Who owns you?

Slavery, as every school kid knows (or ought to know) was abolished by the 13th Amendment in 1865. And yet, laws continue to be passed that, in effect, assert the ownership of the state over our persons. We're not picking cotton or being whipped -- but we are being harassed and fined (and even jailed) for defying laws which, at their core, are based on the idea that the state has a proprietary stake in our hides.

Consider seat belt laws that empower the police to pull you over and issue you a ticket for not being buckled-up. You haven't harmed anyone -- or even threatened to. And any potential injury that arises from not being buckled up will be your problem only. Yet the state claims it has a right to intervene.

It's pointless to deny the merits of wearing a seat belt -- just as it is equally pointless to deny the benefits of eating a low-fat diet, maintaining ideal body weight and exercising regularly. This is a red herring. The point is not whether something is (or isn't) in your own best interests. It is who should have the final say? You? Or Big Momma? When we turn 18 and achieve legal adulthood, in theory at least, we are supposed to be masters of our own destinies -- and our right to choose (for good or ill) sacrosanct -- at least, so long as we're not harming anyone else in the process.

Electing not to wear a seat belt surely falls into that category. We may be injured (even killed) in the event of an accident. But the only person directly affected in that event is -- us. And please, no nonsense about "society" or the effect on loved ones. The same could be said -- and then some -- about sedentary, overweight people who choose to risk an early death from atherosclerosis and impose enormous costs on "society" (principally in the form of increased health care expenditures, etc.).

Interestingly, we don't waylay overweight, sedentary people outside McDonalds, do we? There are no "Operation Weighty Waddlers" -- no Girth Checkpoints.

Why is it ok to exercise choice (even if it's clearly a bad choice) for the one -- but not the other?

Perhaps it's because so many of us are, in fact, overweight and sedentary and eat like Elvis did (with similar effects). It's ok to be a weighty waddler -- but it's a violation of modern PC orthodoxies not to be "safe." It's funny in a way -- but grossly hypocritical and arbitrary, too. Not to mention objectively unfair.

After all, there is a clear and definite link between obesity and a steady diet of greasy fast food and an early death from heart disease or cancer. In contrast, there is only a potential risk (and a small one, on individual terms) involved with not buckling up. The odds are you won't have an accident -- in which case, the seat belt is irrelevant. But when you eat and live like Elvis, the odds are high you'll end up on a slab prematurely -- or at least, suffer from a preventable debilitating disease like adult-onset diabetes. If the measure is going to be "societal costs" -- then far and away, we ought to be ticketing and jailing tubbies and couch potatoes.

But the core issue here is -- who owns us? If my body is my property, then it follows I have the right to use it as I please, so long as no direct harm to others is involved. No one (yet) has dared to suggest that people who enjoy skiing, motorcycle riding or other "risky" activities be fined or jailed for deciding to assume the extra risks involved. But the state feels no compunction about asserting its ownership rights when it comes to buckling up.

Is there a distinction that justifies this? If so, I cannot discern it.

Legally, the state might claim it has the right to step in because roads are public property. Fine. So are sidewalks -- and fat people can be seen lumbering down them in cities and towns all across the country -- brazenly wolfing down their Angus triples and 64 oz sodas without fear of being ticketed. If the overfed masses confined their gluttony to the privacy of their own homes, that would be another matter.... .

But they don't, of course.

As with the "war on drugs" -- which targets some drugs (pot) but not others (alcohol) -- it is simply a matter of laws blowing with the winds of political correctness. Being fat and unhealthy (or jabbering on a cell phone)? Hey, that's ok. But fail to buckle up for safety -- and it's $100 bucks, chief.

We submit to this at our peril, though. Because having established the principle that it may intervene in our private affairs on any one count, it has established the idea that it may do so on any account. Those who fervently believe in the soundness of seat belt laws may not like it so much when the Health Laws are passed a few years down the road (at the behest of HMOs, no doubt) and they find their big bellies and hammy jowls in Big Momma's crosshairs, too.