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Frank Davis

Banging on about the Smoking Ban

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The Wheel of Fortune
As the Climategate scandal has broken on the internet over the past couple of weeks or so, and there've been howls of rage at the non-coverage of it by the mainstream media, I thought I'd take a look at the American left blogosphere to see how it was playing there. I visited the Dailykos and Americablog and Digby to find out. I found that they're paying no attention to it at all. I found one thread on Kos that mentioned it, and read the comments, and was interested that quite a few commenters were rather disturbed by it. They were being referred, rather dismissively, to a page which listed 'the 10 greatest lies about climate change', with each lie dealt with a perfunctory few words. Visitors were asked to select which they thought was the greatest lie.

So, if anyone's still complaining about the coverage given by the BBC to Climategate (and I'm not), then they they might be interested to know that the coverage of Climategate in the US left wing blogosphere is almost exactly zero. They know it's happening, but they're not talking about it. It's a non-event.

On Americablog, in just about the only reference I managed to find about it, I was directed to Wunderblog, and a long dismissal of Manufactured Doubt by tobacco companies, asbestos and CFC manufacturers, and climate change denialists. It ended up saying:

So, what is needed is a fundamental change to the laws regarding the purpose of a corporation, or new regulations forcing corporations to limit Manufactured Doubt campaigns.

Now, you might ask how it was that I knew where to go to discover what American left wing blogs are saying. And the answer is that 5 years or so ago, I spent a lot of time reading them. Back then I was (as I still am) an opponent of the Iraq war, and if you were such an opponent that was the place to find out the latest news, which - as ever - wasn't being covered by the mainstream media.

So I was back in familiar territory, reading these blogs. I recognised names that I'd not read in years. I was rather pleased to see that they were all still going, and still churning out words. I felt a pang of something like homesickness. Americablog was my favourite blog, for it's crisp and incisive news comments. Kos was also a favourite, as the biggest blog in America, and almost an empire in itself. Digby for the thoughtfulness of Digby himself.

So why did I stop reading them? Well, in part it was because public opinion swung heavily against the Iraq war as people found out that there weren't any WMDs and they'd been lied into war. The job was done. But it was more than that.

One day I started noticing that Americablog was beginning to carry strongly approving reports on smoking bans being imposed here and there around the world. I was a bit disturbed by this. Why did Americablog approve, I asked in the comments. The answer was delivered by Americablog's proprietor, John Aravosis. "Your right to smoke stops at my nose", he declared. Smokers, he went on, should engage in their filthy activity [he didn't actually call it that, but it was the implication] in the privacy of their own homes, and nowhere else. I wasn't the only commenter who protested. There were several others. They all got equally short shrift.

Now, one of the things about this response that really shocked me was that I knew that John Aravosis was a gay activist. What was an openly gay activist, pursuing equal rights for gays, doing demanding that smokers be driven into their own closets, and that smokers be made into pariahs a bit like, well ... gays? Couldn't he see what he was doing? And the answer, was no, he couldn't.

At that point my good opinion of John Aravosis and Americablog completely collapsed. He just wanted his own gay lifestyle recognised and honoured. But no way was he going to extend the same rights to filthy smokers like me. He had rights, and smokers had no rights. He was quite happy to see their rights removed, and smokers driven into the closet that gays like him were just emerging from.

Rather bewildered, I went over to the Dailykos to try to find out what the view there was. And there I discovered that Kos himself was also a virulent antismoker. Oh, dear. So I turned to Digby. Digby was much more sympathetic, but said that he himself was an ex-smoker who'd taken about a decade to kick the habit.

I'd thought I was among liberal, open-minded, accepting sorts of kindred spirits. And I'd now found out that I wasn't. They might have been 'liberal' about all sorts of things, including smoking cannabis, but they didn't want to know cigarette smokers. They didn't even want to think about them.

My exit from the US left wing blogosphere came the very next day. Overnight, any sense of mine that these people were open-minded, liberal kinds of people evaporated. They were simply people with their own list of approved and disapproved behaviours. Being black or gay was approved. Smoking tobacco was not. These people were as intolerant as the Ku Klux Klan. They were just intolerant and bigoted in an opposite sense. They were the mirror image.

I still find it a bit odd that I'm now regarded as a Libertarian and slightly Right Wing (see right margin). I'm not at all sure that I'm either. But these days it's mostly the Libertarian bloggers who speak the most sense to me. I can understand the rage of the Devil about all sorts of things, because I feel much the same way myself.

