“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, May 09, 2005

Smoke on the water

LI mentioned punitive liberalism in our last post. In the Reformer, a British journal, the Spring issue is headlines articles about civil liberties and the “therapeutic” state – a state that is no longer big brother, but is simply your best friends intervening to make sure you are no longer a menace to yourself. In the friendliest way possible. With big Tony Blair smiles. The Reformer is obviously oriented towards the classical liberalism of Mill. LI does not subscribe to the classical liberalism of Mill. Or at least we are inspired by that thematic in Mill that made him ever more sympathetic to socialism. But the British journal isn’t into Cato kneejerk libertarianism. There’s a nice recognition, for instance, that environmental harm is a serious issue, rather than a conspiracy made up by junk scientists – the favorite rightwing meme.

Claire Fox’s essay on smoking bans was particularly nice. We liked this graf: “It is through the prism of passive smoking that we have seen the issue of freedom –a key tenent of liberal democracy – redefined and indeed degraded. Instead of fighting for a free society, we now have a demand for a smoke free society. Mike Storey, Lib Dem leader of the Liverpool County Council (the first local authority to vote for a ban) told his party conference – with no hint of irony – that a ban which allows no room for choice, and can result in 1,000 pound fines (with jail for those who refuse to pay) is really “about the liberty of the individual to breathe the air and not have to have their [sic] health put at risk by the illiberal actions of others.” We would have enjoyed the issue even more if it were recognized that the great generator of the discourse that allows the state to exert such moral monopolies over the bio-chemical lives of its citizens is and has been the drug war; that the rhetoric about smoking is the same rhetoric that has been used to ban marijuana, heroin, cocaine, etc., etc.; that the bans were pernicious and unjustified in their very origins; that the last sensible drug policy adopted by a Western government was, in fact, that adopted under classical liberal principles by the British raj in India, which refused, in the 1890s, to ban ganja smoking among Bengalis (as some reformers were calling for them to do) on the sensible ground that it wasn’t those reformers business; and that the radical illogic of drug banning spreads the harm of precedent – the law being the vector, here, bearing harm to all parts of the body politic.


Deleted said...

Mrs. Grundy (via Wood's Lot) with a non-lethal weapon and a comforting dose of tranquilizers is not a future to anticipate with any degree of equanimity.

Brian Miller said...

I'm still glad that I can go to a restaurant in California and not have to breathe other people's smoke. I guess I'm a Nazi? :)

Deleted said...

Yes! I mean, no, of course you're not. Could I open restaurant, bar or club where smoking was allowed?

roger said...

Brian, before the ban, about 85 percent -- probably more -- of the Austin eating estabilshments banned smoking. And there was an ordinance about that. And I had no problem with that. But come on -- after the restaurant, you want to go hear some jazz, right? In a dark place, right? Drink some vodka martinis. Relax. And light one up. Or at least, somebody in your party does.

Brian Miller said...

Well, I will admit that the ban on smoking in bars seems a little extreme. Especially given the fact that working in a bar is somewhat of a choice (employees' lungs was the excuse given here). Still, I am not the best person to ask, as I find tobacco smoke pretty obnoxious. Your basic point re: bars is probably still true, though.

roger said...

Brian, you are speaking in the sweet voice of reason, man. I'm certainly not demanding that the Government issue lucky stripes to all seventh graders, merely that enclaves in which smoking is permitted and regulations in which smoking is segregated aren't contradictions, and can certainly be supported in one sophisticated metro area. You know, the argument from culture -- which is qualitative -- always gets underplayed in these things. That's why I thought the clubs in Austin made a huge mistake arguing this issue as one of economic survival. The same people will go to the clubs, I bet, and smoke on the way there, or in the street -- along with the employees of said boites. No, the argument should have been that club culture didn't require this interference by the city. It could work this problem out itself.

Paul craddick said...

The last men or the first ants? - the "therapeutic state" is a formicary.

As to the environment and "junk scientists," a reasonable critique of green scientists turns a favorite environmentalist tactic back on its exponents: psychologism (i.e., motive-mining). Dissenters to green orthodoxy have nefarious corporate ties, so the Green Gospel goes; pecuniary aims give the game away. Well, the green weenies are often hacks of the state, or "NGO's." Everyone's got a job to protect, it seems.

roger said...

Paul, two points.

a. if you are saying that enviros are motivated by self interest -- this is not news, especially to those of us -- like you -- who have read Adam Smith. In fact, I like an environmentalist to have a stake in the game. Leave charity work to the Mother Teresa's of the world, about which God save us from their clutches.
and b., that they point out other people' self interest is eminently fair. If x works for a group that fights, say, car exhaust, and gets paid to the extent that he is successful in fighting car exhaust, and y gets a grant from a company that has adapted the strategy of sluffing its costs onto third parties by manufacturing products that contribute to car exhaust, part of x's job should be to out y. If y, in return, replies that x is getting paid to fight car exhaust -- that seems a singularly weak reply.

The problem, from my perspective, is when x's organization, depending on a particular problem to create a donor base, operates to prolong the problem, or to exaggerate it. That is always a possibility, and that is, again, something y can say. But then one judges whether the problem itself -- the car exhaust -- is something one wants more or less of. And that decision is going to go heavily against y.

Paul craddick said...

"If y, in return, replies that x is getting paid to fight car exhaust -- that seems a singularly weak reply."

Of course it does - to one who has already begged the question of the injustice of x's allegiances! An upshot of my point is that adverting to an opponent's allegiances is more often than not a fallacy of relevance, and can/should boomerang on the accuser.

My point goes beyond merely economic "interests" - to matters of self-image/identity, "honor" even. Getting a green to abjure his apocalyptic visions is a bit like arguing with a superannuated Jesuit; few will pronounce the major passions of their life to have been mistaken. As the green skeptic - ex hypothesi - has parochially consecrated his life to Mammon, so the green crusader aims at "our" salvation. I offer the parallels to religion for more than rhetorical provocation - but, alas, what a dessicated homo religious the green man is.

And to anticipate a "boomerang" coming back to me - yes, I consider myself vulnerable to ossification of opinions. Hence, I champion "provisional certainty" as a virtue with respect to belief.

roger said...

So now we know -- the Jolly Green Giant is Paul Craddick's white whale! I have thought of several brilliant comebacks, but a., my knee is killing me, and I am taking the vodka cure, and b., maybe these come backs should form a separate post -- or a reply to the post you could make up out of your replies to my socialistic leaning. My brilliant reply, by the way, would show that my environmentalism is in the pure line of Burkean conservatism, whereas your dislike of the Jolly Green Giant is an instance of what our friend Voegelin would call the gnostic heresy.