MikeF in NYC put his finger on why the Heartland Institute climate sceptics steer clear of tobacco:
Except for a few intrepid bloggers, almost no one challenges the conventional wisdom about tobacco. To do so is to automatically be classified as a nut.
Or a Flat-Earther. Or a Denier of what Everybody Knows.
It set me thinking about how conditioned we all are into believing one thing or another.
I was raised as a Roman Catholic. At school I received 7 years of Roman Catholic conditioning under the tutelage of Benedictine monks. You didn’t dare question anything about any religious matter. But by the time I left school I was starting to question a set of dogmatic religious teachings which had simply never made any sense to me (because I’d never felt able to ask any questions). It took me about 7 more years to gradually extract myself from under the spell of the Catholic church. In that time I became a sort of Protestant. The Protestants, after all, were the first to start questioning the dogmatic teachings of the church.
That experience left me with a strong inclination to question all and any dogmatic ideas, and to put together my own picture of the world. The Roman Catholic church is not the only dogmatic outfit in the world. Most Protestants seem to be equally dogmatic, and equally conditioned. And so is more or less everyone else. We’ve all been conditioned in multiple ways. And we’re all being conditioned all the time.
And when I got caught up in it, I soon realised that the pot-smoking 60’s ‘counterculture’ was almost as dogmatic as the Catholic church. And so I started to fight my way out of that as well. It seems that when people dispense with one set of dogmatic beliefs, they pretty soon replace them with another set of equally dogmatic beliefs, like trains that go down one set of tracks before being shifted by a set of points onto another set of tracks.
Dogmatic thinking can be found everywhere. At university, my Ph. D. project was to build a computer-controlled electronic analogue heat flow model. In those sorts of analogue models, temperatures are replaced by voltages, heat flows by currents, thermal resistance by electrical resistances, and so on. One of the electronic components of the model was a thing called a current pump, which squirted electric current into the array of resistors and capacitors that represented a building of some sort. But the existing current pumps didn’t work very well: they didn’t pump enough current. It was a big problem that I soon identified. But my tutor, a physicist, wearily explained that they’d all been trying for years to make them work better, without success. My predecessor had taken the current pump apart, and replaced all the resistors and capacitors with different values, and got nowhere. It just couldn’t be done.
To me that seemed like a piece of dogmatic thinking. I’d noticed that there were quite a few equations governing the op-amps in the current pump circuit. So I suggested that we write down as many equations as we could, including Ohm’s law. It was a different, analytic approach that no-one had taken before. He assented, and I still remember the sunny afternoon when we sat down in his office and started writing down equations. We ended up with about 10 of them.
And then I went home, and started sifting through the equations, counting the number of unknown variables and so on. There were 10 equations, and 11 unknowns. After about a week of merging and blending and adding and subtracting the equations, I ended up with a single new equation which showed how the current output should vary in response to all the other variables. And it said that it should be possible to get them to pump 3 times as much current as they had been. So I wrote up all the mathematics neatly on two sheets of A4 paper, and took it to my tutor.
A week or two later, he handed back the two sheets of paper with a single cryptic remark. “Very interesting.”
I was astonished. I thought that he’d be excited, and tell me to go and build one to see if it worked. He didn’t. So, in secret, I got hold of one of the current pumps and rebuilt it to the new specification. And it worked exactly as my equation predicted, 3 times better than the old model.
So, a couple of months after presenting my mathematical treatise, I now set up an empirical demonstration, with a real current pump charging a capacitor with a steady current. And then I called in my tutor to see it. He came in the company of the senior lab technician. And they both sat watching while the capacitor voltage climbed in a straight line on a storage oscilloscope, just like it was supposed to.
They said nothing. They both just got up and walked out. And nothing more was said, that day or the next.
I didn’t know what to do after that. But I realised that I’d committed a sort of crime. I’d questioned their dogmatic thinking, and shown them they were wrong. And they couldn’t forgive me. I’d (unintentionally) shown them all up. I’d made them look stupid.
And that is why I’m Frank, and not Dr Frank (not that I ever cared whether I got a doctorate). I secretly built lots of the new model current pumps. And eventually, after about 2 years, my tutor tacitly admitted that they really did work. But by that time I’d gotten discouraged, and never bothered to even start writing a doctoral thesis.
Antismoking doctrines are another example of dogmatic thinking. It’s manifestly obvious that they’re dogmatic, because they can’t be questioned. They can no more be questioned than the triune nature of God, or the impossibility of building improved current pumps. And if you do have the nerve to question them, you get dismissed as a nut.
The first antismoker I ever encountered, shortly after leaving school, was Dr W. He was loudly opposed to smoking. His rage against the placid pastime was itself evidence of the irrational and dogmatic foundations of his opposition. And after my time in the Catholic Church, I’d got pretty good at identifying dogmatic ideas. They were the ones that you weren’t allowed to question. They’re the ones which people get enraged about when anyone questions them.
Back then I thought that Dr W was just a lone, harmless crank. But now, 50 years later, his irrational dogma has grown into a monster that’s consuming the whole world, as smoking bans are being used to expel smokers from society, and to bankrupt entire industries. It’s a crime. It’s a terrible crime. Yet hardly anybody seems able to question the dogma.
We’re all stuck in prisons of the mind. And when we break out of one prison, all too often we find we’ve only burrowed through the walls of the Château d’If into another prison.