photos by Lara Shipley
Is nothing sacred?
// Dec 28, 2007 at 4:47 pm
As a proud anti-smoking nazi, I have found libertarian opposition to smoking bans slightly perplexing.
What exactly is this resistance supposed to achieve? The principled libertarian position is both sensible and reasonable. But I am not a libertarian and neither are most people (thus the popular support for the smoking ban ).
Most people are not smokers, they find smoking disgusting and extremely unpleasant. Speaking personally, I can recall numerous instances of burning eyes and lungs (and I am not even asthmatic) and stink that would not come out of my clothes. Its an experience that is common to most non-smokers. Thus once the smoking ban is instituted we will see a dramatic increase in the quality of our lives at the cost of inconveniencing some smokers.
So what does opposition to this ban achieve aside from further marginalizing libertarian positions? I am not attempting to troll here. I really am curious.
In terms of the political pragmatics, it doesn’t seem sensible to me from my admittedly non-libertarian perspective. There are numerous libertarian positions, while not currently politically popular , could eventually achieve something substantive (eg drug legalization, immigration, civil liberties, and eminent domain). But I don’t see how opposition to a smoking ban is worth while at all.
// Dec 28, 2007 at 5:02 pm
I think the main concern a libertarian has with smoking bans (disclaimer – I am libertarian-leaning) is that it takes away from individual freedom. In essence, we should be able to choose for ourselves where and when we smoke. And then non-smokers can express their disgust by not going places where others light up.
The problem is that it only takes one smoker to taint an entire place. I understand that city helath codes that ban smoking take away from individual liberty…however, and I know I am not being consistent here, I have little sympathy. Smoking is proven to cause cancer and other debilitating diseases/long-term health problems. They are manufactured specifically to cause addiction. They are banned from bars in Boston, and I could not be happier. I don’t think that this tactic is too restrictive. One can still smoke on one’s own proterty, in open public places, and in one’s car. The bars and restaurants are still full of people, and the number of packs of cigaretts sold in the city has gone down.
So, it looks like the encouragement of goverment has made people reevaluate their choice to smoke. Just as (in the previous post articulates well) there should not be a right to government benefits, there should not be an absolute right to ingest carcinogens that put those around you at risk.
Sorry, French Cafe’s, but you’ll have to satisfy yourselves with transfats and caffeinne instead.
// Dec 28, 2007 at 5:03 pm
I dunno, Joseph, maybe all those libertarians are being principled, sensible, and reasonable for its own sake.
Maybe they think cafe owners are welcome to prohibit smoking in their own joints if it’s really so popular, but they don’t want the government legislating an incredibly rich piece of the national culture (think Sartre) out of existence.
// Dec 28, 2007 at 7:16 pm
It’s hard to describe how maddening I find it to see positions that are fundamentally *liberal* — positions like “if you don’t like something about an establishment, go somewhere else instead of forcing them to accomodate you” — regarded as the unique province of an admittedly marginal ideology. Libertarians support free speech (where we find a similar notion: If you don’t like it, don’t read/listen, rather than denying that opportunity to everyone) but I hope that doesn’t make supporting free speech some kind of cracked out, narrowly libertarian idea.
Anyway, here’s a compromise proposal I’ve floated a few times, that never seems to generate much interest: Issue a limited number of smoking licenses, just like liquor licenses, for which bars or cafes can pay a fee. You guarantee a certain proportion of smoke-free places for people to work and drink, without depriving people who either want to smoke or don’t mind it of that option. And if people are as enamored of smoke-free environments as you suggest, the smoke-free places shouldn’t be at any serious economic disadvantage.
// Dec 28, 2007 at 7:19 pm
As an addendum: (1) Libertarians are, obviously, something of a minority: On very many issues, the majority thinks differently than we do. If we just shut up about every issue where many people disagreed with us, we wouldn’t be libertarians anymore. (2) Perhaps the very point is that we want to acknowledge that smoking (like lots of other lifestyle choices) is distasteful to many people, and try to keep alive the notion that perhaps “what you personally find distasteful,” even if you happen to be in the majority, is not a good guide to what should be prohibited.
// Dec 28, 2007 at 7:24 pm
Boston Satyr writes:maybe all those libertarians are being principled, sensible, and reasonable for its own sake. You have explained to me why as a matter of principle a libertarian would oppose this, which I already knew and understood. Indeed as a matter of principle no libertarian should be in favor of smoking bans. And if it was merely a question of principle then I’d have no question.
But you have failed to explain to me the political upside of doing so. Politically speaking, opposition to a smoking ban marginalizes the libertarian position. In terms of politics and power, what positive effect for libertarians does libertarian opposition to a smoking ban give? Why support something that will weaken your position?
