How Did They Manage It?

The morning’s thought today was: How on earth did they manage to get smoking banned in almost every country in the world in the space of barely 10 years?

It’s an extraordinary achievement.

I think that even North Korea has a smoking ban, although it doesn’t seem to apply to Rocket Man himself.

And all done without there being a single global government. I think there are still something like 200 separate nations in the world.

But it seems it doesn’t matter when it comes to things like smoking bans. They go through national borders like they don’t exist.

So how the hell did they manage to do it?

I think that the answer is that there’s pretty much a single global scientific consensus on any scientific question you may care to ask. American rocket scientists don’t think at all  differently from Russian or Chinese or North Korean rocket scientists. They might all have political disagreements, but they don’t have scientific ones. Or at least not really any major ones.

Science is already globalised in the way that political society has yet to become fully globalised. There’s a global scientific consensus on everything scientific.

And medical science is part of that global scientific consensus. There’s a consensus of medical opinion just like there’s a consensus of rocket science opinion. And that means that when the scientific consensus changes, it changes everywhere, all over the world, more or less simultaneously.

I can’t remember what the old geological explanations used to be, but sometime around 1960 or 1970 the geological explanation of the world became something called Plate Tectonics. The world was suddenly decided to be made up of plates that were bumping and grinding together, and all of the volcanic events around the world were taking place along the fault lines between plates. And so whatever used to be taught stopped being taught, and everyone everywhere started being taught Plate Tectonics.

And much the same happened in about 1950 when it was discovered that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer. And again, in about 1990, when it was discovered that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming. In both cases the scientific consensus flipped from one view to another, almost overnight. Anyone who disagreed was called a Denier, or even a Flat Earther.

How is this scientific consensus achieved? There doesn’t seem to be any means by which it is achieved. Scientists don’t seem to ever vote among themselves to elect a current consensus orthodoxy. It seems that there is instead a mood within any scientific discipline that favours one view more than another. Do all doctors believe that Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, and do all climate scientists believe that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming? Probably not.

Perhaps the consensus is actually always a fiction which is created by the mainstream media which reports on scientific developments. Perhaps it’s the media who determine what’s in and what’s out, just like they do with hemlines or hairstyles.

Fictional or not, the consensus opinion is that of the respective scientists in the various different fields. The opinions of ordinary people are irrelevant, because ordinary people know nothing about epidemiology or climate science or geology. Ordinary people are simply there to be told what the current consensus view is. For the most part they have no means of answering arguments that are often so highly mathematical that hardly anybody – apart from a few Experts – knows how to argue. In such circumstances, ordinary people are reduced to silence.

And so the consensus opinion on more or less anything is being formed among a very few people – all experts in their fields -, and it’s these people who create the consensus. There were probably only half a dozen senior geologists who decided, back in the 1960s or 70s, that Plate Tectonics was a much better explanation than the previous one. And their considered opinion became the new conventional wisdom almost overnight, firstly in the geological community, and then in public opinion all over the world. All of a sudden EVERYBODY believed in Plate Tectonics, including the bartender behind the saloon bar, and the taxi driver taking you to your next Tobacco Control conference.

Opinion changes almost overnight. One day everybody thinks one thing, with almost perfect certainty. The next day they think something else, with almost equally perfect certainty.

It doesn’t really matter who’s in government, or what country you live in, you keep waking up finding that everybody has stopped believing what they believed yesterday, and now believe something completely different today. And if you’re a “progressive”, you’ll congratulate yourself for the speed with which you changed your mind.

The Council of Nicaea under the emperor Constantine in 325 AD was called to settle questions about the triune nature of God, to write the Nicene Creed, and to establish the date of Easter. The fifth Solvay Conference, that was held in Copenhagen in 1927, discussed electrons and photons and the newly formulated quantum theory. That is to say that the 325 Council of Nicaea and the 1927 Copenhagen conference were not essentially very different in character: both discussed currently pressing but highly abstract ideas which nobody else could understand. And both conferences were equally definitive in their separate ways not just of the scientific opinion of the time, but of public opinion in general. Nothing has really changed in seventeen centuries.

And there are lots and lots of conferences being held everywhere these days. Some of them are closed to the public, like the Tobacco Control conference held in Moscow in 2014. And they all serve in small ways to shape educated (i.e. regimented) public opinion.

And this forms a sort of government of the like-minded, everywhere in the world. Yesterday they banned smoking. Then they banned carbon dioxide. And next they’ll ban cocktail sausages. And almost everybody will agree that it’s The Right Thing To Do. And the Debate Will Always Be Over before it’s even started. Because the debate only took place between a handful of geologists one afternoon in 1960.

And the more globalised any idea becomes, the more uniform public opinion becomes, and the harder it becomes to dissent from it. While there are two or three or more sides to any discussion, there is room for manoeuvre along the dimensions of the debate. When there is only one opinion, there is no room for manoeuvre, no place for dissent. Nobody wants to be a cocktail sausage denier.

