by Carl V Phillips
Somewhere in an imaginable land, a dialogue.
ANTI-MUSLIM FANATIC: Hey, I wanted to thank you. We have adopted your blueprint.
TOBACCO CONTROL FANATIC: You’re welcome. … Wait, what?
AMF: Yeah, we now have a plan for the endgame for driving Muslims from this country.
TCF: That is terrible. What does it have to do with us?
AMF: I told you, we are following your blueprint: Punitive taxes. Limiting where people can practice Islam. Vilification campaigns. All your favorites.
No more immigrants. That last one is a bit different, but we adapted your plan to forbid the development of new products.
Also, a ban on little rugs.
TCF: But that is a gross violation of people’s rights and the norms of our society. Religion is an intimate private decision. Even if you think your goal is a good idea, are you saying you want to trample on people’s happiness and the fundamental glue that holds our society together in pursuit of some personal pique?!
AMF: Are you sure you want to go down that path?
TCF: Um, fair enough. But how are you ever going to get support for that? We always had a plan to expand beyond those with the burning pique to enlist a lot of useful idiots.
AMF: It’s all in your blueprint. We can do it. Get this: “Think someone being Muslim does not hurt you? Well 9-11 cost America over $5 trillion. That’s $17,000 from every man, woman, and child.”
TCF: But that’s absurd. Most of that cost was the result of people like you making the country lash out in the wrong directions, impose security theater, and such. The attack itself caused only a small fraction of that loss.
AMF: Um, “quit smoking because it is expensive, makes you leave your friends in the pub while you go outside, and could cost you your insurance or your job.” Again, are you sure you want to go down this path?
TCF: Ok, props for that.
But that attack was a few foreign militants and their international support network. It had nothing to do with the practice of Islam among people living here. If you are worried about terrorism, wouldn’t it be more effective to withdraw our active support for Wahhabism, to whom much of it traces; not arm “moderate” warlords, because there is no such thing as a moderate warlord; back off on policies that inspire such attacks; and avoid destroying the social structures in the mideast that provide a bulwark against the rise of such factions?
AMF: Um, look, I realize that the necessary conceit of this dialogue is that both of us are far more thoughtful, honest, self-aware, articulate, and willing to engage in open dialogue than anyone who actually espouses either of these positions. Still, that statement seems to strain the conceit beyond any semblance of reasonableness. And I don’t just mean that “to whom much of it traces” grammar.
TCF: Yeah, fair enough. Ok, try this: If your goal is to prevent terrorist attacks, a goal very few people would question, why not focus on policies that are targeted at discouraging militants rather than discouraging the practice of Islam more generally? Doesn’t attacking law-abiding members of society actually hurt the goal?
AMF: Oh, I didn’t say that the goal was stopping attacks. In fact, a few more attacks would really do us a lot of good. Playing on fear and costs is just how we build support for the campaign. We hate it that anyone around us practices Islam and want to put a stop to it. We don’t care if their personal faith is perfectly peaceful and harmonious. We don’t care how much it might mean to them. It is still Islam, and it has to go.
TCF: With all due respect, you are monsters.
AMF: Um, actually we got all that from you too.
TCF: From us?! How…? Oh, I see.
AMF: Thanks again, by the way.
TCF: You are still monsters. We are fighting against a scourge that people get habituated to it at an early age, before they are capable of understanding the ramifications of their choice. They are innocent victims of what they see around them being considered normal, and of the machinations of huge corporations who can only keep going by recruiting at an early age.
AMF: [raises one eyebrow]
TCF: Yeah, ok. But the same is true for being a Christian or any other religion. What right do you have to decide the indoctrination of being brought up in one religion needs to be stamped out but another is fine?
AMF: We both know the youthful brainwashing claim is meaningless for either one of us. It describes countless behaviors and beliefs, like patriotism, studying hard, playing sports, eating meat, reading fiction, masturbation, cooking with curry, drinking soda, respecting one’s elders…
[seven pages of transcript omitted]
Anyway, to answer your question, we decide. We can decide because we are ascending in influence here. Might is right.
We got that one from you too.
TCF: Yes, I suppose you did. But it is still different. Tobacco is addictive.
AMF: “Addictive” refers to compulsive drug use that seriously impairs someone’s functioning. Tobacco use does not do that.
TCF: We just mean that using it makes you more inclined to use it. You get cravings to do more of it.
AMF: That describes about half the things on the list I just recited.
TCF: Well addictive also means it makes you very unhappy to give it up once you start. And people who choose to quit are really glad they did.
AMF: You might be over-generalizing a bit there. But anyway, that still probably describes about quarter of the things on my list. Notably including being a Muslim.
TCF: Hmm. So you are going to portray the people you are abusing as dupes who thus are really being made better off by the abuse. And do that after you anchor everyone’s thinking on the worst-case product …er, people… to condemn the entire practice. I guess we really are on the same page. Your ideas are starting to grow on me.
But, wait! No! No no no! You are trying to trick me. The difference is that your goal is just the zealous preference of a group of fanatics who have no right to judge how others choose to live their lives, while our goal is….
