[FoRK] Advocating Prohibition is socially irresponsible

Jeff Bone jbone at place.org
Sun May 29 10:54:46 PDT 2005

...and morally repugnant.

We're going to try a little experiment in putting ourselves in  
somebody else's shoes.  The purpose of this experiment is to  
demonstrate that advocating smoking Prohibition is (a) socially  
irresponsible, as it falsely validates and encourages other forms of  
activist extremism, and (b) is if anything WORSE than certain other  
forms of activist extremism for several reasons.

First, let's construct a generic profile of the kind of  
Prohibitionist we find on this list.  This is an amalgam, not anyone  
in particular.  Let's call this person Jerry.  Jerry is very  
intelligent, far above average.  Well educated, whether formally or  
otherwise.  Generally considers himself an "enlightened" individual.   
He's what you might loosely (and the religious Reich certainly would)  
call "liberal" from a culture perspective --- which is to say not  
(usually) authoritarian, i.e. he plots into the bottom or (maybe)  
middle third of the "political compass."  In general he favors  
maintaining or relaxing social control on some number of issues:   
abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research, gay marriage, human rights  
for political prisoners, etc. But he HATES smoking, believes it's  
nasty, believes it's unacceptably dangerous, doesn't like having to  
pay for health care for smokers, and would like to see it eliminated  
on general principles.  To that end, he signs petitions, contributes  
to the American Cancer Society, encourages his politicians towards  
banning behavior, votes for bans or pro-ban politicians when they  
come up for vote, etc.  And he has no small amount of rhetorical ammo  
to level at anyone who gets in the way of this cause.

Jerry doesn't realize that he is a dangerous, hypocritical extremist.


Now let me introduce you to Barbara.  Barbara is a 34 year-old  
Baptist housewife from Guthrie, Oklahoma.  She's got one and a half  
years of community college under her belt and 2 kids (Adam, age 13,  
and Amanda, age 9).  Barbara doesn't drink, doesn't go to bars, and  
doesn't smoke (though she did all of those things off and on for  
while back in "college."  Though any of us would think of her  
behavior as light-to-moderate, she believes she was skirting the very  
boundaries of Hell during her "rebel" phase.)  Barbara, or Barb to  
her friends, got knocked up when she was 21 by her high school  
sweetheart;  they got married, she stopped attending classes, and  
Adam popped out a few months later.  Barb's interests in life are  
simple:  her kids, her church, fixing up the old house she and her  
hubby bought with their parents' assistance, listening to AM talk  
radio while doing the housework every day, and (guilty pleasure)  
watching Desperate Housewives.

Barb has one very strong conviction:  she believes that this country  
is headed down the Sodom / Gomorrah Road at a dizzy clip, and needs  
to pull back.  In her estimation --- entirely reasonable given  
assumptions, even if those are themselves unreasonable --- many of  
the culture war issues are ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL to the survival of  
this country and the culture she (incorrectly, but then she's been  
listening to talk radio) believes is its tradition.  Gay marriage,  
euthanasia, all this mad scientist bull-cocky, and particularly ---  
abortion --- all the Devil's handiwork. She knows in her heart that  
ABORTION IS MURDER, and she knows it with FAR more true conviction  
than Jerry has for his prohibitionist stance.

She looks at Jerry and his ilk and her stomach --- rightly --- churns  
at the perception of hypocrisy.  Here's Jerry constantly harping on  
her to be "more tolerant" --- tolerant of abortion (MURDER!),  
tolerant of euthanasia, tolerant of "fags" getting married and  
parading around in public.  What a hypocrite!  Here's Jerry wanting,  
for example, to legalize doctor-assisted suicide, while  
simultaneously trying to ban smoking.  What, you can kill yourself  
quickly but not slowly?  Here's Jerry trying to keep abortion  
(MURDER!) legal, while simultaneously being an insufferable activist  
in the cause of getting a traditional freedom that we've had for  
hundreds of years undone.  Well, she and the other ladies from her  
Church's auxiliary can darn well feel justified in employing the same  
kinds of activist methods in pursuit of their own causes.

And if anything, she's more justified in this than Jerry could *ever*  
hope to be, because --- in her estimation --- she's got GOD on her side.


Activism is a bad thing when it restricts liberties.  The standard  
for reducing liberty should always be very, very high;  and the  
justifications given for banning smoking do not come anywhere near  
that which we should *all* require for such a reduction of liberty to  
occur.  Those who would advocate such things should be very careful  
about the precedent that sets elsewhere in our society, and how that  
activism is perceived and used as justification by other extremists.

The sad thing about all of this is that it's representative of a  
general trend.  We've forgotten a few of the implicit basic rules of  
living in a diverse society.  Those could be summarized as follows:

(1)  Do unto others...
(2)  Mind your own damn business.

Rollins (I think) defines fairness as conditions under which you  
would be willing to exchange places with any other participant.   
(Loosely.)  The problem with democracy coupled with loose controls  
over the extent to which the will of the majority defines "rights" is  
this:  it inherently leads to conditions of maximum dissatisfaction.   
Democracy in the limit is inherently unfair;  if 50.000001% of the  
population can trump the rights, desires, and happiness of  
49.999999%, then you've got a situation where a maximum number of  
people are maximally oppressed.  This is why we have documents like  
the Constitution.  Unfortunately even those documents haven't proven  
to be a permanent safeguard, as evidenced by the cyclic changes in  
interpretation from "all is implicitly permitted unless explicitly  
forbidden" to "all must be explicitly permitted."

Bottom line:  you can't advocate Prohibition of smoking without  
either being or at least being perceived as being hypocritical;  and  
I argue that *any* activism to reduce existing liberties in any case  
is moving the wrong way, is extremism, and merely encourages other  
extremists on other issues.




More information about the FoRK mailing list