For the past week or so I’ve been getting more and more steamed up about NYC councillor Peter Koo’s proposal to ban smoking while walking on New York’s streets.
It’s seems to me to check every box in the list of the characteristics of bad laws.
It’s got me thinking seriously of throwing the whole weight of my blog behind an attempt to stop this dreadful proposal ever becoming law.
But during the same week other worrisome developments have been reported, that might well have had the same effect on me, but didn’t. For example, the FDA’s plans to slash the nicotine content of cigarettes – about which I’ve said nothing.
Why my burning interest in one, but not the other?
And I suppose my lack of interest in the FDA’s nicotine plan simply reflects my lack of interest in chemistry. I’m not a ‘chemical’ thinker. In my school days, I was pretty good at maths and physics, but never really any good at all at chemistry. And I think that was because all chemical compounds had really complicated names like potassium permanganate or sodium hydroxide, and chemical equations between these compounds would produce a new set of compounds with equally exotic names. And you just had to remember that potassium permanganate and sodium hydroxide produced lead oxide and ferrous chloride, or whatever. It made no sense in the way that mathematical or physical equations made sense. Twenty years later I came across something called Physical Chemistry which explained chemical bonds and reactions in physical terms, and I remember thinking that if I’d been taught chemistry that way, I might have actually understood it. But I wasn’t, and I didn’t.
Someone I knew once said, “We’re all just chemical processes anyway.” And lots of people seem to think that way, and are always adding supplementary chemical compounds to their diets. But I never bother. Because I don’t think I’m a chemical process: I think I’m a physical process. I thinking I’m a physical object with a height and weight and temperature and walking speed, powered by the energy stored in the food I eat.
And in respect of nicotine in tobacco, I never think about it. I never think that smoking cigarettes is giving me a “nicotine fix.” I don’t see that nicotine is the only active ingredient of tobacco smoke. I’m with the late Lauren Colby who wrote: “The active ingredient of tobacco smoke… is smoke.”
I’m not even very sure about the idea of an “active ingredient” in anything. If you’re listening to a symphony, with violins and flutes and clarinets and all the rest of them, is it possible to pick one instrument, and say that’s the “active ingredient” in the music that makes it good to hear? I don’t think it is.
Anyway, I’m not a ‘chemical’ thinker. Just like listening to Jordan Peterson a few weeks or months back reminded me that I’m not a ‘psychological’ thinker. I don’t employ psychological language. I simply don’t understand, for example, what words like “neurotic” or “psychotic” or “psychopathic” mean.
All my ideas are physical ideas. Or rather mathematical-physical ideas. My latest Dress Theory of Ice Ages is a very simple physical idea that derives from my time, 40 years ago, as a university research assistant constructing electronic analogue models of heat flow in buildings. Idle Theory is also a mathematical-physical idea which dates from the same era. The Orbital Siphon that is the subject of the only ‘scientific’ paper I’ve ever written is another mathematical-physical idea. Because those are the kind of ideas that make sense to me, and seem to have an internal logic to them that other ideas don’t.
And I’m not a ‘rights’ thinker either. I was listening to Doug Hagmann yesterday talking about his “God-given right to bear arms,” and while I knew what he was talking about, I would not myself have invoked either a) God, or b) Rights, in defence of bearing arms. Because if the US Bill of Rights asserts (as I believe it does) a “Right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” then I for one do not think that I have a right to any of those things. I’m going to die fairly soon, so how can I claim any right to life? And I’m inclined to think that the world is too full of people who think they have a right to any number of things that I don’t think they have any right to at all. And so I’m inclined to turn the argument from rights on its head and say: You have No Rights. You have No Right to confiscate my gun. You have No Right to ban smoking. You have No Right to remove nicotine from tobacco. You have No Right to reduce the salt and sugar and alcohol and fat content in my food and drink.
The supreme arrogance of Peter Koo is that he thinks he has a perfect right to take away the freedom of New Yorkers to smoke cigarettes while they’re strolling or walking along its streets. Maybe he thinks he has that right because he was elected as a councillor in NYC council, and that’s made him into a little god among all the other 50 little gods in NYC’s council. And I don’t think he has any such right.
And with that I come full circle back to the issue that I’ve become rather fixated on over that past week.