The Spiral Of Silence

Hat tip to Tony for drawing attention to The Spiral Of Silence.

“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.

About Frank Davis

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19 Responses to The Spiral Of Silence

  1. Supergran says:

    I honestly feel that that’s why the anti’s are CONSTANTLY quoting diminishing figures for smokers, down to 25%….down to 22%….down to 20%. I’m like you Frank, I smoke, I am NOT ashamed or an apologist end of. But I fear that “The Spiral of Silence” has many folk SAYING they don’t smoke anymore for fear of the majority of non-smokers demeaning them. I’ve never heard such vitriol as the disgusting shite the anti-smokers spew out and it’s been going on for years and years, and yes, many might not be as resilient as you or I Frank, so hide when they smoke and say “they don’t smoke anymore” for fear of opinions (and very vociferous they are too)!! from the zealots.
    I really wish we could find out just how many of the population DO smoke and if it was a true and accurate figure (which I think would be massively above what’s quoted) we could tell the zealots to eff off. Their vitriol perhaps DOES make the feint hearted say they don’t smoke anymore but I’d just LOVE to tell the scrounging gits that their millions of tax-payers money has NOT stopped the smoking (laff out loud at the word epidemic) any less, but HAS made many kind, gentle and honest people feel like they daren’t tell the truth.

    • nisakiman says:

      Of course the figures are under-reported. Grossly so, I would suspect. I’ve said this a number of times, but it bears repeating. Where I lived until recently, I saw many Brits on holiday, as it was a very popular tourist destination for them. From casual observation, I’d say that at least half of them were smokers. But because smoking isn’t seen as anything other than normal here, those Brits didn’t feel they had to conceal their enjoyment of smoking, as they may do in UK. I bet absolutely loads of smokers will deny it when polled in UK. And of course, because the tax is so high, and the resultant black market so ubiquitous, they can’t get any realistic idea of consumption from sales figures, either.

      It’s a joke, the whole sorry mess.

    • ” the anti’s are CONSTANTLY quoting diminishing figures for smokers, down to 25%….down to 22%….down to 20%.” Of course at the same time the death figures climb from 250,000 to 300,000 to 400,000 to 450,000 with one article a month or so ago somewhere making the verbal leap to “a half million smokers a year” dying from smoking!

      The 2014 US Surgeon General’s Report, coming after years of success stories in smoking bans and measurements of blood cotinine levels showing reductions of something like 80%+ in nonsmokers’ smoke exposure since the 1980s, SHOULD have shown a VERY significant reduction in the number of nonsmokers’ smoke-related lung cancer deaths from the 1986 claim of 3,000 per year. It SHOULD have gone down to perhaps as low as 700!

      Instead it somehow mysteriously blossomed to SEVEN THOUSAND, three-hundred, and thirty per year. (Nice the way they’ve gotten so scientific they can nail it down to that last “thirty” eh?) So, roughly, an 80% reduction in nonsmokers’ smoke exposure produces an increase of almost 150% in lung cancer. If things continue along those lines and smoking is reduced by 95 or 99% we’ll be seeing MILLIONS of nonsmokers dying from lung cancer every year!

      Interesting, eh?

      – MJM, who doesn’t explain all that too often out on the boards, but DOES frequently cite the WHO 1998’s huge international study showing that children growing up in smoking homes got 22% *LESS* lung cancer later in life than a matched set of children growing up in nonsmoking homes. The figures/abstract/reference for that can be found at the bottom of:

    • Joe L. says:

      I honestly feel that that’s why the anti’s are CONSTANTLY quoting diminishing figures for smokers, down to 25%….down to 22%….down to 20%.

      I agree. We already know the majority of statistics provided by Tobacco Control are completely fabricated to further their agenda. I wouldn’t doubt they deliberately continue to decrease this number with the intent to brainwash smokers into believing we are part of an ever-increasing minority in hopes that we feel more isolated and ashamed of ourselves.

  2. Steven says:

    Frank the more people come out with rubbish the more entrenched I become with my views.I actually enjoy being regarded as a leper because I know I am right and they are wrong.There is nothing wrong being in a minority as I have always fought for the underdog in life.

  3. waltc says:

    I, too, was impressed with that article when Tony linked to it. And we all note how the amateur Aunts endlessly trot out the tired cliches–the pool peeing, no-safe-level etc,–certainly they’ve been convinced by slogans, fashion and Expertise as opposed to their own actual experience. As far as arguing the issue goes, I’ve never been silent, though I’ve rarely gained headway. After all, they’re mindlessly parroting The Experts, as well as what they comfortably believe is The Majority. Still, I engage.

    Where I’ve learned to fall silent is in the wider realm of politics. If I come upon a fb post by a Liberal, followed by a thread of his amen chorus, I’ve learned that no argument, no matter how factual or tactfully expressed, makes a dent in the high stone wall that surrounds their minds and is simply greeted with contemptuous cries of either Fascist or Moron. So I’ve learned to accept futility and just scroll on.

    An example comes to mind. A woman I’ve known forever is a die-hard Liberal. I once gave her a fact that countered her (widely-held Liberal) opinion. She refused to believe it. I googled the subject and sent her a link to a news item from the Wall St Journal. She dismissed it as a lie because the source was the Journal which she pretty much condemned as a “right wing rag.” So I sent her another article from the blatantly left wing Village Voice that also contained the fact. She dismissed it on the grounds that probably — she couldn’t say for sure– but probably the writer was a right wing mole. After that, I just never discussed politics with her. I’ll generalize to assume that one reason many people shut up is not out of fear of being unpopular or even outnumbered but because they know in advance that it’ll be a waste of their breath.

