Tuesday 13 October 2009

Inevitable consequences

If I linked to Frank Davis every time he wrote an eloquent and thought-provoking post it would become a daily task, but this short article is well worth reading. Frank's point is that - as an enthusiastic smoker - his tolerance towards others has declined as tolerance towards his own pleasures has diminished. 

Of course, many people would argue that smoking is an irrational habit, but that is hardly the point, for the same can be said of many other lifestyle choices:

[A]part from the fact that they both voted for the smoking ban, one of the reasons I don't like Kerry McCarthy and Paul Flynn is because he's a druid and she's a vegan. And that means that they're both profoundly irrational people, who also happen to be MPs, unfortunately. 

Smokers are not always in the minority. A non-vegan smoker is in the majority if the debate turns to veganism. A non-druid smoker is in the majority if the debate turns to paganism. The protection offered by numbers swiftly disappears when the tables are turned. If we cannot find any higher reason to be tolerant, simple self-protection should suffice.

Philosophically speaking, tolerance should probably not be contingent on others being tolerant back. Turn the other cheek and all that. But in terms of human behaviour, it is inevitable that the creation of divisions is going to generate resentment on both sides.

This is the aspect that most worries me about the "denormalisation" crusade. The creation of divisions - or, let's put it more bluntly, hatred - is not a side-effect of denormalisation, it is the pre-meditated intention of the whole endeavour. It deliberately creates divisions where there was once tolerance. There is a fine line between denormalisation and stigmatisation. There is an even finer line between stigmatisation and hate-mongering. 

Stanton Glantz, one of the architects of "denormalisation" once described it as “implicitly defining smoking as an anti-social act.” It is, quite explicitly, a top-down approach designed to get people to pressure their peers into not smoking, but it does not account for the more thuggish and tribal part of the human psyche. The result has been that we now have high-profile millionaires calling for children to report their own parents to the police.

But, as Frank's post shows, the antipathy works both ways:

Before the ban I was a left-leaning liberal, and a Lib Dem voter. And I vaguely looked upon Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth and the green movement and environmentalism in a friendly, approving sort of way. And although I didn't do it myself, I really wasn't bothered if friends of mine stopped smoking, and started eating organic vegetarian food and going to yoga classes and Buddhist retreats. I was tolerant to the point of super-tolerance. Lesbians, are you? Pleased to meet you.

That's all over now. It all ended around about 1 July 2007.

It was an inevitable and intended consequence of denormalisation that nonsmokers would become less tolerant of smokers. Less anticipated, perhaps, was the fact that this would also work in reverse. The result has been the creation of another little pocket of hate in the world. Try as I might, it's difficult to think of any social problem that's ever been solved by the creation of more hate.


Frank Davis said...

Thank you for more-than-generous remarks.

My response is here.

Christopher Snowdon said...

I think Frank meant to link here.

Frank Davis said...