Wednesday, August 23, 2006

More Social Nazis

The timing is amazing. Hard on the heels of yesterday's post about otherwise nice people who insist that you must do things that are good for you, comes an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle opposing the currently fashionable persecution of smokers, and I'm amazed to find I agree with it.

Let's get the disclaimers out of the way. I don't smoke; hell, I'm an asthmatic. I've smoked I think 7 cigarettes in my life, when I was in grad school, to see if I liked it. I didn't; you wake up in the morning and your mouth tastes like an ash tray. They say that kissing a smoker is like licking an ash try (
I was married to one, and it's not quite that bad, but you do notice it); try waking up with that in your own mouth. So I never contracted the habit, which is fortunate because if I had, I probably couldn't breathe at all now.

But this hounding of smokers by constantly reducing the list of places where they're allowed to indulge their habit is getting into the category of the people who yell publicly at pregant women drinking wine (see yesterday's post). The official justification for segregating smokers is that secondhand smoke gives non-smokers lung cancer. OK, that may even be true; but the guy with the Camel in his mouth is at much higher risk. Also, the nicotine habit is the hardest addiction to break - worse than heroin. But as long as they stay in their corners and don't breathe the smoke at other people, how is their nasty habit anybody else's business? Enough already.

This comes back down to civility, a topic I've ranted about before. If I have a nasty habit of some sort, which I manage so that it doesn't harm or threaten other people, then it is nobody else's business. If I'm fat, that's my business. If I drink too much, as long as I don't drive, that's my business. Ditto with the smoking: as long as they control where they light up, it is nobody else's business. But the category of people I call "social Nazis" (yes, I realize I'm echoing Rush Limbaugh, with whom I disagree on almost every point) feel that they, through their superior moral characterstics caused by their possession of The Only Truth, have the right to chastise other people publicly for indulging in habits that injure only the habituee.

But the pregnant lady with the wine, they cry: she's harming her baby. Well, maybe she is: but there was a whole generation of people born in the Roaring Twenties, when everybody drank socially all the time, and that's the generation that won World War II. It's probably better if she doesn't drink, but you don't see fetal alcohol syndrome in the child of a woman who has an occasional glass of wine with dinner. You see it in the children of women who drink their dinner, and breakfast and lunch too. Besides which, it's her baby. It's not the critics' baby. And, getting back to the smokers: as long as I don't have to inhale their smoke, if they want the habit, that's their problem.

The critics really just want somebody to look down on, so they can feel morally superior, safe in their possession of The Truth, which gives them the right to criticize, because they are Right. Try criticizing something they do and see how they like it.


  1. Anonymous2:59 PM


    Can't comment objectively because of the intensity of my allergy to cigarette smoke. It was a hell of a problem before the limitations on where people can smoke, and a real social barrier when I was a teenager in the 50s. As a student teacher in NJ, I had the intriguing experience of being unable to handle the smoke in the classroom in which the school was holding a faculty meeting. I was told by one of the teachers that I would just have to get used to it. Maybe it was one of the factors in my decision not to accept the offer of a teaching position at that school, an offer which resulted from my coordinating teacher's enthusiasm for how well my student teaching experience went (her previous student teacher had been a disaster, so ok might well have seemed wonderful to her at that point).

    I guess, as usual, it becomes a question of who gets to impose what on whom at any given moment. If I have to choose between now and 1966 on this issue, much as in general I prefer 1966, I would have to go with now. Pity we as a society apparently lack the ability to be reasonable with or considerate of one another. Of course, reason-driven is apparently a pejorative at the moment, rather like liberal.

    Anonymous David

  2. I have to admit, David, that I'm in two minds about the whole thing too. I don't, for instance, want smokers exercising whatever rights they may have left, anywhere upwind of me. To the point that I'll move if necessary. (On the other hand, I don't rant at them and publicly exhort them to quit smoking.) I, too, quit going to a lot of public places (bars, restaurants that didn't have decent non-smoking sections) back in the '70s and '80s before the rules changed, simply because I couldn't stand the smoke.

    But my aversion to people who tell other people what to do, and my reluctance to dictate behavior to others myself, comes from a deep dislike of having people tell me what to do. I react to that with the attitude, "Who died and made you God?" I try not to tell others what they should do, as a basis for ignoring them when they tell me what they think I ought to do.

  3. Anonymous5:03 PM

    What is the old saying? Your right to swing your fist ends just before you hit my face? It is hard when someone has a habit that affects everyone around you. I don't smoke myself, but I remember when my parents did. I even remember a batch of cookies we got from an older lady who smoked where you could taste the ash.

    Anyway, I agree with you about the public preaching about bad habits. We all have the right to make our choices, just like we all have the obligation to live with the concequences. Smokers will suffer enough for their habit.

    Who gets to tell who what to do? We usually side with the majority while trying to make allowances for the minority. I don't think we need to make the minority feel bad about being a moniority.

  4. Anonymous7:20 AM

    I'm with you on not doing the holier-than-thou preaching thing, which doesn't work anyway. Live and let live, to the extent that we can figure out how, is a pretty good baseline.

    Anonymous David

  5. Someone commented on FA recently that the Golden Rule (do unto others as ye would that they should do unto you) is common, in one form or another, to all the major religions. One is tempted to say, "Except Christianity", because of the number of Christians who never seem to read the New Testament.

    Does it seem odd to anyone else that when Katharine Harris rants about electing Christians to office, lest we legislate sin, the only sins she mentions are sexual? What about theft? What about dishonesty? What about "thou shalt not kill"? Does she really only care about sexual peccadillos?

  6. Anonymous10:18 PM

    Being a Floridian and having followed Ms. Harris's career closely for the past 6 years, and knowing a little bit about the family from which she comes (Florida Field now carries her father's name), I'll be damned if I can actually figure her out. I think she might have become a Republican when she went off to college in the northeast as a form of rebellion, or else initially because there were so many racists still embedded in the Florida Democratic Party (though the Democratic governors we elected, starting with Leroy Collins, were definitely not, and ironically the racist Democrats became Republicans). I don't know what in her personal story accounts for how utterly screwed up she is. She obviously did not realize that once the Republican machine had used her rather like a high dollar call girl, she was supposed to be happy with the congressional seat they created for her.

    The question of what she considers significant sin reminds me of the Anita Bryant saga. She's after the Baptist vote, which is formidable in Florida, though not like Texas. Mostly I'm just glad she's embarrassing the Republican machine as she embarrasses herself. I'm sad for her on a personal level, but she's got her agony coming. Just wish she'd take the whole gd Republican machine down with her. She is actually a cut above most of those bastards, including Mel Martinez.

    Anonymous David

  7. Anonymous David, interesting take on Katherine Harris.

  8. Anonymous4:29 PM

    It rather makes me wonder when folks harp and harp on sexual "sin." Do they have nothing else going on in their lives except preaching against what some other folk do in private? Were they scared by the Karma Sutra in infancy? Or, are they just jealous to think that somewhere, there may possibly be be people enjoying themselves with an activity the ranter hasn't had an opportunity to try?

    Okay, I'm against preversion against the unwilling: pedophiles, rapists and the like, but I don't understand the "reform others" movement. In fact, with all the good Christian souls hauled up in court for embezzlement and other forms of cooking the books, I've formed a theory. When folks rant about other's personal habits, ones that should stay personal, I begin to think the ranter is a closet whatever.

    Rant against bread, and I'll think you love the stuff. Just imagaine what I think about Anita Bryant.