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You don’t have to be beautiful to be a fascist, but it helps

August 4th, 2010 Posted in Uncategorized by

Gisele Bündchen has been in the news for reasons other than being pretty and well dressed and probably-airbrushed, recently.

According to the Brazilian supermodel, “I think there should be a worldwide law that mothers should breast-feed their babies for six months.”

This is a typical example of knee-jerk conservativism: a desire to use power to impose virtue on others. To re-frame this all-too-common viewpoint into a general statement: “I think that x is important/valuable/worthwhile, therefore the law should require that you do x as well.”

Let us take as read the justified criticism by Pam Lacey of the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers, who noted that “Some women have medical reasons as to why they can’t. A lot of new mothers hit a problem.”

Others, one might add, simply don’t take to it. Or they may not be available to breast feed whenever the child is hungry. In some cases, it is preferable to the child’s development that the mother does not spend six months at home – after all, not everybody has a $150m fortune and the resulting freedom from the need to provide materially for their family.

What matters to very young children more than anything else is that they are nurtured in a happy home, rather than one where their mother is stressed and depressed by having to make decisions that they would not choose.

However, this is not the extent of Ms. Bündchen’s error. Imposing breastfeeding with the threat of force is bad enough, but we need also to consider her demand for “worldwide law”. There are very good reasons why we do not have worldwide laws. For one thing, the law is best made and administered at a level closest to those that it will affect, which is why liberals support devolution, subsidiary, state rights etc. A second and related point is that many laws are culturally-specific: what applies in Guyana may not apply in Guinea.

But perhaps most importantly, a single world government (necessary for any meaningful “worldwide law”) would be so far removed from those that it governed that it would inevitably become either a bureaucracy (in the strict sense of the word, with officials exercising power without constraint) or an autocracy (even if the ruler were elected).

Ms. Bündchen has since rushed out to ‘clarify’ her words: “I understand that everyone has their own experience and opinions and I am not here to judge,” she wrote on her website, though whether she thinks their experiences and opinions count for much is doubtful, considering she would use legal sanctions to impose her will on them. She also said that she regretted that her comment sounded so “black and white”, as though banning a practice was nuanced. “My intention in making a comment about the importance of breastfeeding has nothing to do with the law”, she added, having previously said “there should be a worldwide law that mothers should breast-feed”. One might doubt her subsequent sincerity.

If Ms. Bündchen were not a famous supermodel, it is unlikely that we would ever have heard her authoritarian suggestion. Unfortunately, like participants at a Miss World competition, it seems that we have to listen to her views of the world as well. Beauty is hardly a prerequisite for authoritarian views, but if you want to get your ideas heard, it clearly helps.


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