by Carl V Phillips
Hi. I’m back. Did you miss me?
I am still not quite home from almost a month of travels (tomorrow, finally!), but am currently existing in what feels like the belly of the beast, Geneva. Since it costs the equivalent of over $10 for a beer here, I do not exactly feel like going out partying, so one quick post to ease this blog back to life. After numerous meetings I have reams of notes I would like to post more about, so no shortage there, to say nothing of my backlog of reading.
Numerous times over the last few weeks, including in a newspaper interview I just gave, I found myself trying to explain the Big Lie concept. One of the problems in explaining the politics of THR to someone new to the topic is that you have to be careful not to sound tinfoil-hat to them. Those of us in this space get used to the fact that the “public health” people do not actually care about people’s well-being — or even about their health, that (many) tobacco companies are the right side of this issue, and that most of what most people “know” about low-risk tobacco products is lies. But if you try to explain that to someone who does not already trust you, it is pretty difficult.
The phenomenon at work here is the Big Lie: If someone tells a minor lie, it is not all that difficult to show people it is wrong. But if they go big, and tell an enormous lie (or body of lies, because it is impossible to isolate a single lie at that level) they might just get away with it. People are willing to believe that someone might tell a small lie. But they often cannot conceive that anyone would be bold enough to tell an enormous collection of blatant lies and stick with it, and so they just cannot accept that it is happening. The thinking goes, “if this were all lies, someone would catch them at it and point it out, of course, so it cannot be all lies.” This means, ironically, that when someone does catch them at it and point out the lies, people refuse to believe the claim.
To this day, many Americans still refuse to believe that all the stated justifications for the invasion of Iraq were lies. It is trivial to provide evidence that there was no connection between the Iraqi government or people and the 9-11 attacks (which was clearly known at the time), that they had no WMDs (which was fairly apparent at the time and now proven beyond a doubt), that the war would hurt us not benefit us (fairly obvious at the time, rather more so now), that it would be bad for the Iraqi people, etc. But it is very difficult for people to believe that many supposedly respectable people would tell lies so big, so bald, and so costly, so they just did not believe it. Many still do not believe it, because it is hard to believe and even harder to admit that you were so badly fooled in the first place.
By contrast, give misinformation (you will call it sloppy miscommunication or a lie, depending on your politics) like “you will be able to keep your old insurance plan” (rather than the accurate “you will be able to keep your insurer, but they must upgrade your plan to meet the new minimum standards, but don’t worry because it will be better, and also cheaper unless you are lucky enough to be among the most wealthy and healthy”) and everyone is all over it. Little lies/errors are fun to fight about. The Big Lie is too scary to contemplate.
Thus, the tobacco control industry, under the guise of “public health”, manages to mislead a lot of people about THR, about their real motive, and about who the real good guys are, and to get away with it. After all, if that were all a lie, how could they possibly get away with it?
In one panel session I was on at the South Africa meetings last week (more on the meeting later, but I will note that it was a serious grown-up meeting, and this question was not just rhetorical banter), someone asked if there was any chance that the tobacco control people would be held to account and punished for all the harm they are causing. I responded (with all due caveats that what was suffered in that country was of an entirely different level horror and that I was not suggesting equivalence) that the best we could hope for was Truth and Reconciliation. No American will ever be punished for the crimes that got us into Iraq or that were committed there (punishing Private Manning for exposing some of those crimes does not count, obviously). And no one will be punished for the even greater loss of life caused by anti-THR.
Thus the Truth and Reconciliation approach is the only sensible strategy for us. The tobacco control industry has lost the war, and will not last another generation, but the dead-enders will keep fighting and causing harm until their dying day if their only alternative is to admit that their core messages and mission have been lies since at least the start of this century (let alone to stand trial for it, which would be both fair and impossible, of course). I am not suggesting that there can be any formal committee or confessions, obviously. But as more and more “public health” people, governments, and others come over to the truth and recognize that the 21st century will see a world with billions of happy tobacco users, most of whom avoid the health hazard of a lifetime of smoking, it is time to unilaterally reconcile with the dead-enders and just let them die in peace.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not going to stop calling out their lies when it is useful for helping others understand the truth. But often the best way to disempower your enemies (and perhaps keep them from fighting to the last breath) is to forgive them, even if it comes without them confessing to what they did. And if the strategic advantages of that are not enough, well, just think about how deviously satisfying it is to actively announce your forgiveness of someone who has not yet admitted they have done anything that warrants forgiveness. :-)