    • RdM says:

      Yeah. Probably wise. It took me a while to remember the term – I think I came across it via a post by Christopher Snowdon – the Backfire Effect.

      The human understanding when it has once adopted an opinion draws all things else to support and agree with it. And though there be a greater number and weight of instances to be found on the other side, yet these it either neglects and despises, or else-by some distinction sets aside and rejects, in order that by this great and pernicious predetermination the authority of its former conclusion may remain inviolate

      – Francis Bacon

      • RdM says:

        From the end of the Scientific American article link:

        If corrective facts only make matters worse, what can we do to convince people of the error of their beliefs? From my experience, 1. keep emotions out of the exchange, 2. discuss, don’t attack (no ad hominem and no ad Hitlerum), 3. listen carefully and try to articulate the other position accurately, 4. show respect, 5. acknowledge that you understand why someone might hold that opinion, and 6. try to show how changing facts does not necessarily mean changing worldviews.

        I’m not so sure about 6.
        I think that ‘changing facts’ (I assume meant by this weird phrase – as though real facts themselves can change – is perhaps a change of perceived or received ‘facts’) should probably lead to a changed world view… certainly mine has changed once I realised that certain ‘facts’ I’d taken as givens were later shown to be false, to my understanding.

        Or former beliefs realised as false, or mistaken, or misunderstandings, etc.

        • waltc says:

          Actually I think 6 can be valuable. Ie, you can still hate the smell of secondhand smoke and not want to be around it but just be aware that it’s not killing you.

        • RdM says:

          “Actually I think 6 can be valuable. Ie, you can still hate the smell of secondhand smoke and not want to be around it but just be aware that it’s not killing you.

          Good point;- thanks!

          (I was feeling a bit fuzzy at time of writing – ‘on the outside of a bottle of red’, as a fellow correspondent recently delightfully phrased it!)

          Substitute “hate” for a conditioned dislike, in some or many instances too.

          Yes, some – many – people have been propagandized to the point that they believe that even the merest smell of burning tobacco will cause them harm… as though the merest scent of a smell of a mammalian corpse, from a mouse upward, would give them cholera… to a virtually neurotic level.

          I think that this level of propaganda has done them harm, and society harm.
          And tobacco enthusiasts harm, with regard to their participation in society.

          I look forward to the day when Commissions of Inquiry are instigated against Tobacco Control in each government; the falsity of their claims, the perverted ‘science’, the corrupted sponsorship by ‘Big Pharma’ influences in government ‘health ministries’, let alone possible outside foreign affairs, other unfriendly state influences, and as a result, and not only through that – through gathering public outcry against all of the above but also the unfairness of the taxes as well as the paucity of the ‘science’ and claims, and the publishing and republishing of the benefits of tobacco, its history and arts, crafts, hundreds of years worth of skills and knowledge in perfecting its products, – that tobacco use and enjoyment, joy, becomes rehabilitated, renormalised, as if it ever wasn’t normal!

          Girding the loins…

  4. Vinny Gracchus says:

    Silence is Surrender. I comment on media fora as much as I can just to expose readers to dissent and show smokers they aren’t alone.

    Revising the Thai beach ban, there is a poll at the Phuket News: “Phuket Poll: How serious should the Patong Beach smoking ban be?”

    PHUKET: Officials from the Phuket office of the Department of Marine and Coastal Resources (DMCR) last Wednesday (Nov 1) began their public-awareness campaign to inform tourists and local residents that from the beginning of February any persons caught smoking on Patong Beach may face a fine of up to B100,000 – or even up to one year in jail – under environmental protection law.

    Interesting that the Thai antismokers are justifying the ban on cigarette butts but there is already a littering law in place…

    • nisakiman says:

      Thailand is an enthusiastic signatory to the FCTC, and have been for years, having introduced covered display units and medico-porn on packs more than a decade ago. As for this latest bout of insanity, I discussed it here and here.. It’s totally bonkers and makes no sense whatsoever – the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut – but then that’s what Tobacco Control do best, isn’t it? Commonsense isn’t part of their remit; the main thing as far as they’re concerned is to make smoker’s lives as difficult, miserable and expensive as possible.

    • waltc says:

      Is Phuket pronounced phonetically?

      • margo says:

        That’s how I’ve always pronounced it, Walt – it amuses me.

      • nisakiman says:

        The first time I was in Thailand at the beginning of the ’70s, I saw Phuket on the map, and said to myself “Wow, I have got to go to an island called Fukit”! It wasn’t far off my intended route, so visit I did. It’s a huge tourist resort(s) now, but when I was there that first time, I only saw one other foreigner in the whole time I was there..

        • nisakiman says:

          Oh, and the correct pronunciation is ‘Poo-ket’, with a soft ‘P’.

        • RdM says:

          Oh, and the correct pronunciation is ‘Poo-ket’, with a soft ‘P’.
          I’m not sure what a soft P means here, but surely the “h” was there for a reason.
          So can we assume it’s “Phooket”, not “Phucket”? Or is there some further subtlety?

        • nisakiman says:

          A soft ‘P’ is somewhere between a ‘P’ and an ‘F’, although more akin to a ‘P’. If you say a ‘P’ without completely sealing your lips, it softens it.

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