Saturday, May 15, 2010

Standing Up For Ignorance And Addictive Substances [Anthony McCarthy]

really was going to let it go but then I read the paper this morning and... well, this column on “smokers rights” has just left me gasping for air. The slippery slope argument and many others that we’ve been struggling with here for the past month are on display in this morning’s Boston Globe.

Simon Waxman is whipped up into a real, towering tizzy over posters that The Massachusetts Health Council is proposing that sellers of tobacco products be required to display in their stores. The ones I’ve seen prominently feature lungs damaged by smoking. Waxman goes through a big bowl of old chestnuts in his diatribe against an effort with the horrible goal of convincing people to either give up or not start smoking. The depravity of that attempt, just takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

It would be hard to identify the most irrational use of phony rights-language in the column. I’ll go through several, in no particular order.

And let us not forget that requiring store owners to display posters is an act of compelled speech. There are any number of precedents for compelled speech of this sort, but we should not mistake the legality of such orders for their desirability. Whenever the government requires that private persons disseminate its message, it undermines our freedoms of speech and conscience. Even if the mandated message is one that we support and would announce proudly without coercion, the mandate itself proscribes the sphere of personal agency.

Yet many do not seem to care about this narrowing of individual liberty. This is what we exchange for the opportunity to harangue fellow adults about their private choices.

“Compelled speech,” “the government requires that private persons disseminate its message, it undermines our freedoms of speech and conscience”. We should have just known this was coming when they mandated lighted EXIT signs.

Ignoring that the “private persons” are selling a product which is dangerous to the health of those who use it as intended, Waxman transforms an attempt at effective consumer information as some terrible abuse of free speech — and “CONSCIENCE”? Conscience? The irrationality of libertarianism is in full flower on that one. A business which is selling an addictive product, made by companies which are known to have conspired to addict children in order to provide them with a perpetual supply of customers and store owners who are co-conspirators being required to be honest about the consequences of using the product is a violation of “conscience”. Talk about breathtaking dishonesty.

The great champions of freedom in this area, of course, pretend they don’t know that addiction does more than undermine freedom, it is a kind of enslavement. I have a hunch that Waxman might have good reason to know that, but is clearly pretending to not know. And that is especially true when those who succumb to the corporate efforts to addict them are children. Which brings us to this other quote from the column.

Some proponents of these posters and other extremist antismoking measures would reply that they are primarily concerned with youth smoking.

Very well. That is why it is illegal to sell and market cigarettes to minors. At some point, we must recognize that we have done all we reasonably can to insulate youth from smoking and that in ostracizing adults, we only create pariahs in our communities.

What is more, how can it be ethical to harass adults for the ostensible benefit of children? Human beings do not have greater moral worth as children than as adults. An adult’s freedom to pursue legal activities in peace shouldn’t be sabotaged because some of his peers want a different lifestyle for their children.

First, the assertion that informing adults who might not know what they’re doing to themselves isn’t any violation of freedom, selling them addictive substances is a removal of freedom. Ignorance is not freedom, it doesn’t produce freedom. Freedom would be the act of making an informed choice. The “free speech” folks are supposed to be for “more speech” which is supposed to, then, be the basis of freedom. So you’re all wet on that one.

As to your false choice between the freedom for adults to remain ignorant and children, it’s based on a phony equivalency. Children have a right to be protected from society, they have a right to be protected from corporations and stores that want to get them addicted to tobacco. That right is a right that is more important than your right to be ignorant. Any society that doesn’t place the rights of children to protection before that of adults in denial is screwed up. So, yes, children do have that right, adults have a RESPONSIBILITY to provide them with that right which supercedes your desire to remain blissfully ignorant. Adults are assumed to be able to look out for themselves, BECAUSE THEY’RE ASSUMED TO BE BETTER INFORMED. Of course, they can then choose to ignore the information that is provided to them. Governments requiring corporations to give them that choice is an enhancement of rights, not a violation of them. Waxman's dishonest choice to ignore that and focus on parents who "want a different lifestyle for their children", could lead a reasonable person to figure that the rights of children don't mean a thing.

The thing is full of the most pathetically whiny language, pretending that tobacco addicts are some kind of beleaguered minority oppressed by bigots is pretty, pardon the word, hysterical.

These posters represent merely the latest indignity that smokers must suffer in order to shield radical nonsmokers from behaviors that disgust them.

“Radical nonsmokers,” sort of echos “radical feminists”, doesn’t it? Really, you’ve got to read the screed to get the full effect of its irrationality and dishonesty.

If Simon Waxman is a smoker and the mere idea of not being able to feed the habit has him this worked up, imagine if he was really in withdrawal. If he isn’t a smoker, the irrationality is even more striking. Maybe self-righteous “free speech” advocacy at this level is addictive too.

Update: Yes, I did change the focus of who I was addressing in this post, the result of a very quick attempt at melding two different versions together. Since the argument is well underway, I won't change that now. Sorry.