“It has long been established that when people are surrounded by those who are likely to disagree with their opinion, they are more likely to self-censor.” These findings confirmed a major insight of pre-Internet-era communication studies: the tendency of people not to voice their opinions when they sense that their view is not widely shared. The report’s authors, led by Keith Hampton of Rutgers University, wrote, “This tendency is called the ‘spiral of silence.’”
When a population is continuously exposed to a persistent and consistent media account of current events on controversial issues, the primary motivation of a person will be to conform, at least outwardly, to avoid discomfort and dissonance. “Over time there is thus a spiraling of opinion change in favor of one set of views,” Noelle-Neumann argued.
“The fear of isolation seems to be the force that sets the spiral of silence in motion,” she wrote. Historians, political philosophers, and other thinkers provided corroboration. Alexis de Tocqueville had written in 1856 that people “dread isolation more than error.”
Perhaps this is why most people won’t speak up against smoking bans and the growing persecution of smokers? Public opinion has swung firmly against smoking, and smokers (and those sympathetic to them) dare not disagree. So they remain silent.
James Madison: “The reason of man, like man himself is timid and cautious, when left alone; and acquires firmness and confidence, in proportion to the number with which it is associated.”
We are, it seems, only sure of ourselves when lots of people agree with us. And if the media don’t agree with us, they don’t reflect and re-enforce our own opinion:
“The media provide people with the words and phrases they can use to defend a point of view. If people find no current, frequently repeated expressions for their point of view, they lapse into silence; they become effectively mute.”
Media opinion, which reflected the views of a small section of the social elite, was not the same as public opinion. In the long run, the observed majority opinion would not change media coverage, but media coverage would change the observed majority, a process that could happen over weeks, months, and years.
This has been happening with smoking for the past 70 years, There’s been a continuing, unrelenting antismoking media bias that has been slowly changing public opinion. Furthermore…
As philosopher Stephen Hicks argues in Explaining Post-Modernism, the post-modern Left uses language primarily as a weapon to silence opposing voices, not as an attempt to describe reality. To close the debate down, science masquerading as impartial judge is deployed as lead prosecutor. Dissenters and skeptics are derided as Flat Earthers and scientific ignoramuses.
I see the reasoning behind all this, but in fact I personally don’t mind being isolated in my opinions. In fact I quite enjoy it. And I often adopt positions that nobody else occupies. I even get a little worried if everyone agrees with me.
So I find it quite easy to be a contrarian with respect to smoking, and global warming, and any number of other matters. Perhaps my most contrarian view is Idle Theory, which is a way of thinking that I slowly developed myself, all on my own, until it become a sprawling idea that extended from economics to ethics and physics and evolution.
At the outset, in 1975, when I started entertaining the idea that the primary purpose of an economy was to increase people’s idleness (and freedom of choice), I was very uncertain about it, and never spoke to anyone about it. But as time went on and I carried on thinking, I grew more confident about it. I wasn’t really very worried that people might disagree with me. In the end, the only thing that worried me was that nobody would ever know anything about it, and it would vanish from the face of the earth along with me. So I leapt at the chance of setting it out on a website on the internet in 1998. And was surprised thereafter when it attracted a sympathetic reception from a tiny band of readers. Hardly anybody has ever heard of Idle Theory.
My point is that I don’t mind adopting outsider viewpoints, and being on my own in what I think. I’ve done it again and again, including with my Orbital Siphon idea, which was that a long, rigid train of bodies extending radially some 170,000+ km from the Earth’s equator would be drawn out into space, and could be used to create a continuous stream of material into space, without using any rockets or external power. I published this along with Idle Theory (although it has nothing to do with it), and was delighted when I was approached in 2005 by a space scientist who asked if he might co-author a paper on it in one of the journals. This is now the sole scientific paper I have to my name.
The condition of smokers in the contemporary world is of course also one of deepening isolation. We have all been “exiled to the outdoors”. But, as ever, I am not bothered by the isolation. So these days I’m always thinking about what can be done to defeat the juggernaut of Tobacco Control, which I see as being as great a threat to the world as Nazism or Communism. For me it’s as interesting a problem as any of the unsolved problems in Idle Theory or the Orbital Siphon. And perhaps so far my only contribution to this struggle has been this blog on which I write daily, always exploring new ideas (and old ideas as well). And my only innovation has been my growing conviction that smokers would do better to unite with each other all around the world than to launch largely futile piecemeal counterattacks against the highly organised and well-funded forces of Tobacco Control who are in complete control of the mainstream media and most political parties and most governments. In this respect the online Smoky Drinky Bar has created a tiny space where smoking is being renormalised, and smokers are talking openly to each other, and having their experience validated as other smokers agree with them.
The Spiral of Silence does not extend to the Smoky Drinky Bar. There (and on this blog and other blogs) smokers “find current, frequently repeated expressions for their point of view.” This encourages people to speak up rather than stay silent.
A similar sort of thing is happening with other online alternative media outlets, like Alex Jones’ Infowars, and Michael Savage’s and Rush Limbaugh’s talk radio. There people can find their own political opinions (or many of their own opinions) being aired in ways that they are not aired in the mainstream media. This gives people new confidence in their beliefs. And I believe it was largely these online alternative media outlets these that helped solidify support for Donald Trump in last year’s presidential election. My only disappointment with these new ‘alt-right’ online media outlets is that they aren’t fighting Tobacco Control as ferociously as they’re fighting political correctness and Hillary Clinton and the DNC. So the Spiral of Silence (in respect of smoking) continues on Infowars and DailyCaller and World Net Daily and Townhall. Which I, as a Brit on the other side of the pond, find rather odd, given that it seems to me that Antismoking Is Anti-American. For tobacco has been America’s primary gift to the world. And for Americans to be ashamed of tobacco would be like us Brits being ashamed of our kings and queens, our writers and artists, and our English breakfast of bacon and eggs and sausages and tomatoes and mushrooms and fried bread.
But last week on Infowars, very briefly, I saw two presenters in an ad for one of their new T-shirts, one with a cigar in in his mouth, and the other a cigarette (although both were unlit). So perhaps there’s hope yet for smoking to re-colonise the US alt-media.