Benign Malefactors

The trouble with do-gooders is that they very often wind up doing a great deal of harm.

Antismoking zealots are one example. They set out to do good, and they believe that they actually are doing a lot of good, while in reality they do a tremendous amount of harm. They think they’re doing good by ‘helping’ smokers overcome their terrible addiction to tobacco, which they tell us that 70% of smokers would like to do. But they end up helping hardly anybody kick the habit, and saving hardly any lives, and they instead destroy communities, and bankrupt pubs and cafes, and depress the entire economy, and more.

And this seems to be one of the tragedies of being human. Because all too often, with the best will in the world, us humans regularly end up doing tremendous amounts of harm.

It’s for that reason that I tend not to see people as ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’, but more often as good guys who end up behaving like bad guys, because they’ve managed to convince themselves that the bad that they’re doing is actually good.

This came to mind while I was reading an article about Tony Blair a day or two ago:

Mr Blair is still criticised for sending British troops into Iraq on March 20, 2003 in the mistaken belief that its Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.

In the weeks leading up to the invasion, more than one million people marched through London against the Iraq invasion.

Asked in a candid interview on BBC2’s Newsnight whether he minded if “people call you a liar, some people call you a war criminal, protesters follow you; it’s difficult to walk down the street in a country”, he replied: “It really doesn’t matter whether it’s taken its toll on me.

“The fact is yes there are people who will be very abusive, by the way I do walk down the street and by the way I won an election in 2005 after Iraq. However, yes it remains extremely divisive and very difficult.”

Mr Blair conceded that he had “long since given up trying to persuade people it was the right decision”.

Blair’s tragedy, it might be suggested, is that he ended up doing the wrong thing, but with the best intentions in the world. And in the process, he became a ‘bad guy’ in a great many people’s eyes. And it sounds as if quite a lot of people are prepared to tell him as much, even today.

But the interesting thing about Blair is that he himself clearly thinks in the same black-and-white, ‘good guy, bad guy’ terms.

“If we hadn’t removed Saddam from power just think for example what would be happening if these Arab revolutions were continuing now and Saddam who’s probably twenty times as bad as Assad in Syria, was trying to suppress an uprising in Iraq.” (my emphasis).

So here we have Tony Blair, whom a great many people regard as being a war criminal, cheerfully describing Assad as ‘bad’, and Saddam as ‘twenty times as bad’. And once you have that sort of mentality, and you’ve identified the ‘bad guys’, then it almost certainly seems like ‘the right thing to do’ to go in and overthrow the bad guy.

The other thing that’s happening here is that the ‘bad guy’ – Saddam – has been built up into a figure of satanic proportions. And this renders your own intervention – the invasion of Iraq – correspondingly more noble and good.

Antismokers do the same thing. They build up tobacco and smoking into a terrible evil, far worse than anything else. They thoroughly demonise it. And the worse this evil is perceived to be, the more necessary it becomes to intervene in the most forceful ways, and the more noble and just such forceful intervention becomes.

But I couldn’t help but think that Blair was a bit simple-minded.  He was something of a moral simpleton. Things are, in my view, never quite so entirely unambiguous. ‘Bad guys’ frequently do good things. And ‘good guys’ equally regularly do bad things. I’m sure there were plenty of good things Saddam did for Iraq, just as much as there were plenty of bad things.

And if Tony Blair, one of the smartest political operators in recent British history, is a bit simple-minded, then most likely many of the people around Blair are a bit simple-minded too. And the world is being run by simple-minded people, with simple-minded, black-and-white notions of good and evil.

I also came across this in the Telegraph today, in the aftermath of the Eastleigh by-election:

The Tory Right are hopping mad. What started with hugging hoodies and huskies has ended with legalising gay marriage; the party that they have committed themselves to is changing before their eyes. From their point of view the modernisation project has not returned the dividends which it was targeting…

Concluding that the modernisation project was fundamentally misguided is mistaken. Social mores are changing fast; given a couple of decades, it will seem odd that we ever argued about gay marriage at all. Cameron’s mistake was to seek to modernise too far, too fast. Had he picked his battles better, and in particular avoided raising the issue of gay marriage – so sensitive yet so relatively peripheral – at this time, his leadership would have appeared more focused on the serious economic issues facing the country. His party would have been more unified, and far fewer votes would have been haemorrhaged.

Will it really seem odd, in a couple of decades, that we ever argued about gay marriage at all? The author may be right, but how does he know for sure? He could have written “it will probably seem odd”, but no, he’s so sure that he writes “it will seem odd”. He thinks he can see the future. And he’s probably doing so by projecting some current social trends forward in time, a bit like a climate scientist with his projections of global warming.

