I received an email shortly after my previous post went up, from a state regulator who occasionally writes me with comments. I can’t identify this person, since the few email exchanges we have had have been on a confidential basis, but here’s an excerpt of what the person said:
“I was so disappointed about some out-of-line personal attacks against friends on your blog, I vowed to stay away. But, ever optimistic, open-minded, and curious about better ways to approach this public health/personal choice controversy…was compelled to write a note to say thanks for this posting…Who knows, could become a model for other states.”
In a followup email, I learned further that a number of regulator types had felt so insulted and/or intimidated and otherwise unwelcome that they weren’t visiting or, if they were, they weren’t commenting.
I felt a little badly, since I want this blog to be a place where people of all persuasions can comment, and not be run out of Dodge City. I was also surprised, since I thought people in government had thicker skins than that. And that the Internet just thickens them even further. I appreciate that another inhibition may well be the recent signup process.
But what concerned me the most relates to the topic of the last posting–the effort in Michigan to bring the warring parties together in hopes of reaching common ground. I sense that concerns by consumers about “rights” and “control”–the kinds of things Milk Farmer and Blair McMorran worry about in their comments–are upsetting and threatening to most regulators. They’re used to working in a world where citizens draw back in fear and respect when the regulators show up. The idea of open debate, sometimes punctuated by sharp verbal jabs, is foreign to them, stuff to be avoided at all costs. It’s why the California Department of Food and Agriculture refused to participate in Sen. Dean Florez’s hearing on raw milk last April.
It makes me wonder how much “common ground” there really is, not only in Michigan but elsewhere. Good will is helpful to a point. But things have a way of breaking down when it comes to defining “protection.” Consumers of raw milk are willing to leave much of that to the farmers who supply the milk, while regulators usually have more grandiose, and troublesome, ideas.
I understand the needs of regulators. They need to justify their existence. And they don’t want to be placed in the position of having to explain an illness in a world of zero tolerance.
I’d like to see some of the alienated bureaucrats return here and tell me why I’m totally wrong.