On the occasion of Thanksgiving, when Americans indulge in lots of food and drink while gathering with family and friends, it is worth noting that celebrations like this are great rejoinders to the killjoy health nannies out there. In 1893 Mark Twain wrote a brilliant essay called "The Moral Statisticians", in which he does not mince his words:
I don't want any of your statistics; I took your whole batch and lit my pipe with it.
I hate your kind of people. You are always ciphering out how much a man's health is injured, and how much his intellect is impaired, and how many pitiful dollars and cents he wastes in the course of ninety-two years' indulgence in the fatal practice of smoking; and in the equally fatal practice of drinking coffee; and in playing billiards occasionally; and in taking a glass of wine at dinner, etc. etc. And you are always figuring out how many women have been burned to death because of the dangerous fashion of wearing expansive hoops, etc. etc. You never see more than one side of the question.
You are blind to the fact that most old men in America smoke and drink coffee, although, according to your theory, they ought to have died young. . . . And you never try to find out how much solid comfort, relaxation, and enjoyment a man derives from smoking in the course of a lifetime (which is worth ten times the money he would save by letting it alone), nor the appalling aggregate of happiness lost in a lifetime by your kind of people from not smoking. Of course you can save money by denying yourself all those little vicious enjoyments for fifty years; but then what can you do with it? What use can you put it to? Money can't save your infinitesimal soul. All the use that money can be put to is to purchase comfort and enjoyment in this life; therefore, as you are an enemy to comfort and enjoyment where is the use of accumulating cash?
It won't do for you to say that you can use it to better purpose in furnishing a good table, and in charities, and in supporting tract societies, because you know yourself that you people who have no petty vices are never known to give away a cent, and that you stint yourselves so in the matter of food that you are always feeble and hungry. . . .
What is the use of your saving money that is so utterly worthless to you? In a word, why don't you go off somewhere and die, and not be always trying to seduce people into becoming as ornery and unlovable as you are yourselves, by your villainous "moral statistics"?
Equally today, we need to follow Twain's example and mercilessly expose those who would use science and statistics to push a stifling moral agenda.
And with that, have a Happy Thanksgiving!
(h/t Wall Street Journal)