AMF: [other eyebrow]
TCF: Our goal is good! It just is. We know we are right. And we know that is right because we know we are right. Turtles all the way down. We will have to agree to disagree.
AMF: Why is there any need for agreement in order to disagree? I’ve never understood that.
TCF: Moving on, I think you have a serious implementation problem. I really don’t see how our blueprint will let you pull off an endgame.
AMF: One might say you also have a serious…. Nah, I’ll go a different direction here: There are a lot fewer Muslims in our country than there are tobacco users. And more people who hate them and want them to go away. So I would say we are better positioned than you.
TCF: But the tactics won’t translate. I see how immigration controls can work. But how are you going to tax people for being Muslim?
AMF: First you strip the tax-exempt status from mosques and Islamic organizations. Someone will have to pay that, and it can only be the individual Muslims because all taxes are ultimately paid by consumers.
Ha! you probably assumed that because I am espousing alt-right ideas that I don’t understand basic economics.
TCF: Well, yeah, that seemed like a good bet. But I do remember the conceit of this conversation, so ok. I’ll have to take your word for it, though, because the conceit cannot possibly go as far as to give me credit for understanding economics. Anyway, go on.
AMF: We also impose a head tax on them. We will make it low to start with so people just get used to paying it. Then we will crank it up until it impoverishes them. The first bit has a long history. The second bit we got from you.
TCF: Ah, so then they eventually succumb and abandon their faith. Yup, that should work. But, wait, can’t they just declare they renounce Islam it without really doing so? It is not like they have to buy anything, or that you have a test for it like we do.
AMF: Actually, we don’t expect many of them to either give it up or pretend to. We just like the idea of impoverishing them. We got that from you too. People don’t just give up true belief. The cost of pretending can also be rather steep, especially if you still want to do a Hajj. It is not a cheap and simple evasion like buying black-market cigarettes to avoid the tax.
TCF: But then what is the point of doing it?
AMF: Same reason you do it: To give governments a financial stake in the War on Muslims. If they want the money, then they have to support our policies. That’s when we get them to unleash the rest of your tactics:
We start ridiculing Muslims, using their own tax payments to broadcast the message that they are vile. God, I love that part!
We teach every child in school that any practice of Islam is vile. Kids are great, aren’t they? You can claim everything is being done to protect the little naive innocents, and then sell them simplistic generalizations because they are so naive and innocent.
Also, we are going to ban proselytizing immediately and then expand than to ban anyone associated with Islam from making any positive statements about Islam, whether true or not. And if anyone else says anything, we will accuse them of being secretly in the pay of Big Muhammad and try to get them sent to Gitmo.
TCF: But that tramples over so many of the fundamental freedoms that our society cherishes. It is a slippery slope to all kinds of other actions. It is difficult to imagine where that could end.
AMF: Yes. So?
TCF: Nothing. Just making sure we were still on the same page.
AMF: At some point, we will make it illegal to bow toward Mecca except in designated areas. We got that from you, but it turns out ghettoizing works for religions too.
TCF: Um, actually we may not deserve credit for originating that idea.
AMF: Oh, and then we will slowly move those designated areas to even more remote locations. Also we will embed broken glass in the pavement.
TCF: I think maybe we could learn something from you. We will have to stay in touch. Secretly, of course — you are still a monster.
AMF: Back atcha.
TCF: So what else of ours have you figured out how to use?
AMF: Here is one I have been working on: “Treating law-abiding and peaceful Muslims differently from terrorists is like getting hit by a jetliner in a 7 story building rather than a 110 story building.”
TCF: That’s…. horrific.
AMF: So you don’t like it?
TCF: No, I love it! You really have studied the script.
AMF: How about these: “I get it dude [sneer], yours is a noble and peace-loving faith.” …and… “Allowing muslims to integrate into our pluralistic society will give you oral cancer.”
TCF: Um, what?
AMF: Yeah, that last one needs a little work. Still, it is no further from the truth than how you use it. Oh, and we have a great one about “third-hand salat”, but I am keeping that under wraps until we need a media boost.
TCF: Clever. So what is your timeline for endgaming the Muslims? We always attach a year to our slogans, like “a tobacco-free world by 2020”.
AMF: We are not setting a deadline. We only wanted to borrow your tactics. We did not see any reason to borrow your hubris and embarrassing legacy of failed promises.
This is a very strange web site…and the post was beyond idiotic (I assume it was intentional of course). It’s hard to get a complete grasp of what the author is trying to achieve, as the author just goes on and on in an analogy without base or merit. Of course, calling people who disagree with you “fanatics” doesn’t really help.
At least the author seems to care about something (e-cigarettes?), so I guess that’s a positive.
/a person who thinks smokers are idiots and any individual who follows a totalitarian ideology both an idiot and a threat (regardless if it’s national socialism, communism or the worst of them all: islam…and I detest the other two semitic cults as well)
[Sorry folks. Normally I would reject a semi-coherent comment from someone who would rather admit he does not understand the context while still commenting, rather than spending a few minutes figuring it out. But I could not resist replying with…]
So your theory is that of everything I wrote here, the bit that is going to cause TCers to bristle is the use of the word “fanatic”?
