by Carl V Phillips
I am interrupting my ongoing serious about Why is there anti-THR? because there are a few other topics I want to cover sooner rather than later. Don’t worry, I will come back to that one (the next post is worked out, but I am not satisfied with everything).
I just had to offer a tribute in honor of Jon Stewart’s last The Daily Show, last night. He finished his 16 year run in that role with cameos by dozens of his collaborators from over the years and a finale of Bruce Springsteen performing Born To Run. I felt like my whole life was flashing before my eyes.
For those who may not know, for many of those 16 years, Stewart was perhaps the most important U.S. political commentator, even though he played it as mere comedy. In his final “meet me at camera three” monologue (fans will understand), entitled “Three Different Kinds of Bulls**t”, he offers some cogent observations that relate the evils of anti-THR and tobacco control more generally. I am guessing this was not consciously one of his targets, but you never know — it is possible that one of his writers is a politicized enthusiast of vaping or other tobacco products.
The quotations are from my transcription from the video. After talking about benign social lubricant bullshit, he moved on to:
…the more pernicious bullshit: Your premeditated institutional bullshit. Designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bullshitocracy.
Hmm. That might be worth borrowing.
It comes in three basic flavors. (1) Making bad things sound like good things. … “Patriot Act”, because “Are You Scared Enough To Let Me Look At All Your Phone Records Act” doesn’t sell. So anytime something has been titled “Freedom” / “Family” / “Fairness” / “Health” / “America”, take a good long sniff. Chances are it has been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit.
That may well be the most cynical use of the word “family” in any law ever. Even to the extent that the law is supposed to protect the chiiiiildren (which, in reality, it does not do), that would only make it about children, not family. Indeed, to the extent that the law is designed to impact children, it is anti-family: it imposes government commands, force, and propaganda that take away families’ rights and responsibilities to educate and make moral decisions for their own children.
Of course, the bullshit in the title does not end there. Nothing in that law has ever done anything to prevent smoking to any nontrivial degree. The law was pretty much written to protect smoking; it was designed by Altria and CTFK, two organizations that benefit tremendously from smoking. And, indeed, action taken under the law has done a lot to encourage smoking, including by perpetuating the myths about harms from smokeless tobacco and banning most varieties of what is probably the lowest risk substitute product. The proposed ban-by-paperwork of >99% of e-cigarette products is another pro-smoking implication of this law. You have to wade six words into the bullshit title before you get to the accurate descriptor, control. Honest serious people just refer to it as the Tobacco Control Act or TCA.
Number 2, the second way, hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit. Complexity.
He gives as examples banking regulation and election campaign donations rules. This was rather facile (which was an unfortunate weakness in some of Stewart’s commentary over the years) — how could banking regulation possible be pared down to anything that makes for easy reading? Still, the underlying point is valid. Even if the details of the rules are necessarily complex, it almost always possible to provide a simple statement, about three sentences, of the goal, the policy action that gets us there, and a clear evidence- and logic-based statement of how the action furthers the goal. This is pretty unclear in both of the examples he gives, a pretty good clue that bullshit is lurking.
You may notice that tobacco controllers (and “public health” people more generally) pretty much never give us that clear three sentence presentation. Look at one of their 2500-word advocacy pieces (often disguised as a research paper) and try to extract words from it that form that three-sentence story. You cannot do it because there is basically never any logic linking the action they call for to the rest of the content; it is just asserted and tacked on. Indeed, it is often impossible to even find a clear statement of a goal and seldom possible to find any connection between the research results and either the goal or the proposed action.
His next point (which is really a version of the second) nicely sums up anti-THR efforts:
And finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. “We can’t do anything because we do not yet know everything. We cannot take action on climate change until everyone in the world agrees that gay marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say teach the controversy.”
Yes, that sounds pretty familiar. Probably no reason to expand on it.
Now the good news is this: Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy, and their work is easily detected. Looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. Like an “I spy” of bullshit. So I say to you tonight, friends, that the best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.