To give you a few examples, he began by explaining that he came from a background of talking about illegal drugs and how policies to reduce harm can be good for public health, but that he was very surprised once transferring that approach to legal drugs that there seemed to be an almost religious hegemony dictating matters. He noted that he was taken aback by the “stranglehold” ‘public health’ exerts over research in these areas and – harking back to what he’d told me at the drinks reception – said that he had been told by colleagues that studying why smokers smoke was “unacceptable”.
Having come up against a mindset which had set itself to believe that smoking can never, ever, be pleasurable, he spoke of an “intellectual refusal” to ever consider such a concept. In his view, this was a two-way thing designed to come to only one conclusion amongst tobacco controllers. If you express a wish to quit, you are acting rationally and it’s addiction which is stopping you; if, however, you like smoking and have no wish to quit, you are then acting irrationally and are not experiencing pleasure, merely addiction.
This pervasive way of looking at the subject matter had, in McKegany’s view, perverted scientific and political discourse on the subject of tobacco and nicotine.
It seems entirely plausible that many people in Tobacco Control have “a mindset which had set itself to believe that smoking can never, ever, be pleasurable.” I wonder if such people think that anything can be pleasurable, never mind smoking?
I had the thought this morning that people with this mindset were really trying to get everyone else (and particularly smokers) to agree with them. If you are trying to stop people smoking, you are trying to get them to agree that smoking is harmful, and to agree that it is an addiction, and to agree that they ought to stop smoking.
In fact, I thought that this is a universal problem: we’re all trying to get other people to agree with us about one thing or another, all the time. Some of us seem to be more successful than others at doing this.
But I wondered whether Tobacco Control’s method of getting everyone to agree with them was a very good one. They are setting about the task by a) repeating their message – “Smoking Kills” – over and over again, so that it becomes a piece of rote learning, b) banning smoking wherever they possibly can, and c) preventing tobacco companies from saying the opposite: i.e. that “Smoking Is A Pleasure.”
This is a bit like the way Political Correctness works. Everyone has to agree, and anyone who disagrees is shouted down, ignored, or expelled. It’s the same not just with smoking, but also global warming, and more or less any other controversy. Like for instance whether Donald Trump is a dangerous moron or not. You’re not allowed to think that he might not be a dangerous moron. And you just keep repeating that he’s a dangerous moron, and shout down anyone who says otherwise. This is how public discourse works in the 21st century. Although it’s also probably how it’s always worked in every preceding century.
But I don’t really think that Shouting Down The Opposition is ever likely to be a successfully persuasive method of getting people to agree about anything. It might appear to work for a while, but it requires the continuous application of force. As soon as the force weakens, people will start ceasing to agree.
There are other persuasion methods. The EU is predicated upon the belief that if Europe is going to get a hearing in the world, it will have to unite into a single entity, because otherwise nobody will listen to it (and agree with it). This the Big Battalion theory of persuasion: if there are enough of you, people will listen to you. And if there are enough of you that are carrying enough guns, people will listen very carefully to everything you say (and will readily agree with you too).
And then there are the Experts. The Experts are the people who you really ought to agree with, because they are the acknowledged authorities who know more or less everything that needs to be known. Experts usually come with letters after their name, like BA or BSc or PhD. Or they have titles like Professor or Archbishop or General. The experts are usually people who have risen to positions of influence in one organisation or other, usually through natural attrition. Spend long enough in a university, and you’ll quite likely become a professor. Spend long enough in an army, and you’ll quite likely become a general.
But then there are the philosophers who construct rational arguments as to why you should agree with them. The philosophers are often highly persuasive. And they don’t rely on sheer numbers or guns to get people to agree with them. Nor even expertise or authority. But for every philosopher A there is usually a counter-philosopher B, who will point out flaws in A’s reasoning, and thereby dissuade people from agreeing with him.
And then there are orators and prophets and all sorts of charismatic people who are able to charm people into agreeing with them.
The advertising industry is all about getting people to agree: to agree, for example, that Coca Cola is a really great drink. The advertisement business tends not to use reasoning. I’m not sure what it actually does use.
Maybe hypnosis is another means of persuasion.
There are probably plenty of other methods of seduction.
But I think that you will agree that Tobacco Control’s brute force methods of persuasion are unlikely to be successful in the long run. I’m sure you will agree that anyone who wins arguments simply by silencing the opposition (e.g. preventing Big Tobacco from advertising) hasn’t really won the argument at all. And you will agree that they will never manage to rid the world of smoking, or construct their smoke-free utopia.
You do agree, don’t you?
Good. I thought you would.