I think this is another sort of simple-mindedness. We can’t see the future, much as we might wish to be able to. The future will bring what it will.

Returning to the antismokers, with their good intentions, it seems to me that what makes some action good or bad is found in its consequences, not in the intentions behind it. If I go out in my car to shop at Tesco (good intention), and run over somebody in the process (bad consequence), it’s the consequences that matter far more than the intentions.

So also with the antismoking zealots. Their good intentions count for nothing. The measure of what they have done is to be found in the consequences that have flowed from their demonisation of tobacco and smoking and smokers (as well as tobacco companies), and from the many and various restrictions they have placed upon smokers. I have no doubt whatsoever that the harm far outweighs the good. And I think they will be judged accordingly when the scale of that harm becomes clear, regardless of how often they will claim they were only trying to ‘help’ smokers.

And when that happens, they will no longer look quite so righteous and holy and good. They’ll stop looking like the ‘good guys’ they see themselves as being, and start looking like ‘bad guys’. Much like Blair. Or Saddam. And plenty of other people as well.


About Frank Davis

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29 Responses to Benign Malefactors

  1. waltc says:

    Will it really seem odd, in a couple of decades, that we ever argued about gay marriage at all?”

    No, But that’s propaganda at work. Pretending/ presuming on scant basis, IOW “making” something seem popular, inevitable, forward-thinking etc is simply a way to get opponents to concede and raise the white flag before the battle’s been fought. And to make whatever cause is being forwarded by the propagandist seem like the very model of Modern Thought– what the Right-minded are thinking (and you wouldn’t want to be in the Wrong-minded minority, would you?)

    Think about it: Isn’t this the same trick that was used to get the smoke bans? They were popular, forward-thinking and inevitable (so why fight them?)

    Re gay marriage,same thing going on in the US. I believe close to 30 states, including hyper-Liberal CA, have voted against it by popular vote. Of the, I think it’s now 7 or at most 9 that have legalized it, most haven’t done so by citizens’ vote but either legislative vote or judicial fiat. Yet when, a few months ago, 2 states legalized it, it was suddenly declared as a tipping point, a trend, a total turnaround in American thought and, of course, as that inevitable wave of the future.

    That’s not a comment on the gay marriage issue itself per se (I’m on record there) but a comment on the SOP of our engineers.

    • smokervoter says:

      I find myself wracked with gnawing jealousy for gays and Latin American noncitizens lately. When is it going to be our turn in the batting rotation? When is it going to be smokers who are brought out from the shadows?

      I construe the concept of lusting after someone of the same gender as unfathomable, alien circuitry. There are those who rationally find it equally alien wiring for anyone to voluntarily inhale smoke. Leave them alone, leave us alone, it’s a mad, mad world and what they do in it is none of my business.

      I did a lot of carpenter work for this one cantankerous old fellow who constantly cracked queer (or nigger) jokes. I’d ask him a pertinent construction project question but before I’d get a straight answer, I had to sit through one of his perfunctory, lame-o, faggot jokes. Gratingly boring yes, belly-laughing funny no. A monumental, valuable-time waster as well.

      Sometimes I’d look at him mid-joke and envision myself, like a character in a startling Alfred Hitchcock plot twist, opening a door only to find him dressed in garters with bright red lipstick on, laughing maniacally. It was kinda’ creepy.

  2. Mr A says:

    I have to disagree with you on this Frank. I used to think that the anti-smokers had good intentions but that the massive social and economic damage they caused was as a result of utter stupidity rather than malign ill-will. However, I can’t see how some of them can get behind (let alone publish) some of the junk science that they do, that is so amazingly flawed that a 3 year old could see through it, without admitting that they are deliberately and knowingly following the path that they have taken. Publishing studies with random months/years missing for no other reason than including that data would prevent them getting the results they want is a prime example of this. Or continuing to promote studies that they KNOW have been discredited by multiple independent sources whilst ruining the careers of those who disagree with them. Besides, look at the likes of Bloomberg, Chapman and Glantz. These people ooze, well there is no other word for it, “evil.”

    While some antis may genuinely have been motivated by good intentions (Clive Davis and Dr Siegel spring to mind), many, if not most, are just evil, hate-filled inadequates that if they had lived in less enlightened times would happily be herding the hate-group of their choice into the gas chambers. And they are doing their damnedest to dim that enlightenment on a daily basis so they can get their way.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I can’t see how some of them can get behind (let alone publish) some of the junk science that they do, that is so amazingly flawed that a 3 year old could see through it, without admitting that they are deliberately and knowingly following the path that they have taken.

