by Carl V Phillips
This is a serious question. I am genuinely trying to determine if anyone has an answer.
For many, if not most, polarized controversial political issues, it is possible to find decent human beings on both poles of the debate. I am talking about people who:
- understand the fundamental facts of the matter and are not just dogmatically supporting a political position out of ignorance (a lie in itself, of course),
- tell the truth, including:
- acknowledging what is clearly correct among the arguments by the other side,
- correcting themselves when they discover they have said something incorrect,
- not acting as marketers under the guise of being analysts (i.e., grossly exaggerating the case for their position to sell it)
- acknowledge and show proper respect for the gravity of what they are arguing, particularly the costs their position would impose on people.
In other words, there are people who are not overgrown children making adamant declarations about important matters they do not understand, who apparently legitimately believe their position is valid and thus that others might be persuaded to their position by the truth, and who seem to have a moral compass. Put another way, we are talking about people who do not appear — even to reasonable people who adamantly oppose their conclusions — to be evil, sociopathic, or a useful-idiot tool of those who are evil or sociopathic.
Theoretically, a non-sociopath can be an aggressive liar, genuinely feeling bad about the lies but having reached the studied conclusion that a greater good is served through those immoral acts. However, I would contend that in matters of political controversy (as opposed to, say, running a military campaign or trying to outmaneuver your market competitors), there is no legitimate role for lying. If you are trying to persuade the public of something and discover that you cannot do it by telling the truth, it is difficult to see how lying is ethically defensible. Thus there may be no such people, but if someone wants to try to make the case — that there are decent human beings who aggressively lie about THR but whose behavior is ethically defensible — I am listening.
I suspect we agree that there are decent people fitting the bulleted conditions on the different sides of the debates about abortion, climate change, redistributing wealth, animal rights, publishing pictures of Muhammad, and many others (assuming you do not feel so strongly about the issue that you cannot consider anyone who disagrees to be a decent person, but that is a different story — we are talking meta-characteristics of their position). There are also, of course, people who violate every one of the conditions in the above list on both sides of all those issues, but that does not change the fact that there are decent honest people making the arguments too.
Now consider an example that strikes me as similar to anti-THR: opposition to granting same-sex marriage rights. You could imagine someone making an honest argument along the following lines:
I realize that banning same-sex marriage causes some people to suffer material harm, as well as being treated like second-class citizens. Though I personally cannot empathize with wanting to do it myself, I recognize that many people do. I also realize there is no evidence of material harm to the rest of society from same-sex marriage (other than it making taxes and other finances more fair, and thus taking away some of the extra burden on gay people), no evidence that gay couples are worse parents, nor any other material motivation. However, I simply believe that homosexuality is per se wrong, and therefore I oppose any action by the state to normalize it.
A few minor word substitutions and you could get the argument of an honest ANTZ. The thing is, I do not recall ever seeing such arguments in either case. It seems like there must be someone out there in the wide world of anti-same-sex-marriage that actually owns up to this, though I am not sure because I have only cursory knowledge of the fight. By contrast, given my knowledge of the THR and anti-THR world, I think I would know if there was an honest, decent THR skeptic who admits the truths — that there is overwhelming evidence that low-risk tobacco products are indeed low risk; that THR has been shown to work; that many people like to use low-risk tobacco products; that various lies about risks and bad outcomes are, indeed, lies; that there is no material evidence of a downside — but who still expresses skepticism. I am not even talking about someone who admits the truth but is still is full-on anti. I cannot think of anyone who indicates even mild doubt about the wisdom of THR who does not also attempt to deny the truth.
Indeed, to relax the conditions one step further, perhaps there is someone who is a THR skeptic who disputes, based on some serious argument, some of what most of us think of as facts. I am not talking about just ignoring the facts or randomly asserting they are “not proven”, nor making patently dishonest junk “arguments”. I am talking something roughly analogous to disputing the worries about climate change, not by claiming there is some conspiracy to fake the warming data, but who rather, perhaps, offers a scientific argument as to why it might soon stabilize or why it would be easier to do something about it later rather than now. Is there anyone like that in tobacco control?
Again, this is a serious question. Is there anyone reading this whose self-perception is, “I am someone who openly acknowledges the facts about THR, even as I argue that actions should be taken that interfere with it”? Or is there anyone reading this who would say that about someone else.
A tangential follow-up question, then, for those who are not THR skeptics but self-identify as being in tobacco control: Given that the tobacco control establishment has evolved into being more anti-THR than anti-smoking over the last decade (and assuming you were not able to offer up a case that this was being done honestly), how can you stand to consider yourself a part of that?