More on “public health” and the mirror image delusion (California War on Ecigs edition)

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.

22 responses to “More on “public health” and the mirror image delusion (California War on Ecigs edition)

  1. On an individual level it is a form of projection, for example, Glantz accuses vaping advocates of trolling, dishonesty, bullying etc, because this is exactly how he behaves. In order to protect his view of himself, (the false view he has created, not how others view him), he surrounds himself with sycophants that never question his views or tactics, and makes sure he blocks or deletes any opposing views.

    There are other such individuals in tobacco control that use this same tactic, such as Chapman, (and others), who like to use social media as a means of trolling, and yet accuse others of being trolls.

    This is a common trait of narcissists, along with self aggrandisement, compulsive lying, an inability to empathise with others, and a distorted view of their own importance and intelligence. Many in tobacco control, (particularly those most vocal opponents of THR), appear to be textbook cases of narcissistic personality disorder. The sort of power structure, inherent in “public health”, (but visible in other government and quasi government organisations), attracts this type of individual. These individuals are protected from exposure by these same organisations, as they are unelected, they have become unaccountable to the very people they are supposed to be protecting.

    • Carl V Phillips

      That makes a lot of sense. The mirror-image thing is a functional description of a carved-out phenomenon, but it can certainly be part of some syndrome and narcissistic personality disorder seems to describe it. Of course, there are those who are not quite so screwed up as the two you mention who still might fall into the mirror image delusion — out of sheer narrow-mindedness — and not necessarily have the other traits.

      So, my inclination has been to see Glantz et al as sociopaths, given that it seems impossible to reconcile their willingness to lie and hurt others with having much sense of conscience. But perhaps NPD is a better organizing principle. It seems like it is functionally a superset of being a sociopath. I suppose it is possible to compulsively lie and not empathize with others but still be capable of sympathy and concern, and thus not be a sociopath. But it it seems like there would not be much room for that.

      There also seems to be some contrast. Yeah Glantz gets his crap into newspapers, but reporters love having a pet nutball extremist on any issue — it saves them from having to do real work. But mostly what he does comes across as incontinent ramblings (no, the word choice was not due to autocorrect). Contrast Chapman who more closely fits the traditional picture of a sociopath, the type that become captains of industry and such. He has Rasputin-ized himself into government down there (fortunately just down there — even the WHO seems to want nothing to do with him elsewhere). His grasp of science is probably even worse than Glantz’s, but he has that classic high-functioning-sociopath ability to sell himself to people despite having nothing legitimate to offer.

      • Carl V Phillips

        Oh, and I also agree with your point that a particular kind of job attracts that type of person — government leadership, nonprofit leadership, academia. Positions where looking good to the other incompetent narcissists immediately around you is the only measure of “productivity” that is needed, and the people in those positions perpetuate methods for keeping it that way (e.g., “peer review”). It provides validation and job security. That does not work out so well in industry (except at the top of established major corporations, which is usually more like government than business) where productivity is actually measured. There the advantage goes to the full-on sociopaths.

  2. An excellent post BTW Carl :)

  3. Elaine Keller

    SG’s behavior seems to fit the list of symptoms associated with NPD.
    An exaggerated sense of one’s own abilities and achievements
    A constant need for attention, affirmation, and praise
    A belief that you are unique or “special,” and should only associate with other people of the same status
    Persistent fantasies about attaining success and power
    Exploiting other people for personal gain
    A sense of entitlement and expectation of special treatment
    A preoccupation with power or success
    Feeling envious of others, or believing that others are envious of you
    A lack of empathy for others

    • Carl V Phillips

      That would be a rather stronger claim (i.e., more conditions need to be met) than merely being a sociopath. The “exploiting” and “empathy” conditions seems sufficient for sociopath, particularly when combined with “power”. None of those are delusional. The delusions are perhaps an explanation for the sociopathy.

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  5. Well thought and written as always Carl!

    “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.”

    We saw the same thing in their reaction to the Free Choice movement that began gaining real ground in the ’90s. They really DID seem to believe that all of us who were against them HAD to be funded by Big Tobacco. Given the view of BigT after the “Insiders” papers came out and after the MSA hearings where Waxman dumped on the tobacco execs, the association was seen particularly damaging and powerful. It was so often used as such a fundamental underlying basis for all their other attacks that I felt forced to devote the very first two sentences of Brains to an immediate and total discounting of the claim:

    “I am not now, nor have I ever, been a member of the Communist Party.

    I am also not now, nor have I ever, been affiliated with Big Tobacco or their stocks, nor do I have any plans to be.”