      That supposes that they ever stand back from their ‘research’ and ask themselves whether it’s good science. I don’t think they ever ask themselves such questions.

  3. Rose says:

    Anti-smoking agenda ’caused air pollution problem to be obscured’ – 2002

    “Governments concealed the huge threat to public health caused by air pollution in the wake of the great London smog 50 years ago, and attempted to shift all the blame on to cigarette smoking, a medical historian will allege today.”

    “On May 31, 1957, a modified version was published, which stated that although it was likely that atmospheric pollution did play a role in lung cancer, it was “a relatively minor one in comparison with cigarette smoking”.

    In 1959, the Royal College of Physicians set up a committee to examine the effects both of cigarettes and air pollution on health.

    In the event, and with the connection between cigarettes and lung cancer having recently been firmly established by the Oxford epidemiologist Richard Doll – now Sir Richard – it was decided that smoking must have priority.”

    It’s the EU against the Government in a day of judgment for air pollution – today

    “The case – before the Supreme Court on Thursday – attempts to put an end to the decades-long scandal of air pollution, which kills tens of thousands of people in Britain each year. Three years ago Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, published authoritative research showing that it caused 4,300 deaths annually in London alone, while the Government’s official air pollution watchdog later put the nationwide mortality figure at 29,000.

    In just two months this year, there have been three serious episodes in London alone (ministers failed to issue warnings). And this week the Mayor’s office advised schools not to let children out into their playgrounds when levels are high.”

    “David Cameron has included “environmental legislation” among the areas for renegotiation where he believes Brussels has “gone far too far”.

    “The PM has particularly singled out for attack European controls on one air pollutant, nitrogen dioxide – largely responsible for the asthma epidemic that affects one in seven British children. And these, as it happens, are also the subject of Thursday’s case at the Supreme Court.”

    It seems that he would much rather continue to spend money blaming smoking, smokers and secondhand smoke for these harms, as other British governments have for the last 60 years.
    Perhaps in this one matter at least, he is something of a traditionalist.

    • Margo says:

      Can’t help saying this: I told you so!
      I’ve been saying since before the ban that smoking has been deliberately scapegoated, to cover up the known damage being done to health by environmental pollution. Eventually somebody’s going to admit that the prime toxin that must be covered up at all costs is radiation from atomic testing, dirty bombs and nuclear power leaks and accidents. Wait another 5/10 years for the full effects of Fukushima to become undeniable. Then I’ll say it again: told you so.

  4. jaxthefirst says:

    As the old saying has it: “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” It’s like anything – all the time it’s small and moderate any organisation/movement/campaign tends to achieve good outcomes. The moment it becomes big its outcomes are generally bad in the final analysis. It happens with anything – religion, companies, public services, charities, campaign groups, the media, the EU. “Small is beautiful,” should be the mantra of anyone involved in any kind of social organisation or legislation. Sadly, the opposite seems to be the philosophy of our MPs, who just love the big and the grand. Which is why pretty much everything is going wrong in this country now; and why organisations like ASH and their ilk are allowed to pretty much dictate public policy in any area in which they have a particular axe to grind.

  5. Marvin says:

    I think you are being too kind Frank.
    Re. Blair, what about the conscious, deliberate, fabrication of “evidence” that Saddam had WMDs? – The “sexed-up” dossier, “he can hit us in 45 minutes” etc.
    This cost David Kelly his life, because he knew it was fabricated, and could derail the whole project, if made public. These are not misguided people, they are pure evil IMHO.

    The Anti-Smoking crew are no different, they have managed to accrue financial and political clout to get their pet hate made illegal in most places.
    The fact that they too have to consciously fabricate “evidence” to support their position, tells me they are motivated purely by hate and selfish greed, not by “good” intentions at all. The top of the Anti-Smoking industry are on the gravy train, just as US and UK companies are profiting from the invasion and destruction of Iraq.

    • Frank Davis says:

      I think you are being too kind Frank.

      I probably am.

      But there seems to be the same sort of ‘reasoning’ going on. Once you’ve decided that Saddam is the most blood-thirsty monster since Genghis Khan, and you have decided to topple his regime, It helps if additional supporting evidence can be found – of WMDs, 45 minutes, etc add further justification for the policy that has been adopted. You no longer need to be convinced he’s a bad guy, and you’ll readily believe anything you hear about him..

