by Carl V Phillips
I have previous written about the dominance of the mirror image delusion among “public health” types, including tobacco control. It refers to the tendency of non-insightful people to think that whoever is across the table from them is fundamentally just like them. This is, for example, what leads them to make absurd assertions like drinking soda or tobacco use has no benefits. They personally don’t care for it and cannot understand how anyone can be any different from them. Recognizing the mirror image delusion in someone offers some useful insight: When they accuse others of something, it tells you they themselves are guilty of it or realize they would be guilty of if offered the opportunity. So liars assume that others are lying, someone who is inclined to have an affair will suspect their partner of having an affair, etc.
When anti-tobacco extremists attack on the motives of their opponents, we learn a lot about their motivations. Tobacco controllers’ obsession with financial conflict of interest reveals their lack of intellectual integrity or even recognition that there is such a thing. They think, “I will say whatever is expedient, regardless of what is true; I would say whatever my funders told me to say” and assume everyone else acts the same. Never mind that once you get into the world of smart people with any integrity that this is not true, and industry funding — in contrast with a large portion of government funding — is primarily a measure of real skill. (CASAA advisor Sally Satel recently wrote a very nice take on this in Forbes.)
But every now and then, their mirror-image delusion gets even more interesting. As many readers know, the state of California just launched a campaign of blatant lies about e-cigarettes, basically to try to discourage smokers from switching to this low-risk alternative. (your tax dollars at work!). This $75 million — and apparently illegal — campaign met immediate popular resistance from vapers, most notably the substantive response and hijacking of its keywords engineered by one advocate, the amazing Stefen Didak. A viral social media campaign followed. This effort eclipsed the visibility of the state-sponsored propaganda in web searches and hits for a few days, until the latter took advantage of their massive funding to start running paid search-based ads.
So what was the state propagandists’ response to the popular outpouring of opposition to their lies? They did what governments always do when embarrassed that way: they blamed the opposition on a communist fifth column. Um, no… on Soviet sleeper agents. Wait, no, it was something else that does not really exist… Oh, yeah, on Big Vaping (a phrase which immediately became a running joke on social media). Consider the pattern: Dictators, secret police, and other manipulators who want to control the public blame the CIA for any public outcry against their actions (when they are enemies of the USA) and the US government blames imaginary foreign threats. It turns out that many of them actually believe that opposition to their machinations must be due to some counterpart’s machinations. After all, it could not possibly be that people with other motives — the public — are just fed up and willing to act. Similarly, the “public health” elite and their hired minions cannot imagine doing anything without their lavish funding. Thus, they simply cannot conceive of the possibility that the people would rise up against their lies.
Consider this recounting of California’s reaction to the outpouring of opposition. They said the pushback was “made to appear like a grassroots effort”. Let’s see, it was a social media campaign by thousands of concerned individuals. Its nucleus was a website that, as I understand, one guy put together over a weekend (on his own time, of course). No one in sight was paid for their efforts. Yeah, it is sure is disturbing that this was made to appear like a grassroots effort. The state propagandists continue with the defamatory accusation that this effort was astroturfing which, as I observed before (regarding an accusation about a CASAA-organized grassroots campaign), those people are trying to redefine to mean “any political effort we don’t like”. The propagandists then reference a few articles by lazy journalists whose whole profession suffers from the meta-mirror-image delusion, in which they try to portray every fight in the world as between two parties who are acting similarly. (Consider: those are the same people who cover policy disagreements in election campaigns as if they were mere sports matches because that is far easier than trying to analyze the issues to point out that someone is not telling the truth.)
Given the calendar (it is currently Easter and the second day of Passover), I find myself thinking how this is part of the never-ending story of an elite few presuming to rule populations, and attacking viciously when the population grumbles. The stories that are recounted this week — if you take out the bits about divine intervention (which, along with their relative success, is what gave those stories legs, unlike countless similar events) — are about peasant rebellions against state oppression. It is interesting that the versions of the stories that reach us, after being edited by those in power over the course of centuries, make them each about one guy. Elites like stories of rebellions that can be decapitated. Indeed, the fight for tobacco harm reduction was vulnerable to decapitation for a couple of decades, since it was pursued only by a few companies and a few independent researcher/advocates. That worked out well for tobacco control’s anti-THR efforts, as it does for all oppressive states, because attacking a few people is in their wheelhouse. But dealing with an army of peasants who will not yield to their power is beyond their capacity, and so they create the desperate fiction that they are really just fighting a few mirror images of themselves.
Bringing that down to the more practical, a large portion of the “public health” types fancy themselves to be opponents of “the 1%”. But those wielding the power to do things like this massive California campaign, and the other “public health” leaders like them, are very much part of that same oligarchy. They portray themselves as being on the side of the people, but they really spend their lives focused on Royal Court politics, fighting other elites for power over the masses. That presents a bit of a problem for them when it turns out, as in this case, that they are not. There are no elites — no wealth, no CIA, no Big Anything — on the other side, and they are hiring their army to fight only the people. But that simple truth may be beyond their ability to grasp, because they cannot imagine that there is anyone in the world other than sheeple and the few others who act exactly like themselves.
Of course, a simpler way to look at all of this is that there is just something very wrong — ethically, morally, dispositionally — about the state propagandists who find it so easy to lie under the guise of promoting public health (while hurting public health), and then compound that by lying about the people who call them out. But drilling a little deeper, we realize that they probably think their opponents are dishonest because they themselves are so dishonest that they do not even understand what honesty looks like. I believe that this calls for some emphasis on a particular tactic in responding to them. As a talking point, we should never miss an opportunity to explicitly point out the following to any open-minded observer (not merely illustrating the point, but spelling it out so they really see what they might be blind to): The anti-THR activists are trying to construct the fiction of an elite-controlled, money-driven, dishonest opposition to them, despite no such thing existing, because they — as lavishly-funded dishonest oligarchs — simply cannot imagine that there is anyone in the world who is not like them.