    By putting that claim in such a prominent position, absolutely begging for attack if there was any evidence in any form that it was untrue, I managed to defuse the strongest attack the Antis had against us at the time.

    BUT… you will notice, in addition to the “Big Vaping” ruse, the Antivapers have, unfortunately, been handed an easy target since BigT has indeed recently moved into the e-cig market. The trick here is that they try to communicate a fundamentally untrue message: that the growing popularity of e-cigs has all been due to a massive BigT marketing campaign… especially one that’s aimed specifically at children.

    While BigT’s involvement probably *has* done a lot to raise the general visibility of vaping in the public mind, the back edge of that sword, the perception that e-cigs must be just as “evil” as regular ones BECAUSE of the BigT involvement, is a rough blade to blunt. And sadly, in a defensive reaction to this ruse by the Antis, a lot of vapers have jumped on the antismoking bandwagon, thinking, just as they so disastrously did in New Orleans this year, that separating themselves from, and even helping to vilify, smokers would secure them a special and hallowed position in the antismoking world.

    They’ve learned. Or at least the NOLA Antis have learned: Vapers need smokers, and smoker need vapers. Smokers have the background experience and knowledge stemming from years of steady battle. Vapers have the fresh energy and organizational skills stemming from their youth and enthusiasm, from their optimism that “a just cause will win,” and from a multi-celled but reasonably well-funded base stemming from all the mom ‘n pop vaping-goods suppliers. Smokers have, to a great extent lost a lot of their youth and enthusiasm, no longer have the optimism they once had, and generally have zero funding since the only real funder in the house is Big Tobacco … a source that most Free Choice folks simply see as too deadly to touch. (The other big potential funder, the Casino Industry, seems to be sadly too entrenched in its belief in its own money and power and its own stables of lawyer to offer any real support to the “amateurs” who’ve been fighting the Antis for decades. It keeps losing, but the Casinos that haven’t yet lost are still playing the Ostrich game of “It’ll NEVER happen HERE! We’re just TOO rich and powerful!” Sad.)

    Vapers and Smokers groups and activists have separate strengths and weaknesses at this point, but both groups need to work together to defeat their common enemy … or both groups will be ground into the mud.

    – MJM

    – MJM

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  7. Carl
    From memory California many years ago hypothecated its tax on cigarette sales to ‘quit’ groups, yes? If that is the case then the erosion of cigarette sales caused by e-cigs is a serious threat to the income of those same ‘quit’ groups, the conflict of interest is obvious- and goes a long way towards explaining their behavior, no?

    Do you know how many ‘quit’ groups across the US get their money from hypothecated taxes specifically on cigarette sales ( as apposed to from general i.e ‘fungible’ revenues) ?

    • Carl V Phillips

      Well, once the money flows into the state coffers, it all looks the same, regardless of source. This does mean that the governments themselves are highly dependent on the enormous taxes paid by smokers (and, just to prove it ultimately has nothing to do with real health effects, also by smokeless tobacco users in most jurisdictions). This plays no small role in their opposition to e-cigarettes.

      It is also the case that the ANTZ groups’ entire budget, and thus survival, is dependent on smoking, though for more profound reasons. Yes, it is often the case that some small portion of the state taxes is allocated to them, and for some like Legacy and CTFK that is their entire budget, but if that ran out, some other money could be allocated. The thing is, it wouldn’t be, because if it were not for the harms from smoking, no one other than a few extremist fanatics would support the missions of these groups and the gravy train would end for them. So they need people to keep smoking for that reason.

      • Carl it is perhaps a minor point – but in about 1988, there was a referendum in California that resulted in a fixed percentage of taxes paid on cigarette sales being automatically paid to the Californian ANTZ.

        The difference between having guaranteed access to a ,hypothecated ‘earmarked’ source of funds Vs having to queue for funding at the same hotly contested fungible pot as every other government program, is significant
        These guys have never had to argue the case that their approach to public health and smoking is the best, let alone most cost-benefit effective, use of public monies , ever. No wonder they are so bad at reasoned argument. And no wonder they are free to spend a lot of public anti smoking money on campaigning against things that are not even remotely smoking.

        • Sorry forgot to add to the above:
          the reason why governments can impose very high rates of taxation on cigarettes( without creating substitution and market distortion problems) is because demand for cigarettes has been, up until recently, quite inelastic – there was for committed smokers no acceptable and low tax alternative.

