- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 1, 2005

The government will allow you to risk your life for the sake of recreation by sky-diving, mountain climbing or any number of other dangerous activities. But it will not allow you to risk your life to avoid arthritis pain by taking Vioxx.

There is no principle behind such differences in government policy. No one must show some particular medication is more dangerous than a particular recreation to get the medication banned while the recreational activity is allowed to continue.

Businesses that conduct dangerous recreational activities are not denounced for “corporate greed” by making money at the risk of other people’s lives. But such charges are flung around regularly about pharmaceutical companies — and are taken seriously in the media.

Sad to say, many issues argued as if matters of principle are in fact only matters of attitude. We are used to hearing denunciations of “unsafe” drugs, cars, water, and various other things crusaders and the media happen to single out.

This has created attitudes rather than anything that could be dignified as a principle. Far more dangerous things not only escape criticism but are even promoted by some of the people who create hysteria over fashionable fears.

The banning of the insecticide DDT is a classic example. Unsubstantiated claims of dangers to human beings from using DDT have led to bans in many countries around the world, leading to a resurgence of mosquitoes carrying malaria, causing millions of documented deaths.

It is attitude, not principle. Reverence has been created for Rachel Carson by the environmental movement because she claimed DDT would wipe out song birds by its effects on their eggs. Yet she has probably been responsible for more deaths of human beings than anybody without an army.

One death in a boxing ring will set off loud demands to ban that sport, but hundreds of deaths from boating accidents will elicit no such response. Nor are such gross double standards confined to safety issues.

Americans will be denounced for greed and materialism by people from countries where individuals do not donate nearly as high a percentage of their incomes as Americans do, nor volunteer a fraction as much time to philanthropic causes as Americans do. Moreover, a chorus of Americans on the left will echo the foreign charges.

Politicians who give away the taxpayers’ money to social programs will be lionized in the media for their “compassion.” But many businessmen across the country, who each donate millions of dollars of their own money to help the less fortunate, get no such praise, if they are mentioned at all.

Facts don’t matter to those for whom principles don’t matter, however loudly those principles may be proclaimed. Many so-called “thinking people” do remarkably little thinking.

Much ingenuity may go into articulating and rationalizing their attitudes toward business, the police, American society, etc., but these are still attitudes rather than principles.

This is not to say there is no consistency in their behavior. There is great consistency but it is consistency with a particular vision of the world rather than consistency with proclaimed principles of safety, equality or morality.

That vision casts them in the role of wiser and nobler people — defenders of the downtrodden, protectors of the environment, advocates of peace and opponents of war. There is always some crusade that requires their superior wisdom and virtue to be imposed on others.

Particular attitudes toward particular things that are in vogue among those who wrap themselves in the mantle of chic virtue serve as a badge of identity, showing who is one of the special “Us” rather than the more ordinary “Them.”

This is heady stuff, and they won’t give it up for anything so mundane as facts or logic or principles. The best the rest of us can do is to stop calling their ego trips idealism.

Thomas Sowell is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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