      It is as if an idea or a policy is something that gathers momentum, as more and more people line up behind it, and at that point there’s it just builds and builds – like an avalanche. And the same process seems to be happening in widely different areas. The Iraq was one example. Antismoking healthism is another. Global warming is a third one. Probably the EU superstate too.

      And perhaps it happens for the reasons that Jax gives above: once you have large organisations of any kind, they create their own culture which everyone inside them absorbs and identifies with. It’s groupthink.

      But at the end of the day, when the various avalanches have run their course, everyone is left to pick up the pieces.

      • Margo says:

        Frank, I do think Blair’s major screaming fault is his blinkering fundamental religiosity. He genuinely does see the world as Good vs Evil. I think he saw Iraq as a kind of holy war. I think he really does believe that the murders committed in his name were ‘the right thing to do’.

        • Frank Davis says:

          Well, he did become a Roman Catholic, didn’t he, after he stepped down as PM? Although I did wonder if that might have been because he was seeking forgiveness.

        • smokingscot says:

          I wonder if he’s another who secretly goes with the Nostrodamus prophesies?

          That bit about nuclear warheads raining down on the US from the middle east?

          If so he’ll be terrified. Nostrodamus said there would be one Pope after John Paul the 2nd! Then all hell would break loose.

          Heh, heh!

        • beobrigitte says:

          If so he’ll be terrified. Nostrodamus said there would be one Pope after John Paul the 2nd! Then all hell would break loose.

          I guess, he has all reason to be scared. He really WAS OUR weapon of mass destruction.

          Perhaps it’s a little harsh when I say: looking at the prohibitionists, we almost are there:

          Matthew chapter 10 verse 21 “Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.”
          Luke chapter 12 verse 53 “They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

          (Timbone; )

          Isn’t social division the aim of these prohibitionists? For example: how often have the anti-smokers (ab)used children in pursuit of their ideology of a smoke(r)-free world? How often have the anti-smokers (ab)used married couples? If they have their way, one by one is set up against the other. It all starts with groups being set up against each other, then neighbours and then family members. But tobacco control does not care, it just wants a tobacco and smoker-free world.

          I believe, in 2010 Assad was a “good” leader as he did implement a smoking-ban. Now that he is dealing with protesting citizen (the smoking ban most likely being the last straw breaking a camel’s back) in the same manner (just overrun them, they all will get used to it) he was told to use when implementing this smoking ban there, the world is up in arms against him.
          Divide and rule.

          Somewhere in the bible there is a chapter in which Jesus demonstrates the importance of social coherence by using 7 sticks. This is what the prohibitionists fear the most!

          Well, he did become a Roman Catholic, didn’t he, after he stepped down as PM? Although I did wonder if that might have been because he was seeking forgiveness.
          I am not aware, either, that he became a Roman Catholic. he can thank God, that it is not our job to do so. (Speaking as a Roman Catholic)

        • beobrigitte says:

          Frank, the spam-folder-black-hole must have interfered and swallowed my last comment…

  6. ” Saddam who’s probably twenty times as bad as Assad in Syria” 20x as bad, eh? Funny how we allied so closely with him in the 80s then… does that mean that WE are maybe only 10x as bad as Assad? Kind of reminds me of EastAsia vs PanEuro or whatever Orwell’s antagonists were called: all depends on how the government wants them viewed for its own advantage.

    – MJM

    • Frank Davis says:

      Funny how we allied so closely with him in the 80s then…

      Well, exactly. He was the bulwark against the Islamic hordes from Iran back then. Saddam has gone, but the Islamic hordes from Iran remain, led by a bunch of fiends of course.

      I noted in Blair’s comments that he spoke of Iran as a future event. We are of course being gradually readied for the Iran war. And have been for quite a long time.

      • Margo says:

        Absolutely we are. And Iran is a great deal stronger now, without Saddam to keep it in check. A long time ago I saw an interview between Saddam and Tony Benn, in which Saddam said he knew damn well what Bush and Blair were after – oil and total domination of the Middle East. He was right, of course. (Always beware when you see the words ‘humanitarian’ and ‘war’ juxtaposed. There’s never been a humanitarian war in the history of humanity.

      • Rose says:

        I suspect Blair had a vague dream of following in the footsteps of Margaret Thatcher, who set out to save the Falkland Islanders after they had been invaded and joined America in the first Iraq war after Kuwait had been invaded, when Saddam Hussein really did have WMD and lots of them.

        WMD pressure builds up for Blair – 2004

        “Mr Cook said he did not believe Mr Blair was trying to deceive, but was “behaving in a way which had a missionary zeal, an evangelical certainty.”