          Ecigs purchases are a obvious and growing threat to the comfy assumption that most committed smokers will keep on buying enough cigarettes, and therefore paying a lot of tax earmarked to ANTZ to play with for years to come.

          Little wonder the ANTZ are fighting e-cigs like anything: “Always back the horse named self-interest, son. It’ll be the only one trying”

        • Carl V Phillips

          That is interesting. While I really doubt other legislatures would cut off the trickle of these taxes that goes to ANTZ, because their excuse for having these taxes is that it pays for anti-smoking efforts (i.e., .01% of it goes to that). But you are right, they could. Legacy and their subsidiaries like CTFK have a solid carve-out from the MSA tax. But the state groups do have to beg each budget cycle.

          You are right about the demand being relatively inelastic. That is why rapacious governments like to make their money from things like water, salt, land, allowing people to keep breathing — things that there is no good substitute for. On the other hand, grey market cigarettes are a pretty good substitute in places where the population is dense enough to support the market. It is the majority of sales in NYC as far as anyone can tell. It probably does not work as well in California because of the longer drive from anywhere that does not have high punitive taxes.

        • John Walker

          Re driving to another state to buy lower taxed cigarettes, I was forgetting that your states set their own levels of taxes( in Australia it is, these days, a federal level tax).

          Anecdotally there seems to be a fair bit of black market tobacco in Australia- Air travel to-from here to China, Vietnam and other SE Asian countries is regular. We have a huge coastline and a fairly small customs-border patrol force and the price gradient between here and those places for cigarettes is big: about $20 AU (or more) a pack Vs about $1 AU a pack which obviously offers a strong incentive.
          Officially this black market is small or non-existent, but this official position is based largely on phone surveys …

        • Carl V Phillips

          That is funny. “Hi, I am taking a survey. Did you commit any crimes lately?” There have been quite a few seizures there, and a good guess would be that they account for 1% of the traffic, if that. My favorite, though, is when the ANTZ down there claim that because there are no borders, there cannot be any smuggling. Apparently they think that Australia was settled by people who walked there.

          You do not actually have to travel if you are in a big city or anywhere there is a dense enough customer base to support the grey marketeers. They will bring the product to you. Invisible hand, and all. As an added bonus, you do not have to worry about them checking your ID to make sure you are an adult.

        • John Walker

          Australians travel a lot and also use the web for shopping a lot (and apparently we also have a lot of pirates). I live in a small (about 2,500 people in total ) and fairly remote ‘bush’ community, a few Christmases ago I went into the back room of my local post office (for a passport photo) and suddenly realised that that large room was stacked to the ceiling with parcels ,as well as all sorts of bigger things, that had been purchased off-shore waiting pickup and delivery- the idea that we could effectively police all that importing at a personal use level , is total nonsense.

          While our ‘wowsers’ do, endlessly try, the fact is that Australia is a small country, spread over enormous distances i.e the micro-managing top down approach favored by the ANTZ mob is simply too expensive and inefficient for us, in practice.
          John Monash summed up the spirit of what does work best :
          “Not lip service, nor obsequious homage to superiors, nor servile observance of forms and customs…the Australian army is proof that individualism is the best and not the worst foundation upon which to build up collective discipline.”

  8. Here’s my dumb observation:

    Prohibitionists get off upon their own circle-jerk of a superiority complex.

    Really. It can’t be any other way regarding these prigs.

    And as long as they can force some parts of Reality to conform to that then they get their emotional fix,

    They really LOVE The State to enforce that!

    Think S&M: They get off on hurting people. But they’re prigs: They need to deny to themselves that they got off of denying people pleasure. In this case the pleasure is the idea of denying people who are already habituated in enjoying nicotine. So that makes them close to being cuckolds.

    So, it’s a baaaaaaaaad habit. Nevermind the inconvenient fact that it’s the smoke that does the damage.

    And as long as the habit remains baaaaaaaad, they get their rocks off.

    Y’know? For the chilllllllldren and all?

    Is it any wonder that within the paroxysms of pleasure they can’t see that their actions are helping their so-called enemy: Big Tobacco and those smoldering paper tubes of leaves?

    That in and of itself is a more powerful drug than Yuengling, much less nicotine.

    No wonder they hate the idea of safer nicotine consumption for the masses. It kills coitus among themselves!

    — Mark B.

    • Carl V Phillips

      Well, not exactly how I would put it, but I definitely agree with the themes. Many of those people (not all, of course, but the high-profile ones in particular) clearly do get off inflicting pain on people, fueled by some combination of the urge for affirmation (that they can exert control in the world) and simple hatred.

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