Aside: Something is always worst

posted by Carl V Phillips

I recently found myself making a brief comment in a conversation about anti-tobacco activism, asking (not for the first time, as you might guess), by what right do those people presume to tell others how to live their lives?  These people have convinced themselves not just that such nannying is a legitimate and even worthy cause, but that it is so worthy that it trumps every rule of ethical behavior, such as honesty (thus the need for this blog).  By what right?

Based on the content of their monologues, I am fairly certain that if faced with that question (if those people ever entered into conversations outside of their echo chamber), the answer would often be based on the claim, “it is the leading preventable cause of death”.

I would be really interested in hearing the answer to the follow-up question, “by what right do you presume to tell others that they must avoid the leading preventable cause of death.”  But setting that aside, as well as the fact that the this “leading preventable” claim is inherently nonsense, let us just accept their logic:  If something is the leading preventable cause of death, then it warrants all manner of expensive, utility reducing, and civil liberty destroying interventions.

Now imagine that they succeed (or, if you prefer a realistic scenario, that THR succeeds) and smoking is dramatically reduced, and so use of tobacco and nicotine is no longer leading.  The activists will be loath to admit this has occurred, ending their gravy train, but posit that at some point they will have to.  After all, they keep claiming that day is just around the corner.  Once that happens, something else is the leading preventable cause of death and, by their logic, warrants the full-blown attack on welfare and freedom.  That is the way superlatives work: even if nothing is all that bad, something is still worst.

In all the arguments about the “slippery slope”, in which the anti-tobacco activists claim there is no such slope while others observe it is playing out just that way, the activists protest that there is no such risk because there is something unique about their current cause.

It is the worst.

They do not seem to realize that by making that very quasi-argument, they are undermining their own claim of uniqueness, and thus the logic (such as it is) of their own answer to the “by what right?” question.

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One response to “Aside: Something is always worst

  1. Isiah Berlin
    Negative vs Positive liberty

    “I object to not being reasoned with, I object to paternalism, Ultimately I object to being treated like a school boy”

    Some people just don’t understand negative liberty. It’s almost as though they have an innate desire to impose their morality, and their world view onto others. Personally, I think it’s because they are so insecure, and unconfident with having their own world view, that they desperately need others to agree with them in order to feel that they are secure. Being wrong, about anything, is not an option for them. It would unbearable.

    Normally, these people are only an anoyance. It’s becomes frightening when they somehow gain power:

    http://churchmousec.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/new-zealand-secular-pietisms-laws-change-public-attitudes/

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