Not that I am objecting mind you. I strongly disagree with libertarianism on most ideological and political grounds. But I find many libertarians to be smart, wily opponents, and few of them seem to adhere to the “die on the sword in the name of principle” dynamic.
but they don’t want the government legislating an incredibly rich piece of the national culture (think Sartre) out of existence.
I am not sure what to make of this exactly. There’s all sorts of traditional and cultural aspects to our society that we do away with on a regular basis and to some extent I am sure its killed rich pieces of our national culture. Cultural preservation is a fine principle but its not a deal killer–meaning if you think in this specific situation that a cultural anachronism should be saved at the expense of some future social good or gain then make that argument.
As for me, if its between Sartre and burning lungs and stinking clothes vs breathing comfortably I say chuck sartre. But then I am an uncultured barbarian.
// Dec 28, 2007 at 7:40 pm
I agree with Julian here, and I’d support the licensing compromise, but there is a distinction to be drawn between speech and smoke. The former, of course, has tremendously fewer immediate negative externalities associated with it, and far fewer positives in its favor.
Are the externalities enough to justify a ban? Probably not. But we should keep some perspective on where the ban lies on the spectrum of libertarian insults.
// Dec 28, 2007 at 7:41 pm
Sorry, Julian. Reading your post more slowly this time it’s fairly clear that’s now what you were after. Apologies!
// Dec 28, 2007 at 9:20 pm
It’s hard to describe how maddening I find it to see positions that are fundamentally *liberal*… regarded as the unique province of an admittedly marginal ideology… Libertarians support free …but I hope that doesn’t make supporting free speech some kind of cracked out, narrowly libertarian idea.
The reason, as far as I can tell, that some liberal positions are regarded as the unique province of libertarianism is because those positions are the unique province of libertarianism. Are you arguing differently? For example, in the smoking ban case, are there mainstream ideological groups who oppose smoking bans? Furthermore, are there mainstream ideological groups who oppose smoking bans for liberal reasons?
This is unfortunately true about free speech as well. American politicians and the electorate consider free speech as a cracked out, narrow idea (this is not a position I subscribe too by the way, I would be in the cracked out, narrow idea camp myself). Most people do not even know what the first amendment is, and when they have done polls on whether people would support the bill of rights in many cases a plurality have voted against it (I can’t find the polls, you’ll have to take my word for it). One of the inherent paradoxes in a liberal democracy is the fact that democracy has very strong illiberal tendencies.
Libertarians are, obviously, something of a minority: On very many issues, the majority thinks differently than we do. If we just shut up about every issue where many people disagreed with us, we wouldn’t be libertarians anymore.
I agree that if you shut up about every issue where people disagree with you, you wouldn’t be libertarians. But my question is why argue about this particular issue? Are you arguing that libertarians should have a drop down drag out fight about every issue that violates their liberal principles? Resources being finite, I got the impression that the libertarian movement picked its battles strategically—meaning you don’t put a dog in every fight that you could.
(2) Perhaps the very point is that we want to acknowledge that smoking (like lots of other lifestyle choices) is distasteful to many people, and try to keep alive the notion that perhaps “what you personally find distasteful,” even if you happen to be in the majority, is not a good guide to what should be prohibited.
But libertarians can make that point concerning numerous issues, and have quite persuasively on many occasions. The trick is to pick issues that illustrate the benefits to people of following your principles. If the negative externalities outweigh the gains to people, then that is going to severely undermine any persuasive libertarian appeal.
For example, as a gay rights activist, I am strongly in favor of 1) allowing legally consenting adults to marry whoever they want, regardless of gender or sex and 2) allowing people to enter into multiple marriages.
Of those two positions, position (2) would be an albatross around my neck. Polygamy is one of the favorite slippery slope arguments traditional conservatives use when opposing gay marriage (though that isn’t what I am advocating that’s how it would be perceived). Position (2) is also extremely unpopular and weirds people out. If I were to attach support for position (1) with position (2) I would severely undermine my chances to achieve position (1).
That’s what I am talking about when I reference political pragmatics.
// Dec 28, 2007 at 11:36 pm
I agree, Joseph, that not every single issue one disagrees with should be pursued. Another example I can think of is the lawsuit a feminist professor has filed against Iowa State. It regards their football stadium’s opposing team locker room (the coach directed it be painted pink to miff the other team). The self-professed feminst professor claims women are being stigmatized by this, etc.
And I disagree with Mr. Sanchez’s characterization of the sentiment behind public smoking bans as distaste. (“what you personally find distasteful”). More like disasterous.
