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Page last updated at 14:31 GMT, Friday, 11 April 2008 15:31 UK

A cry for individual freedom

Max Cotton
Max Cotton
The Politics Show

"In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum need... the energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country... and the glow from that fire can truly light the world."

Two fat men

Now I want you to look at those fine, fine words.

Either they mean something, or they don't.

Freedom means free to act as we will - and sometimes when acting freely we commit terrible crimes and do wrong against others and against ourselves.

That is the sacrifice that freedom entails.

It seems slightly distasteful at first to use those high minded arguments to defend an individual's right to eat chips at every meal - to choose to be fat and unhealthy if he or she wishes.

But in the final analysis, that's about freedom too.

Benevolent poisons

Our health is no longer in God's hands - our children and our friends used to be taken away from us by small pox or cholera.

The real killers in modern society are the benevolent poisons we take ourselves.

Cheese, sausages and fried bacon might have helped to save a malnourished 5-year-old ancestor of mine in the 19th Century, while today, the pleasure we take from being able to eat at will is the thing that kills us - now we cave in to diabetes and cancer and heart disease.

The peculiar irony is that the same principles of freedom which make the Victorian child's death from malnutrition so appalling are the principles that mean we should be allowed to harden our arteries at will.

Meaning of freedom

Freedom means freedom from poverty, freedom to survive in a wealthy world.

But freedom also means freedom to hurt ourselves, and to die from our wounds.

My colleague Gill argues that obesity in Britain is costing the taxpayer 4.2bn a year.

And that the government should be stepping in to stop us from piling on the pounds.

Does that mean that we should be free so long as it's not too expensive?

"Yeah - be free but please keep the bill under the 100m mark chaps?"

Well it just doesn't work like that.

And if it does, then freedom is really expensive, because it's what people die for.

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