And of course a uniformity of public opinion can also be manufactured simply by excluding all dissenters, refusing to allow them to speak. They are all drowned out. Like Arius in 325, or Albert Einstein in 1927.

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8 Responses to How Did They Manage It?

  1. Roobeedoo2 says:

    ‘Nobody wants to be a cocktail sausage denier.’

    LOL, Frank :D That’s on par with “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition”. I can see it on a tee-shirt one day.

  2. Peter Carter says:

    Surely there’s just a ‘progressive’ way of thinking that very nice people want to (believe they) subscribe to. The actual science is merely the seed and isn’t meant to be examined too carefully (which would make a person a crank). I’m not even sure that the plate tectonics theory didn’t appeal to ‘progressives’ because it provides a ‘we are all one world’ narrative.

  3. Furtive Ferret says:

    I think that there is more global government than most people believe.

    Loans come with the strings of the backer attached.

    Want to expand some part of a government provided service and don’t have the current or future tax revenue to fund it?

    A bung from the world bank which has close links to the UN and possibly therefore the WHO might come with the condition that the recipient implement an national ban on smoking of some kind.

    • smokingscot says:

      @ FF

      Humble apologies, wrote my post using the tablet – and that’s got a mind all of its own.

      Anyway the whole thing’s a reply to yourself, in support of your ability to join up the dots.

      • nisakiman says:

        I think the threat has always been implicit that if a country doesn’t sign up to the FCTC, then they might find the World Bank less than helpful if they need it. The World Bank and the WHO are two sides of the same coin, and they’ve been in cahoots from the get-go. And what better way to ‘encourage’ compliance than the suggestion that borrowing may be a bit tricky if they don’t sign?

  4. smokingscot says:

    Nail meet head. You are indeed perfectly correct.

    The President of the World Bank is a chap called Jim Yong Kim, and he only has a medical background. Should you be inclined to do so, his CV consists of numerous initiatives with the establishment of this, that and the next sub system to handle a niche medical issue.

    Plus networks. These are important, in fact they’re crucial. All linked and mutually supportive whilst appearing to your average stiff in the street to be stand alone. Oh and doing such good work and underfunded.

    So our politically correct first generation immigrant who done good (who knows sweet sod all about finance) gets appointed in 2012. And what y know the FCTC COP happened to be held in Seoul at the end of 2012. Just a jolly fine coincidence, or was that the carrot to get another South Korean into a top job?

    Oh, did I by any chance forget to mention the chap at the top of the UN in 2012 was a nice wee chappy called Ban Ki Moon? Or that he’s Korean?

    I’d say that peninsula seems to punch well above its weight in the geopolitical sphere, but I shan’t bore you with facile observations. In this hugely ratified atmosphere of global entities it’s all about meritocracy, perhaps not the stuff you associate with business, rather it’s about how you’ll fit in with global politics. So that’s why Ban Ki was replaced last year by a lard arsed Portuguese chappy who just loves global migration. I shan’t insult you with the one at the top of the WHO. Out goes a Hong Kong Chinese (that’s what her passport says, though she thinks the Hong Kong bit’s only any use for visas). In comes an Ethiopian who thought Robbie Mugabe was the dogs dangles!

    Anyway I digress – as is usual with me. So back to Jim Kim. He got confirmed for a further 5 year term in the World Bank last July and BINGO there’s a closed door meeting with Bloomberg in October to discuss tobacco taxes.

    Now far be it for me to speculate as to what was said when corrupt to the core boss of meets mega rich fruitcake, but I’d be inclined to think one offered pots of money, plus a couple of personnel changes to fund up a sub department that’ll be all about tobacco control.

    Networking. Intertwined. Mutually supportive. And a right bugger to weed out.

  5. Fredrik Eich says:

    I think there are three reasons why the anti-smoking narrative has been so successful.

    1) The need of the nuclear powers to distract public attention away from any possible cancer risks
    associated with atomic weapons testing meant that money was poured into public health campaigns intended to convince the public that there is a link between smoking and lung cancer and not atomic weapons testing and lung cancer. In the 40’s and 50’s both the US and UK governments were warned that atomic weapons testing could cause lung cancer and I would guess that they would have been concerned that regardless of whether the risk was real or not , it would be a good idea to have a distraction as an insurance policy. This was the start of it all IMO.

    2) The tobacco companies hid behind ‘volenti non fit injuria’ and as consequence did not deny that smoking causes lung cancer. This I think meant that the anti-smoking lobby (whoever they are) could publish any old rubbish and know that it would not be denied by the one interested party that might have the funds to take on the full power of the state.

    3) The anti-smoking lobby is a collection of states. It was never really a grass roots movement post WWII. It started off with the UK and the US states and their need to distract attention away from any link between lung cancer and weapons testing. Both started pumping money into the smoking causes lung cancer campaign at the same time and I don’t think it a coincidence that it happened when both nations were already conducting or about to conduct atmospheric testing.

    I no longer think of the anti smoking lobby being ASH or other similar groups, I think the anti-smoking lobby is government.

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