Smoking bans, to me at least, are like FDA bans of DDT. They cause health maladies to smokers and non-smokers alike. But as with DDT, the ill-effects of cigarettes are far removed from the actual act of smoking (no matter our certainty that they are the cause). So the market forces that should kick in to influence people’s decisions are distorted because the drawbacks are severely delayed and not a part of the equation.
// Dec 29, 2007 at 12:39 pm
Look, health is always the fig leaf put on these things, but it’s crystal clear that the average bargoer supports smoking bans because they keep his dry cleaning bill down, not because of profound concerns about the long-term aggregate effects of exposure to secondhand smoke.
// Dec 29, 2007 at 2:22 pm
Joseph, I think you might be confused about the business Julian is in. He is not, last time I checked, an executive of the Libertarian party, a spokesman for the Ron Paul campaign, writing on behalf of the Club for Growth, etc. He’s a journalist and pundit, whose job it is to have interesting and well-informed positions on the issues of the day. He has no particular reason to worry whether his words will increase or decrease support for a libertarian political coalition, because he’s not leading any such coalition, and as far as I know is not planning to do so.
I can’t speak for Julian, but personally the reason I write about smoking bans is because they piss me off. And the reason they piss me off is that it’s an issue that, for me, goes to the heart of what a free society is all about: allowing people the freedom to make choices their fellow citizens find distasteful, even if doing those things can have a detrimental effect on one’s own health. This applies to the choice to smoke. It also applies to the choice to work in a smoky environment. (and don’t give me this nonsense about workers having no choice. There are thousands of entry-level, smoke-free workplaces out there)
Smoking bans are a naked case of the majority imposing its will on a relatively powerless minority, justified by the flimsiest of pseudo-scientific rationales. That pisses me off, and I have the luxury of blogging about things that piss me off without worrying about whether my positions are “currently politically popular.”
// Dec 29, 2007 at 8:45 pm
Pseudo-science? Oh please. You cannot dismiss the opinions of the American Medial Association, the Surgeon General, and every other credible medical association in the world.
Dismissing a scientific consensus because you do not like it makes you no better than those yahoos down in Kentucky that run that Creationist Museum with cavemen riding on the backs of dinosaurs.
You also glossed over my point about the serious consequences of contact with smoking/second hand smoke being seriously delayed, and therefore not taken into account by many people when they make choices of places to
And Mr. Sanchez, two of my great aunts currently have holes in their necks and talk through controlled belching because their (deceased) husbands smoked like chimneys for decades. I can assure you my motivation for supporting smoking bans is not because I don’t want to make an extra trip to the drycleaners every month.
// Dec 30, 2007 at 3:37 am
Oh shit, BostonSatyr just played the indignant tracheotomy card! No fighting that!
// Dec 30, 2007 at 10:58 am
This would be a very interesting argument if you were in fact a nonsmoker.
// Dec 30, 2007 at 11:38 am
I want to note that I wasn’t specifically addressing Julian’s position as such. You are right that as a libertarian polemicist he doesn’t have the same kinds of obligations and objectivies that a leader of the libertarian movement was. But I wasn’t attempting to address Julian as a leader, I was addressing him as a spokesman. I thought that Julian could give me insight into why the libertarian movement is behaving as it does.
Now I agree with Julian and Tim, the evidence that second hand smoke is a health risk is flimsy. I also agree with Julian and Tim that the reason people want to ban smoking arises from the fact that people find smoking gross and stinky, not because they fear for their health. But Julian would you not agree that another reason peopl support the smoking ban is because second hand smoke is physically painful. When I am at a bar with smokers, I have trouble breathing, I get head aches, and my eyes and lungs burn.
However, I find the argument that people getting intoxicated are worried about their health to be laughable. Alcohol is just as bad if not worse to your health than smoking is, especially when you account for its societal affects. And I am highly skeptical of any faux concern for the waiters, waitresses, and bar tenders. In my experience, most bar goes don’t give a rat’s ass about those people.
So I think its intellectually dishonest to bill the smoking ban as a public health concern, even though I know why people have, and unnecessary. I support the smoking ban because smoking negatively impacts my quality of life.
I understand the libertarian reasoning against a smoking ban. But I reason that restricting someones freedom to smoke isn’t that big of a deal, that it is more inconvenience than hardship. There’s a difference between suspending heabeaus corpus and forcing people to smoke outside in the cold, meaning, that to me at least, to improve people’s lives its sometimes okay to restrict freedom. I suppose that proves that I am a paternalistic authoritarian of some sort, and I am okay with that too. 🙂
// Dec 30, 2007 at 5:50 pm
Joseph, hang around libertarian blogs a little longer and you’ll see that there exists quite a bit of disagreement about the best strategy to advance the cause with non libertarians. Many would agree with everything you’ve said here.
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