03 September 2013

"Progressives" can become "left-wing Puritans"

Especially in matters relating to their children:
Today, of course, while the right still dabbles eagerly in the anti-fluoride, anti-vaccination, and other anti-science pathologies, the left may be the even greater culprit. Certainly the anti-fluoride coalition in Portland depended more on self-identified liberal voters than on conservatives. But there are key differences in how liberals and conservatives come by their fears. On the right, these mental illnesses stem from fear of government. On the left... they stem from an old mix of righteousness and the fear of contamination—from what we might recognize as Puritanism.

Let me give another example of left-wing Puritanism in action, one less glaring than the Portland referendum but which will be recognizable to many of you. Last month, at a birthday party for a three-year-old, I was hit with the realization that most of the parents around me were in the grip of moral panic, the kind of fear of contamination dramatized so well in The Crucible. One mother was trying to keep her daughter from eating a cupcake, because of all the sugar in cupcakes. Another was trying to limit her son to one juice box, because of all the sugar in juice. A father was panicking because there was no place, in this outdoor barn-like space at some nature center or farm or wildlife preserve, where his daughter could wash her hands before eating. And while I did not hear any parent fretting about the organic status of the veggie dip, I became certain there were such whispers all around me...

I was surrounded by the new Puritans: self-righteous, aspiring toward a utopian perfectionism, therefore condemned to perpetual anxiety—and in their anxiety, a threat to me and my children.
More at the New Republic essay, via The Dish.


  1. I was surrounded by the new Puritans: self-righteous, aspiring toward a utopian perfectionism, therefore condemned to perpetual anxiety—and in their anxiety, a threat to me and my children.

    Well said and sadly so true

  2. Silly piece. Sounds like the author hangs out with a bunch of annoying wealthy yuppies. To paint these kinds of people as "progressives" is laughable. They're more like the new middle/upper class: Socially liberal, but neoliberal (right wing) in every other aspect. They shop at Whole Foods, send their kids to private schools and read right wing pro-war writers like the linked to: Andrew Sullivan and watch dot-com millionaires give Horatio Alger-esque "Ted Talks". They flirt with Paultardism and Alex Jones like conspiracies. See this whole stupid fluoridation conspiracy issue. Like Sullivan and his ilk they're cool with gay marriage but also dig libertarianism and bombing civilians. They are NOT progressives or lefties.

    1. As a palate cleanser, here's an actual lefty* (mark ames) eviscerating Mr. Daily Dish:


      *The Dish likes to refer to us actual anti-war lefties as: "Decadent fifth columns, traitors, enemies" etc...

  3. I'm not left-wing by any means, but there is nothing wrong with keeping your children from eating junk food. Both cupcakes and boxed juice have vary limited nutrition and are loaded with empty calories. If they crave something sweet they should rather have real fruit or healthy snacks. North-Americans are generally smart people but not when it comes to their sugar addiction.

    1. For the record: it's a birthday party, we're not talking about daily life.

  4. How are perpetually anxious parents a threat to me and my children? They are grown now, but when I had a say in what they ate, they ate healthy foods and not much sugar. We all knew their grandparents did not follow my rules, and their friends' parents were mostly much stricter about food. They did not have any problem understanding that different people and places offered different choices and opportunities.

  5. The key words that we should focus on in this story are "birthday party". No matter your political leanings, a party is a time when, allergies aside, kids should just get to eat what is on offer. Otherwise it's not much of a party, is it?

  6. I think that anti-vaccination/"green vaccines" are an outgrowth of this, with a dollop of anti-science foolishness as well.

  7. My liberal son used to send me via e-mail regular doses of Andrew Sullivan, until he found I was bored with Sullivan, too bored to react, but my son is anti-war, so I am surprised that Sullivan is pro-war. Another reason to find Sullivan boring.

    My liberal son cannot understand why I eat 90% Whole Foods type stuff. I have a simple reason: I have Porphyria and I have to eat things which do not trigger an attack. I eat "junk food" when it is not a trigger.
    For instance, I drink one or two cups of coffee in the morning. I used to eat sugar but it helped my teeth to go away, so I fanatically hang on to what teeth (and implants) are left, because I can't tolerate the plastic in dentures and have toroids in my palates which would cause dentures to not fit.

    I guess I'm an ex-liberal. I believe in Heaven so I am somewhat more relaxed about things that destroy my body, like sugar, than I otherwise would be. I have a place to go when the body falls apart.

  8. I have nothing but compassion for parents who struggle with food safety issues, even when it bends them out of shape and makes them seem ridiculous to others. Is it crazy to forbid your child from eating cupcakes? Yes, on the face of it, but I was at a birthday party last month where the blue dye used in the spiderman cupcakes icing turned everyone's fingers and mouths a deep shade of blue that lasted a few days. Is it crazy to ask if that is safe? Is it puritanical to suggest that maybe we could forego the crazy chemical dyes in favour of less blue but also less chemical-laced cupcakes? Is it dogmatic to think that if we don't know for sure it's safe, maybe we should not feed it to our toddlers?

