The world seems to be full of people who know what’s good for everybody else.
Tobacco Control is just one example of it. The people in Tobacco Control all share the belief that Smoking Kills, and that stopping smoking is something that everybody else should do. But they’ve gone a step further than that, because they’ve now decided that stopping smoking is what everybody else must do. They’ve decided that the whole world must stop smoking, and they make laws – smoking bans – to force people to stop smoking. They have no compunction whatsoever about forcing people to stop smoking, and they have no compunction because they think they know better than them what’s good for them.
But I think that the only person who knows what’s good for me is… me. And I’m the only person who knows because I’m the person who is living my life, experiencing everything that I experience, and making judgments about what is and isn’t the best thing to do. Even crossing a road is a matter of judgment: Is there a car coming? Might there be a car coming so fast that I can’t judge its speed? Is that distant red dot a very fast car, or is it a telephone box? I’m making these sorts of judgment calls all day every day. Everything I do is carefully considered. Even boiling a kettle to make some tea. Watch out! That boiling water could scald you!
And in my considered opinion, smoking is harmless pastime. So is drinking. And eating. And watching TV. And reading books. Most things are pretty harmless. So when someone tells me that I should stop smoking for the sake of my health, my response is that I don’t think I’m harming my health by smoking. I’ve never personally felt it did any harm. And I’ve never seen smoking harm anyone else. They say that Smoking Kills, but I’ve never seen it kill anyone. What evidence have they got for it? There’s hardly any evidence at all for it. Or it’ll be some sort of statistical mumbo-jumbo. They’ve been playing with numbers. Well, I can play with numbers too. And I don’t get the same answers you do, buddy.
Also I’m never certain about anything. Everything I think I know is provisional. It’s just my best guess. For the past couple of years I’ve been piecing together a theory about how ice ages work. How certain am I that it’s a good idea, or the right idea? The answer is that I’m not certain at all. I just think my idea is quite a good idea. And I suppose I’ve also become a bit more convinced about it since I built a heat flow model of snow and ice and sunshine and rocks, and it behaved pretty much like I thought it would. It helps to build models of things.
But I’d never expect that everyone else should think the same way that I do. I’d never want to make any idea or belief of mine into a law, and say: This is how you must think. I’d never say: I know better than you do what’s right and wrong. I could never say: I know what’s good for you. I might suggest things to you. I might argue my case. But I’d leave it up to you to decide whether you think I’m right or wrong.
But the bullying bastards in Tobacco Control really do think that they know what’s true and false, what’s right and wrong, and what’s good for everybody else. They have no compunction whatsoever about making laws to force other people to do what they’ve decided must be done.
Where do they find their certainty? Why are they so absolutely certain that they know what’s what, when people like me are never certain about anything?
I think the answer is that their certainty is everybody else’s certainty. They feel certain because everyone else thinks the same way that they do. They agree with everyone, and everyone agrees with them. So they think they’re part of a club of right-minded people. And the bigger the club is, the more certain they feel about what they believe.
The people in Tobacco Control are engaged in groupthink. They really only think the way they do because the group of people with whom they associate think the same way, and it serves to re-enforce their conviction that they’re right. It’s why they have to hold conferences where they all meet up and re-assert their groupthink to each other, in a sort of Credo In Unum Deum (or in the case of Tobacco Control, Credo In Unum Malum), which they all recite out loud in unison together.
Groupthink is very common. In fact, groupthink is the norm, everywhere, all the time. When two armies go to war, it’s one example of groupthink up against another example of groupthink. After all, both sides think they’re right. And furthermore they’re surrounded by a whole army of people who agree with them.
So of course Tobacco Control isn’t the only case of groupthink around. Global warming/climate change alarmism is another example of groupthink. Do any of the alarmists actually know anything more about the climate than anybody else? Of course they don’t. They don’t know a damn thing about it. But they do know what all their friends think, and if their friends are getting worried about climate change, then they’ll start getting worried too. That’s how groupthink works.
It’s out of groupthink that all the monstrous certainties of the world are born. That Smoking Causes Lung Cancer, that Carbon Dioxide Causes Global Warming, and so on. These kind of ideas are not sustained by reason, but by being shared by lots of other people. It doesn’t really matter how mad any idea might be: if enough people believe it, they’ll be utterly convinced of it.
It’s also why groupthinkers can’t stand anyone disagreeing with them. Since they only gain strength of conviction from the number of people who agree with them, any disagreement is intolerable. The only thing they want to do with anyone who disagrees with them is to shut them up, stop them speaking.
But, in the end, the fate of all groupthink is likely to be that, instead of the group of like-minded people growing in numbers, it starts to dwindle. And as it dwindles, the group becomes less and less certain rather than more and more certain. For the strength of their convictions entirely depended on how many other people believed what they believed. And when nobody else believes something, neither will they.