But have I changed? I don't really think I've changed very much. All that's happened over the past few years is that the wheel of fortune has turned, and I've found myself belonging to a newly-persecuted minority: smokers. There is an evil eye, it seems, much like the one above Mordor in the Lord of the Rings, which is directed first upon one set of people - Jews, blacks, gays - and then upon another - smokers, drinkers, fat people. The real moral lesson - don't persecute people for what they are - has not been learned. The righteous are proud of their record of protest against the persecution of blacks and gays and lesbians, but are completely blind to the wholly new persecution they have launched against smokers and drinkers and all the rest. They just can't see that refusing any place for smokers in pubs is exactly the same as refusing places for blacks on buses in Montgomery, Alabama.

What starts out as a radical cause becomes, a few decades later, the established orthodoxy. The street protester becomes a cabinet minister. The radical Left, once established in power, become the New Right (and also the New Righteous). The portly cabinet minister in his limousine still thinks of himself as a young firebrand, and remembers his days marching on the streets, and his nights in prison, but he is no such thing any longer. His previously radical views have become near-universal norms that must be protected and conserved. He has become a conservative of a sort, if not exactly like his conservative father. No longer a protester himself, he instead himself orders police to arrest protesters, whom he invariably identifies as rightwingers, whatever their cause.

The Right, in any age, might be said to be whatever protects and upholds the established order, whatever that happens to be. And the Left is whatever is perpetually trying to subvert and overthrow the same established orthodoxy, whose iniquities they perceive with singular clarity. Because any established order always contains iniquities The natural leftist is a critic of orthodoxy. While the natural rightist is an admirer and upholder of the same orthodoxy.

The doctrine of global warming is a newly established orthodoxy, adopted by presidents and prime ministers, broadcast on the mainstream media, and preached from pulpits. What could be more established and orthodox than global warming? And the new conservatives are the supporters of this new conservative orthodoxy. It's about conserving the earth, no less, isn't it? And the new radicals are the sceptics and critics of this new orthodoxy. 50 years ago those radicals would have been defiantly smoking marijuana as a symbol of their radicalism. Now they defiantly smoke tobacco for the exact same reason. And I've had the fortune (or misfortune) to have been a radical of both kinds.

The wheel of fortune spins, and the evil eye moves on.

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Questioning a person's attitude to tobacco smoking is, these days, a sure-fire way to find out if someone is a true libertarian or if they would just like to be one. No matter how keenly they may embrace the rights or freedoms of any other group, no matter how radical their views might sound, no matter how active they may be in that direction, and no matter how convincingly they may put their case, if they fall at the hurdle of smoking – for whatever excuse – then you can be sure that, deep down inside, they are in truth just a frustrated authoritarian looking for a home ……

I entirely agree. Someone can hardly call themselves a libertarian if they approve of smoking bans.

I'm not sure that I can claim to be a libertarian myself, however. I haven't read the Libertarian manifesto. I'm sure I'd agree with most of it. But I suspect I'd choke on some bits of it. I always do.

Gays and smokers

Your comment about gay rights vs smokers' rights struck a chord, but leads my thoughts in terribly dangerous waters. My local Primary Care Trust apparently recognises that both smoking and homosexual activities carry a public health risk - yes, it spends money on promoting safe sexual practices for "gay lesbian and bisexual" people. I take that as an acceptance of a public health - or third party risk at least in the case of bisexuals as they may well consort with people who have not chosen to be gay. Quite right so far. The parallels with "second hand smoke" are there to be seen. Where the divergence happens is that on the one hand the lifestyle is protected and, I have to say, positively encouraged, with ameliorative health advice given, but NEVER is it suggested that practitioners should give up. On the other hand . . . well you know the rest.

Do we claim equal rights with gays, and how carefully must we tread not to be seen as anti-gay just because we don't get the same treatment?

I've been led into the same 'dangerous' waters. One effect of my clash with John Aravosis was to lose a lot of sympathy for the gay rights movement. If a gay like him didn't give a damn about a smoker like me, why should a smoker like me give a damn about a gay like him? After all, I'm not gay, so it doesn't affect me.

In practice, I no more want to see gay people persecuted and driven back into their closets than I want it to happen to smokers. I'm pretty indifferent to what people stick their free ends into. For the most part, I don't think it really matters at all.

In practice, I think someone like Aravosis probably doesn't speak for the majority of gays, because I've read that there are proportionally more lesbian smokers than straight ones. i.e. lesbians tend to smoke. So I wouldn't be surprised if Aravosis gets flak from gay smokers.