    It may be possible to paint people with food safety concerns as yet another bunch of crazy liberals, but I don't think that's really accurate.

    Also, holy crap that father was so right about your kids washing your hands before eating. Everyone in my house is sick right now because it was the first week of school and somebody didn't wash their hands enough. It's NOT POLITICAL to try to reduce the amount of sickness in your home! FYI, the kids of conservative parents have to wash their hands before they eat too.

    Full disclosure: I am a crazy liberal who curtails the amount of sugar my offspring consume on a daily basis. Yes, on juice box of apple juice with a cupcake at a birthday party is okay. No, more than one box is not okay. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that simple carbohydrates are addictive, that they can alter a person's brain chemistry, and that children are especially susceptible. Simply put, children who are raised with a high-sugar diet will struggle with managing their diet (both quality and quantity) throughout their adult lives. Yup, I'm what's wrong with the world!

    Lol, I bet if you posted an article on the techniques that Kellogg's uses to market its boxed candy to school-age children, the comments would be full of references to horrible lazy parents who feed their kids junk because it is cheaper and easier than getting them to eat nutritious food with simple ingredients. Honestly, picking on parents who care what their kids eat is a stupid waste of time.

  9. As a Canadian, I am once again gob-smacked that people who in any other part of the western world would be called "centrists" are called "leftists" in the USA.

    Also, I expect the real fear of these middle-class parents isn't contamination, but unhealthy children and the financial burden that might create, given the incredibly screwed up US medical system; and fear of fat children, who will be, because of their appearance, less likely to climb the social ladder (the executive class these days being biased towards physical fitness).

  10. It is always dangerous to extrapolate something as a broader truth from a personal experience with a small group of people. But, be that as it may (and despite the fact that I would never turn down a cupcake for myself or my child!) I honestly don't see someone not wanting their child to have a cupcake is a sign of being a left wing Puritan. (Possibly there are medical reasons they didn't share with you? I know my sister-in-law's nephew is autistic and reacts badly to some foods.)

    And someone else didn't want their child to drink juice? Personally, I never listened to my second child's pediatrician but he said that standards now dictate that only 1/2 a box of juice is allowed daily. If the child at the party is a first child, the parents may not have the confidence to defy their doctor's dictates.

    The washing hands thing -- sorry, that's just sensible. I know many men don't wash their hands even after using the bathroom but a lot of us think that's kind of disgusting.

    Still, I don't see how any of this affected you or your family. Unless the cupcake parent self-righteously threw the whole box of cupcakes away and the juice parent ripped the juice box from your child's hands, it really didn't affect you at all.

  11. From the full article:
    "The Puritan parents I encounter are nearly all liberals, and they represent the persistence of two unfortunate tendencies liberals have inherited from the Puritans, queered along the way by Progressive-era reformers. The first is the fun-smothering tendency of Progressive-era moral uplift, the tendency that brought us Prohibition and the first laws proscribing opiates and narcotics. (Today, we try to ban large cups of soda.) The second is an interest in hygiene that could be quite salutary—as when reformers pushed clean water and other public-health measures—but could also fetishize symbolic, pernicious forms of sanitation and purity, as in Margaret Sanger’s support for eugenics.

    Of course, there are plenty of conservative parents who worry too much about what their children eat, and there are plenty of conservatives who are morally censorious, dislike fun, and like prohibiting things. But I expect better of liberals."

    I was a social Liberal living in an 80% Conservative NW suburban Chicago county, in an equally Conservative village of about 18,000 (up from about 6,000 in 1980 when I mistakenly moved there and then never got out of it till I retired to Mexico). ALL the qualities the author slammed the Liberals for I saw in spades for 32 years in the scared-of-their-shadow scared-of-life families in that village. Geez, they even freaked out when I'd cheer loudly at kids' baseball and soccer games (which where I grew up near St Louis was EXPECTED). I became a pariah for expressing emotion or excitement. It was NOT fun living there. The school marm mentality of the over-protective parents (mostly, but not exclusively mothers) was stifling to the kids, many of them who were treated like toddlers well into their school years.

    It has been my experience that BOTH sides are fearmongers - just in different ways. I avoid the fear merchants now, almost with a passion. Both sides need psychiatric help, if you ask me.

  12. Frankly, there are way more allergies in kids now than there used to be. And I know I come across as weirdly obsessive about what my kids can and cannot do, if you are just listening from the outside. We went to the fair the other day, and my husband was walking away with our young son to sit on a bench and wait for me and my daughter to get our food. I called after my husband, 'Don't let him (our son) sit on the grass.' That got me some weird looks from bystanders. But what they don't know is that if he sits on the grass, and touches it and then his face, he will break out in hives.

    Yes, some people are obsessed with cleanliness & purity. And some people just don't want their kids to break out in hives, or worse. Don't judge from the outside.


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