A lot to process today in the comments. But the line that stood out strongest for me was from one of Nightlight’s comments:
…smokers believe ‘smoking kills’(hence it is sin). Just as there are no muggers organizing to defend their rights to mug, there won’t be smokers organizing to defend their habit, while being under the ‘smoking kills’ spell.
I think that’s exactly right. Most people believe that ‘smoking kills’. It’s more or less an unquestionable fact of life for them.
But why does almost everybody believe that ‘smoking kills’? Particularly when their own lifetime experience of smoking has been that it hasn’t killed them. And hasn’t killed anybody else either. And is in fact completely harmless.
I think there’s a wider problem here than just smoking. Because the same thing is happening with global warming. Why does half the population believe the human-produced carbon dioxide is causing dangerous global warming? Why do they believe this when their own personal experience should be telling them that the climate is much the same as it always has been?
I think the answer is that most people (or at least a great many people) now discount their own experience and their own judgment, and instead place their trust in ‘experts’ or ‘authorities’, and in particular in medical and scientific authorities. They have lost their self-confidence and their self-belief.
And part of the reason for that may lie in the extraordinary successes in both science and medicine over the past century or so. In medicine it was the development of the germ theory of disease which led to vast improvements in public health, and the virtual elimination of many endemic diseases. And in science there have been extraordinary developments in all sorts of fields ranging from radio to television, aviation, spaceflight, nuclear weapons, computers, automobiles, and more. And the result has been that doctors and scientists came to be seen as wonder-workers, and their every word accepted as gospel truth. All the more so, given most people know very little about either medicine or science.
So if doctors tell them that smoking kills, and climate scientists tell them that human-generated carbon dioxide is dangerously warming the planet, most people will believe them. And in fact, most people will believe absolutely anything such authorities tell them.
So most people have ceded their autonomy to authorities of one sort or other. They no longer trust their own eyes or their own experience or their own judgment. They believe what other people – authorities and experts of one sort or other – tell them.
And this is also true in another matter: the rise of the European Union. Because the EU entails European nation states ceding national autonomy to the European Union. It’s another case of people saying: “We don’t know what’s best for us. You tell us.” Only in this case it’s not been the success of the EU in doing anything, but the failure of European nation states to avoid catastrophic war in the past century, that has led to a collective loss of national self-confidence. A hundred years ago today, Europe was made up of proud, self-confident, expansionist nations. Over the next 30 or 40 years, almost all that pride and self-confidence and expansiveness was lost in World War ship-wreck. And what now remains is a sort of European life raft, on which everyone clings together in fear of the circling sharks. And it’s perhaps this loss of national self-confidence that has led in turn to the loss of individual personal self-confidence and self-belief, and the emergence of guiding authorities, and assorted cults and gurus, to inject new beliefs into the vacuum.
And once the word of doctors and scientists and ‘experts’ and gurus came to be completely uncritically accepted, the way was open for an army of charlatans to invade medicine and science. Because nobody was going to call them on any of their claims. They could get away with murder. And they did.
Such a situation cannot continue indefinitely. Because the arrival of the charlatans means that the ‘science’ that they purport to be doing is all fraudulent. And it also means that their prescriptions and advice are ineffective or counter-productive. So now we have healthist ‘life-style’ medicine which, in the form of smoking bans, is actually doing colossal social and economic damage. And we have wind farms and solar farms which produce expensive and intermittent energy. And we have an EU whose single currency has become a strait-jacket for its member states. And so on.
And we also have more and more non-smokers getting lung cancer that smoking was supposed to cause. And global warming has stopped for the past 17 years. And the EU empire that was supposed to prevent war has now expanded to the frontiers of Russia, triggering a geopolitical crisis.
The result is that public confidence in political, scientific, and medical authority is beginning to collapse. It’s coming more and more into question. There’s a growing sense that maybe the experts don’t know everything after all.
What’s coming down the track looks set to be a complete collapse of trust in all authority. From believing everything they’re told, people will swing to disbelieving everything. For the ‘sceptics’, whether it’s scepticism about antismoking or global warming alarmism, or European integration, are the new disbelievers (or ‘deniers’ or ‘denialists’, as their opponents). They don’t believe what they’re told. And their numbers are multiplying, and are set keep on rising, the more that the once-trusted authorities prove themselves to be both incompetent and deceitful.
The recent EU elections suggest a rapid upsurge in political scepticism. Fewer and fewer people trust or believe in the pro-European political establishment.
It’s nothing new. Exactly 500 years ago, the disbelievers and sceptics and ‘denialists’ were called Protestants, and they had ceased to believe in the authority of the Pope in Rome. What followed was the Reformation, and an upheaval whose effects are still being felt 500 years later.