        “”The reality is that Number 10 was keen to get into the war, not frankly because they were particularly concerned about WMD – I suspect by March they also knew that the September document had over-egged the case – they were keen to get in to impress President Bush that they were a reliable ally.”

        “Downing Street said Mr Blair was still confident Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that evidence would be found.”

        • beobrigitte says:

          Michael, Frank, Margo and Rose:

          Yes, I do REMEMBER Saddam being an close ally to the western world. With which weapons did he fight the Irak-Iranian war?

          Yes, we have been and we are readied for a war against Iran. To say otherwise is ta’arof.

          Yes, I remember this interview between between Saddam and Tony Benn.

          And I remember this, too:
          “Downing Street said Mr Blair was still confident Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that evidence would be found.”

  7. Harleyrider1978 says:

    The only thing proven to cause cancer is high dose radiation!

  8. smokervoter says:

    I can remember pulling into a gas station sometime in the early 80s and looking at the newspaper in the vending machine announcing the start of the Iran-Iraq War which bore the headline “Buy Iraqi War Bonds”.

    Then about 5 years ago I was at a friends house who collects anything and everything. There at the top of a stack of National Geographics magazines was a laudatory article featuring Saddam Hussein and his modern day Iraq; secular, womens’-rights-respecting and poised for a very bright future.

    Out of curiosity, I just StartPaged “Saddam Hussein National Geographic magazine past issue” and gave up after 15 pages of search results trying to find out what the actual title and cover image of that article was.

  9. beobrigitte says:

    Blair’s tragedy, it might be suggested, is that he ended up doing the wrong thing, but with the best intentions in the world.

    Further up there is a suggestion that Blair became Roman Catholic. I personally doubt it as this step would have led him to compare his mission with that of Jesus Christ.

    Surely the first thing he would have come across would have been the major difference between them. (At least I hope so)
    1. Jesus was not involved in the implementation of new laws. He merely talked to people. Those who did not wish to listen were not forced to do so. (A clear benefit of the lack of mass media then!)

    2. Jesus did not judge people. He did not incite people to judge and hate others.

    3. Jesus preached cohesion and tolerance.

    4. Jesus knew all along that his mission would go wrong and the authorities in power then would do their bit to shut him up.

    5. Jesus did not betray his followers.

    6. Even if teflon would have been invented then, Jesus had no use for it.

    In short, once the “best intentions” lead to the profit driven wars (killing thousands of people – how does this fit in with the “saving lives” blabb?), or even discrimination, vilification and exclusion of individuals in a society, these “best intentions” are simply WRONG.

  10. Junican says:

    Blair did ‘turn’ and become Catholic.
    But I think that it is wrong to confuse his personal religious convictions with his public actions as PM. We must remember that Saddam was only one of a thoroughly murderous bunch of people who lived ‘on the edge’. He killed people who plotted to kill him. That fact was useful for Blair and co to declare that he was a murderous bastard. But he was a murderous bastard as witnessed by the taking out of opponents from his first ‘party conference’ and shooting them. Also, his murdering of his relatives who fled to Jordan. “Those who live by the sword….”
    One thing that I fail to understand is why it is that the defence of Kuwait (and thus the invasion of Iraq as a consequence) could not have been justified purely on economic grounds. Why should not the USA and other countries not stop Saddam taking control of oil supplies by force and threatening their economies? Why should that be wrong?
    The comparison with Zealots is justified because they act like Saddam. The difference however, is that we smokers never harmed or intended to harm the Zealots. We smokers are minions who are being damaged in a lethal war between the zealots and tobacco companies. We are ‘collateral damage’ – and we do not like it and will not put up with it.

  11. When I read something in Velvet glove, Iron Fist book (Christopher Snowdon) under Nuns, prostitutes, witches and toads. I was truly shocked and angry how many years smoking was given as a cause for cervical cancer and it seemed to be blinding so called “smart people” like scientist. Are they so smart they become stupid with logic and commonsense or something. If ordinary people asked the man/woman in the street why Nuns were less likely to get cervical cancer, smoking would be the last thing they would mention. I have asked many people myself and not ONE has come to smoking as the reason, yet they have ALL given the same reason as I would and any sane person surely would have.
    I have given up giving to many charities now, if that is the sort of thing thy are chucking money at, blinded by a hatred of something and led of into a completely differant path it is just obscene.
    I also watched lorenzos oil, read about the Doctor/Professor who swallowed bad bacteria to prove to the establishment that a lifetime of pills was NOT needed to treat an ulcer I think it was.

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