, like every important political process. It is enough for me. It is not just fear, but enthusiasm, that needs to switch sides. We need to be many and suffer little.

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Fast food, fast arguments

I left this response, pace Karl Marx, to William Reville’s article on fast food in today’s Irish Times, which is titled ‘The truth about fast food and getting fat’

junk‘Every day there is more garbage in the food and more food in the garbage’

It is preposterous that an eminent scientist should draw such ludicrous conclusions about the exercise of choice and self-control. As he himself notes in his article, the environment in which fast food is consumed is designed precisely so that you cannot exercise choice and self-control, and so that your capacity to evaluate information is impaired, in order that you spend as much as possible on the items that prove most profitable to the vendor.

It is one thing to wander in off the street alone, with time on your hands to squint at the range of relatively healthy menu items that are obscured from view, and to pause calmly whilst the worker behind the counter looks on expectantly. It is quite another to coolly weigh up the menu when you have two or three anxious children in tow who have their own ideas about what they want, and a queue of impatient customers shuffling behind.

But it goes beyond the restaurant: he takes no account of the particular manipulations used by fast food companies that are deliberately designed to erode the possibility of choice and self-control. Consider the ‘Happy Meal’, a product that combines fast food with a toy. The whole point of food advertising and marketing is to stimulate consumer appetites in a particular way. In the case of the ‘Happy Meal’, it is the consumer appetites of children, who are not possessed with the critical capacity that Reville expects of his ideal adult. A child who encounters the ‘Happy Meal’, with its smile on the packaging, will conclude that getting the product makes you happy. She will also conclude, not unreasonably, that if you do not get the product, you will be unhappy. Therefore the product is designed to create unhappiness, and the eating of the product is designed to be associated with happiness.

His claim that it all boils down to “choice and self-control” also takes no account of the addictive qualities of fast food. A study published in Nature Neuroscience in 2010 –on the face of it, a good deal more rigorous than what either Morgan Spurlock or John Cisna got up to- showed that ‘overconsumption of palatable food triggers addiction-like neuroadaptive responses in brain reward circuits and drives the development of compulsive eating’, and suggested that ‘common hedonic mechanisms may therefore underlie obesity and drug addiction’.

Men and women and children may choose to eat fast food, but they do not make these choices as they please, and they do not do so under self-selected circumstances. An evaluation that is unable to take these circumstances into account is not worth tuppence, I’m afraid. Except perhaps to fast food companies and finger-wagging moralists.

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