But if I was gay, I'd be watching the war on smokers with dread. If smokers can be so easily denormalised and excluded, then how much more easily can the same happen to gays. Intolerance of smokers can easily metamorphose into intolerance for gays. Quite a few drinkers are also beginning to realise that the same could happen to them. In fact, it already is. Intolerance is a poison that can be administered to anybody, not just smokers.

From Junican.

Just a quick word. I heard this phrase, "Your right to smoke stops at my nose" some time ago.

It brought into my mind the equally valid phrase (if in fact the phrase 'your right to smoke stops at my nose' is valid), "In that case, your right to speak to me stops at my ear".

It is an interesting thought isn't it? If someone on, say, a railway platform says to me, "You are not allowed to smoke here", do I have the right to say, "When did I invite you to speak to me? I did not invite you to speak to me. Please do not speak to me again until I invite you to". Is there anything wrong with that?

I guess their response to that, though, would be "Yes, but your smoke harms me; my talking doesn't harm you at all." I don't agree with that statement, but that's the stock reply - falling back on the old "SHS" chestnut.

I think it would be quite easy to make a case that talking is harmful. Wasn't there a wartime phrase: "Loose lips sink ships"? 'Nuff said: Ban talking.

Ban this ban that

Even easier to make out a case for passive aviation (I don't fly! The nearest I get to a plane is Microsoft Flight Sim) but I wouldn't make such a case, except to point out how easy it is. Think of the thousands of deaths aviation has been responsible for or associated with (spot the weasel). . . on the quiet you could include deaths during two world wars and all the other ones - no need to reveal that you have used this ridiculous manipulation - just spout the headlines and the press would lap it up IF the majority of people didn't like flying.


Just trying to learn how to use OpenID. Ignore.

Yo! Got it! No more need to type in Junican!

I got turned off to the Lefty's almost 40 years ago. I went to college in the Bay Area of California in 1970. I was a Lefty myself as were most 18-year-olds at the time. There was a housing shortage because everyone and their cousins had flocked to this small town to go to college and get a draft deferment from Viet Nam.

There was a big bulletin board at the top of a busy campus stairwell with slips of paper advertising rooms for rent. I noticed that lots of the notices were super-intolerant and exclusionary. Almost all of them read NO SMOKERS. Lots of them read must be Gay, Vegetarian and Practice Yoga. I lost all respect for the hipsters right there on the spot.

I eventually ended up in the position of seeking roommates for a big house I in lived in. I purposely worded the ad - SMOKERS ONLY, MUST EAT MEAT, NO LEFT-WING BIGOTS - and posted it on the bulletin board.

The response was amazing. Apparently I wasn't the only one who had noticed the complete hypocrisy all of these Lefty's were exhibiting.

The people we rented to were all easygoing, friendly, tolerant folks and we had a happy household. One of the respondents didn't even smoke, but just wanted to live around friendly people. He'd tried living with shiny-happy-smiley hippies and found them cold, mean and dogmatic.

Another brilliant post Frank. I read this blog first thing in the morning now.


In truth, 1970 is around the time when I got turned off the UK left. They all seemed to be rather bitter and twisted people. But I remained broadly left or liberal in my attitudes until fairly recently. Now I'm much nearer the Libertarian position. And now read US rightwing blogs much more than I did 5 years ago.


1) Which agencies manufactured manufacture the consensus over global warming, peak oil, and smoking?

2) What means and mechanisms do they use?

3) What other ideas of settle consensus ideas are created by the same agencies?

4) Can you identify anything that you believe is true that may not be and may have in fact been create by some deliberate act or agency.

5) Can you identify a coherent agenda, set of objectives or purpose?

6) Is the non existence of WMD one of those created ideas?

Are you asking me?

I don't much believe in Manufactured Doubt. It's the consensus about one thing and another that always seems to me to have been manufactured. But perhaps that's what you're saying.

The consensus always seems to be manufactured by authorities of one sort or other. In the case of smoking and lung cancer, the authorities have been doctors. In the case of climate change, the authorities have been climate scientists. In the case of Saddam's WMDs, the authorities were security agencies. All peer-reviewed, naturally.

If there is any scepticism about their conclusions, it is regularly supposed that the scepticism is generated by powerful and authoritative counter-authorities. Anyone who is sceptical about claims about tobacco must have fallen under the spell of Big Tobacco. Anyone who is sceptical about climate change must have been got at by Big Oil. People are imagined to be incapable of become sceptical unless somebody has told them to.

The liberal-left have done a complete flip. They now support a religion that oppresses women and would have gays executed so, really, you shouldn't be surprised about the rest. Liberal no longer means what it did, it means authoritarian.

Neal Asher

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