Sheldon Garon’s delightful book Molding Japanese Minds outlines how the Japanese state has entered the everyday life of its citizens. He focuses on what he calls “social management” (xiv) and notes that many Americans would be “astounded” by the degree of this state activity. However, Garon is very careful, even in his epilogue, not to come out too strongly either for or against such involvement. Many of the more harmless and innocuous involvements contribute, as education and public health do, in a minor way to the betterment of the community.
I think it is certainly fair to say that there is far less state involvement in daily life in the US, especially when it comes to the kinds of examples that Garon takes for the Japanese case. I also admit being astounded at various experiences I had during different stays in Japan when, for example, local police vehicles drove around the neighborhood and blasted recordings suggesting that parents make sure their children go straight home after school, or 17:00 songs or community loudspeakers proclaiming that it is now time to go home and have dinner.
However, I was reminded of Garon’s book when I found myself staring at the “Small Step #11” advertisement on a bathroom wall today. It suggested that I could make a small step towards healthier living by not eating meals larger in size than a box, portrayed on the advertisement, about the size of my fist. When I looked to see who sponsored this advertisement (thinking perhaps some fast food chain was hinting that they had a meal just the right size for me), I was surprised to see that this was paid for by none other than the United States Department of Health & Human Services.
I think this is at least one recent example of “social management” by the state here in the US. Pay a visit to the Smallstep.gov where they offer the full list of “small steps” we can take to getting healthy, or register at this government site for access to their “activity tracker” (their privacy statement is here, in which they promise not to tell anyone about your “activities” unless some law or statute, like the Patriot act, forces them to). There is a press release about this program here and the program also appears to be connected to Healthierus.gov. The arguments for the program suggest that it is essentially a response to disease, in this case that of obesity in the US.