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Cancer-free baby shampoo? Sure, but no rush or anything

Johnson & Johnson released some good news this week: In a little while, its products will no longer give your baby cancer.

The pharmaceutical megaconglomerate announced on Wednesday that it was on track with a plan to remove probable cancer-causing agents such as formaldehyde from its baby products by 2013. It would extend that pledge to us non-babies by the end of 2015.

J&J is the first major consumer-products company to make such an extensive commitment to not giving you and your baby cancer.

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You might be wondering why there were cancer-causing agents in your bottle of No More Tears baby shampoo in the first place. But that's a silly thing to wonder. After all, J&J was being honest in its branding. It didn't name the product No Tears At All or Baby, Quit Your Cryin', This Ain't Got No Cancer Stuff.

The product's promise was right there on the front of the bottle: no more tears – as in, no more than necessary. It was a vow that eventually we'd be able to cross baby shampoo off our lists of things we need to cry about. (On my list, baby shampoo is right between Sudan and heart-harming egg yolks. How about yours?)

You also might ask: How did Johnson & Johnson wake up this morning and continue to manufacture a bunch of paraben-laden stuff, put it into boxes, ship it to hundreds of thousands of North American locations and get stores to display it on their shelves? But you're looking at it all wrong.

The proper question is: Why do parents buy it, and why do babies put it on their heads? My immediate guesses are:

1. We are stupid (especially babies).

2. We are lazy (especially babies).

3. We figure that formaldehyde will strengthen the constitution of the nation's babies. Or, alternatively, that it will stunt their growth, preserving them as cute babies for all of time.

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4. Maybe, after a lifetime of hearing that every object known to man will be the source of our demise, we've decided there's not much use in being a rigorous, critical consumer. If our regulatory institutions aren't protecting us from baby shampoo, why bother looking too closely at whether Ritalin is children's cocaine? Or at Bill C-31? Let's face it – we have outrage fatigue. We deserve a snooze.

In fact, we should interpret Johnson & Johnson's dynamic moral chutzpah as a sign of good things to come. We consumers barely had to lift a finger in order to get them to take this bold stance against poisonous products in the near(ish) future – we left it up to the eco-dorks at organizations like the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics and rich, fancy weirdos like Gwyneth Paltrow and Alicia "food is safe for my kid only when it's been pre-chewed by me" Silverstone.

If laissez-faire economics are as great as the Conservatives and Republicans tell us, surely there must also be some value to laissez-faire ethics. This logic could easily be applied in the political arena. For example, how about this tactic: Don't vote. Residents of Quebec have an ideal opportunity to exercise this right in the upcoming election.

Sure, it's a little unnerving that Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois is going around Quebec announcing that if she is re-elected, she will ban public servants from wearing turbans and yarmulkes while allowing small, adorable crucifixes and, as PQ official Eric Gamache stated, "pretty scarves women sometimes wear in their hair" (not grody old hijabs!).

Yes, she may be perpetuating some light religious intolerance. But how long can religious intolerance possibly stay en vogue? A couple of years? A decade? Certainly no more, and by that time we will all have learned a solid lesson, one based in actual experience and maybe, if we're lucky, some actual hate crimes. Everyone knows that the most valuable lessons – the ones that elicit the greatest personal growth – are those grounded in hate crimes.

To be clear, I am not preaching that our population wholly acquiesceto the whims and temporary injustices of politicians, celebrities and captains of industry. There's still a lot we can do.

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Those who are religious can pray (not too loudly, if you're doing it in Arabic) and those who are secular can hope. As Emily Dickinson said, "Hope is the thing with feathers." So if we wait long enough, stay quite still and do as little as we can, surely one day we will all take flight.

Kathryn Borel is a Canadian writer based in Los Angeles.

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