Everybody knows Philip Morris did 9/11.
I do recall a lot of smoke.
Very amusing, Carl, but I must take issue with your final sentence: “We did not see any reason to borrow your hubris and embarrassing legacy of failed promises.”
TCF never ‘promises’ anything definite. Sure, he/she gives the impression of promises but where are his claims to have fulfilled his promises? Where are his claims to have reduced lung cancer over the past several decades of falling smoking rates? Deaths in the UK from lung cancer among men have decreased over that period, but not massively, and deaths among women have increased. If he had promised to reduce LC, and had been successful, he would have been braging about it all over the media. No, TCF only does statistical probabilities (or rather, possibilities). Is ‘save a billion lives’ a promise? No, it is a slogan.
What TCF does promise, although it is hard to know to whom he makes the promise, is to get legislation, and he has fulfilled that promise magnificently.
Yes I suppose that slogans like the one I riffed on are just goals, not promises. Maybe not even really goals, but just noise. Still, almost everything they say has such a thick coat of hubris that it is not totally unfair to see it as a promise. They never say “it sure would be nice if…, but that won’t happen.”
Beyond those particular phrases, you should not let them off the hook with the suggestion they never make promises. They are constantly promising that a particular policy will have particular effects. Of course any such prediction promise must always be interpreted with caveats: to the best of our ability to predict; unforeseeable events could totally throw this off; etc. But the fact that basically every one of these predictions is wrong — often wildly so — and wrong in the direction of over-promising, is something they should be held to account for. That is not honest error.
In tobacco control, you only make promises about things that are 20+ years in the future, and it’s Big Tobacco’s fault when they don’t come true.
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Very interesting material. Like all analogies it is imperfect, it helps understand a given phenomenon “by proxy” but cannot substitute looking at the specifics of each side. Admitting some reductionist bias, it seems that sectarian fanaticism without some connection to political and economical vested interests does not go very far in influencing society. A lot of honest fanatics mostly end up being useful idiots of those wedded to these interests (which in a lot of cases are more likely opportunists than real true believing fanatics). In the case of tobacco control fanatics the vested interests are clear: self-preservation of well paid academic jobs and juicy grants from sin taxes (MSA) and the pharmaceutic money. What could be the vested interests underlying the anti-muslim fanatic in your analogy? Could it be getting funds from the arms/security industry?
Another good analogy for Tobacco Control is the Catholic Inquisition in Spain and Spanish colonies between the XVI and XVIII centuries. Tobacco controllers claim to persecute the act of smoking but not smokers, admitting those who quit smoking as welcomed part of the “saved ones” (which means the “healthy ones” in their brand of health religion). Inquisitors claimed to persecute non-Catholic worship but not the worshipers, which once embracing or converting to Catholicism were welcomed into the fold. Of course, the inquisitors’ aim of persecuting the wrong worship inevitably ended in persecuting worshipers, just as persecuting the act of smoking ends up in persecuting smokers. But ideologues (whether true believers or opportunists) will never admit it.
Just as ex-smokers often become anti-smoking fanatics (Bloomberg), some of the most fanatic Catholic thinkers in XVI century Spain were new converts: the inquisitor Torquemada and the mystic writer Santa Teresa de Jesús were both converts from Judaism. Just as the reputation, jobs and assets of tobacco controllers (physicians, academics, regulators) depend on the validity and social acceptance of their role of health protectors and promoters, the reputation, jobs and assets of many churchmen depended on their role as defenders and promoters of the “true faith”. Just as doubting some of Catholic dogma was unacceptable to inquisitors, switching to less hazardous tobacco products or disputing features of the holly FTCT is unacceptable to fanatic controllers.
Now, at some point in this analogy tobacco controllers will jump and claim that they have nothing to do with Catholic inquisitors, as they “save lives” following scientific knowledge, while inquisitors simply followed and defended adherence to unscientific dogma. There is a kernel of truth in this argument, but only when it is espoused by those who advocate against smoking by invoking real science without a prohibitionist agenda, something which excludes most controllers. However, claims and sound bites often used by fanatic controllers, such as “second hand smoke is a major carcinogen” or “third hand smoke” or “smoking kills XXX thousands” or “no safe level of exposure” or the “Helena miracle” studies or studies declaring that e-cigs, snus, cigars and hookas are as dangerous as cigarettes, are as far away from scientific thought and methodology as Catholic dogma is.
The key very tight pieces of the analogy, as I see them, are (a) the desire to attack people’s beliefs or behaviors of the sort that have no substantial impact on anyone else, which generally turns into attacking their identity, and (b) a willingness to damage processes (like social norms and established individual liberties) to do so. The latter is typically overlooked by those who think about these things more superficially, but I find it extremely troubling. In a big-picture sense, that damage is far worse than the topic-specific damage from a single policy. That is why I find it equally bothersome when I see it coming from “our” side — see, e.g., this comment thread: http://www.clivebates.com/?p=4395#comment-73851
But even the more metaphorical bits of the analogy I think are tighter than it might seem. Gotta go now, but I will circle back to that in another reply when I can.