Nothing is more important to Australian ‘public health’ campaigners than plain packaging being perceived as a success.
Perception is everything these days. It doesn’t matter if plain packaging isn’t actually a success. All that matters is that it is perceived to be a success.
And a public perception of this sort can be achieved if the mass media and all the pundits and experts and authorities and the Great and the Good all declare it has been a great success.
The same applies to everything else that is related to tobacco. Environmental tobacco smoke is actually harmless, but it is perceived to be harmful, and that’s all that matters when it comes to introducing smoking bans. Smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, but it is widely perceived to cause lung cancer (and any other malady you may care to mention), and that is really all that matters.
Step outside the world of tobacco, and alcohol and sugar and salt and butter and fat are perfectly healthy, but they are increasingly widely perceived to be harmful, as an army of scaremongers have started doing to them what they’ve already done so successfully to tobacco.
And out in the wider world, while the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may actually have little or no effect on the Earth’s climate, it is widely perceived to have a considerable effect, and there’s a conference in Paris right now, attended by presidents and prime ministers from all over the world, that is devoted promulgating this perception. And of course all the attendant presidents and prime ministers wish to be perceived to be doing something about this perceived problem (while actually doing nothing about it).
Equally, the Islamic State in Syria is perceived to have been behind the recent Paris atrocity (although I have yet to see any evidence that it actually was), and so the French government has sent an aircraft carrier into the Mediterranean in order to be perceived to be doing something about it, by being perceived to be bombing Islamic State activists.
Meanwhile in America, the media and the Republican party have been trying to change the public perception of candidates like Donald Trump from positive to negative. Here again, perception is everything. Nothing else matters. And it’s not just Trump (who’s a seasoned TV performer). It’s everybody else as well. The US Presidential elections are completely and entirely about perceptions, how candidates are perceived.
And I really believe that these days, if someone with sufficient authority were to declare that 7 times 8 equals 78, then if there was sufficient media support from the media and other experts and pundits, all repeating it, then 7 times 8 would be widely perceived to equal 78.
What can one say of such a world, where illusion has comprehensively trumped reality? Clearly, in a world in which imaginary problems (like tobacco smoke and carbon dioxide) have captured public attention and public funding, real problems are not being addressed. We may not even know what these real problems are, because they receive no attention. But they are likely to creep up and catch us all the same.
It is as if we were all on board some luxury cruise ship whose captain – whom we might call Captain Francesco Schettino – believes that the biggest problem he faces is what colour to paint the ship, or how best to capture the hearts of pretty women passengers, or how to impress his friends ashore, rather than attending to his real job of keeping the ship afloat and on the right course.
Francesco Schettino was, of course, the captain of the Costa Concordia, that ran aground and sank, killing 32 people, after performing a daring but completely unnecessary manoeuvre to impress some friends of his ashore. He is now serving 16 years in prison.
When our much larger- but equally mismanaged – cruise ship in its turn runs aground and capsizes, I wonder what sort of sentences will be handed out to the army of charlatans and confidence tricksters that now infest public life. Or whether they will all be simply put up against a wall and shot.