I had a conversation that upset me a little today. I said “You can’t be an anarchist and have a cell phone.” The person I was talking to disagreed, and asked me why not.

Because the cell phone networks are publicly funded and built by the government, I said, it doesn’t make sense to take advantage of that if you’re an anarchist.

My friend still disagreed, and said that she knew people who were on welfare who were anarchists.

I thought that was hypocritical. She said, I guess it depends on your definition of anarchy. I steered away from the topic. I don’t actually want to alienate a friend over political differences.

But here’s the definition of anarchist, from the dictionary: “A person who believes in or tries to bring about anarchy.”

And the definition of anarchy, also from the dictionary: “A state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority.”

I respect the philosophy. I can understand why a person would adopt it, and can imagine circumstances when that person would be me. However, when you collect welfare or use a cell phone, or even walk on the public roads or use the public healthcare or live in a  house built according to government building codes, you are not being an anarchist.

You are recognizing authority by doing the things they require you to do to enjoy these benefits: You fill out the forms and obey the rules for welfare, you pay for your cell phone contract, you choose to pay the rent instead of living in a home that you built yourself in defiance of building codes, you obey the rules of the road enough to not get tickets.

That’s not anarchy.

I have some strong feelings of disrespect toward people who collect welfare while claiming to be in favour of dissolving the government or refusing to submit to authority, but those are just feelings. The principle that I act on is that there is enough wealth in the world for everyone to eat and be sheltered, so everyone should eat and be sheltered. I’ll work towards that even if I have to do more than what I perceive is my fair share.

I prefer to work for a living than be idle, and I prefer to contribute to the economy than drain it. But if I could spend my days building motorcycles and throwing parties without having to worry about earning a living, I would, and I think that’s the kind of life a lot of anarchists are after as well.

It’s just that anarchy doesn’t scale very well, with 7 billion people in the world. There’s room and food for everyone if we work together, but if everyone’s living in little hippy communes of a few hundred people or less, it’s hard to achieve a level of organization and efficiency to make that possible.

So I’m not going to talk shit about anarchy or anarchists in general. But collecting welfare isn’t anarchy, and neither is owning a cellphone.

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Vitamins and Anarchy

With Archer on winter hiatus, I started watching Call the Midwife. Set in 1950’s Britain, it follows the struggles of a group of young nurses, employees of Britain’s infant National Health Service, as they deliver babies in the poorest neighbourhood of London.

An episode got me thinking about folic acid.

Folic Acid

If I could go back in time and do one thing, I would travel the world telling midwives that young women need folic acid. That is because folic acid has been shown to reduce, by up to 70%, instances of spinal bifida, which is a truly vile thing that newborn babies can have. Here’s a pic (warning, not safe for life).

The baby’s spine doesn’t fully close around the spinal cord, and it’s born with the spine still poking out of its back. These kids live hard lives and die young. Spinal bifida can be treated by surgery, but children who have it are never truly healthy and you can tell by looking at them. More on spinal bifida.

Folic acid prevents it. Since 1998, the Canadian government has required pasta and white flour to be enriched with folate.

The midwives on TV were horrified that there was nothing they could do for a baby that was born with spinal bifida, but today, and for us at least, it’s a rare horror, instead of a common one.

Vitamin D

Rickets is a condition caused by a lack of vitamin D or calcium, or both. Children’s bones get soft, leading to bowlegs and other skeletal problems. You can get vitamin D from sunlight, but children are often kept bundled up through the winter. You can also get it from food, but there are not that many vitamin D-rich foods in a typical North American diet.

Check out this list of foods that are richest in vitamin D. You can see that half of those items are fish (hard to come by in the flyover states). There’s also mushrooms (gross), eggs, and milk.

Milk, in Canada, is fortified with vitamin D so that kids get enough. In Canada, nobody gets rickets anymore. More info.


Babies need iodine to make sure their brains develop properly.
Lack of it causes mental retardation and goiters (that’s a swelling of the thyroid gland, located on your neck, as made famous by that one episode of Seinfeld).

It’s the leading cause, world wide, of developmental disabilities, particularly a condition called “cretinism”, which is just as awful as it sounds.

In Canada and the USA, table salt is iodized and millions of children have an improved standard of living as a result.

Windsor Salt

You can see on the map in this article, what happens when people don’t get enough iodine. Because salt that goes into processed foods (you know, McD’s), isn’t iodized, people who eat nothing but fast food get goiters. The USA’s Bible belt is known, in certain circles, as the Goiter Belt.

Fortified foods are only one example of government at it’s finest. When enough of us get together, we can eradicate horrible public health problems that were common a hundred years ago. Today they are rare, mythical relics of the past that we don’t have to worry about.

For awhile, I called myself an anarchist. In the financial crash of 2008 I lost a thousand dollars. Compared to what some people lost it’s not much, but it was enough to make me wonder why the bankers who caused that mess weren’t in prison.

When it seems like corporate greed is ruining everything that makes Canada great, I admire my anarcho-punk friends and their DIY existence – squatting in abandoned houses, dumpster diving, and camping out in tree-sits. They prefer to reject government and lead themselves.

However, as much as I admire their resolve, I don’t agree with them.

I can’t be an anarchist if it means that more babies will be born with spinal bifida, cretinism, and rickets. I will have to continue voting socialist. Corporate greed and government corruption are real problems, but tempting as it is to tear it all down and start again, it’s easier, much easier than anyone thinks, to fix a broken system than to build a new one. Joel Spolsky said it more elegantly than I do.

Read that (it’s an easier read than all the heavy articles I linked to further up) and reconsider giving up on our government.

blue eyed baby

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