There was some technical explanation about absorption rates and cellular integrity, but no one cares about the rationale, because it’s ridiculous. Find any marathon, stand at the finish line, and offer the runners a choice between a) water, and b) a glass of sand. Wager on which one they’ll take. You could say, “Sure, they’ll take the water, because they’ve been conditioned by a lifetime of ads from Big H2O,” but most people would take water because they’re — what’s the word? — thirsty. For water. The EUcrats’ next step will probably be a stern demand to reedit all those French Foreign Legion movies, so the drama no longer hinges on the last precious drops in a canteen as they stagger across the trackless desert. While you’re at it, edit out the cigarettes, so everyone appears to be putting their fingers to their lips, thoughtfully.
It’s the crisis of Western Civ in a snapshot: On one hand, a populace so affluent they buy fancy tricked-up water, as if they were Third Worlders whose municipal water supply was a chunky broth of gut-gripping microbes; on the other hand, an overeducated, overpaid, nomenklatura remora hanging on the body of energetic capitalism, spending three years to study whether water has hydrating properties — and then handing down diktats to private enterprise to force them to change their ads.
Expand the example a thousandfold, and you have the entire European experience with regulation on the molecular level. Everyone understands that the government doesn’t approve of the wording of a bottled-water advertisement. No one cares. Authority without authority; acquiescence without respect: That’s where the Western world is today. When times are good, who cares — but after a while people note that the teeming armies of Brussels busybodies are obsessing over these wee teeny issues while flaming roof timbers of the post-war economic system crash down on the marble floor. Europe is burning, and they’re regulating water. They exist in a fantasy world that’s 99.999 percent perfect; some fine-tuning is needed here and there, and then things will be so magnifique they can take a year off before they tackle the last issue vexing Europe: the typeface for the regulations governing the state subsidies for conversion of empty churches into mosques. Some say Helvetica, some say Times New Roman. One meeting about that issue almost came to blows.
America isn’t there yet, but we’re close. If the West doesn’t get a sudden infusion of leadership, brash claims by water bottlers will be the least of our concerns. As the flight attendants might put it: Put away your toys. We have begun our descent.
– Mr. Lileks blogs at www.lileks.com.