Book reviews, art, gaming, Objectivism and thoughts on other topics as they occur.

Mar 19, 2006

Smoking Ban

I am disheartened to see news like this being trumpeted as some kind of victory; men should be ashamed to speak in such a fashion to other men. Columbus (Ohio) is also smoke-free, and Centerville (Ohio again, I live in Ohio) has made it illegal to have smoking areas in public gathering places like restaurants.

I don't understand it; I don't understand how anyone could want such a thing. Let me be clear: I hate smoking. I hate the smell of it, I hate how it makes me cough and gag when I breathe it, and I dislike the people that think they are entitled to smoking breaks when I'm not allowed to go to the bathroom before lunch. I think it's a filthy habit. But I will defend anyone's right to it, and smokers own public places just as much as nonsmokers do; everyone is taxed to provide for them.

I don't like strong cologne or people that don't bathe often enough, either. There's no law against being filthy or smelly, nor should there be. A law like this one in Calabasas (or Columbus, or Centerville) is an offense against decency and against people's rights that should not be tolerated.

Nonsmokers are not held prisoner by smokers and forced to endure their fumes. If we have some reason not to leave, that is our business and we must take responsibility for it. Why, then, is it just that smokers should be turned into prisoners by nonsmokers?

As Heinlein said, the world divides politically into those who wish people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. Those who fear other men as wild beasts, and those who respect them as rational animals. I will warn you, if you find yourself in the first camp, that your fear of your fellows is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Treat them as beasts, and so they shall become. So will you.

I, as a rational animal, will condemn you first as a coward, and second as evil.


Maarten said...

I wholeheartedly agree. I think it was about two years ago that they introduced smoking bans in public places here in the Netherlands, and I think it is unbelievably immoral, and stupid for that matter.

I think they are going to introduce a ban in restaurants and bars as well in a little while. First they are going to introduce a non-smoking area, and eventually that will turn into a full ban.
The funny thing is that they are trying to sell it to the employers on the basis that it's better for their employees, but it also applies to people who work by themselves! How crazy is that? You can't honestly say that you're doing it to help the poor working people when you don't allow someone who works alone to smoke...
I'm digressing, though. Keep up the good blogging :p

Nancy said...

I think you've missed the whole point of smoking bans. A lot of people can NOT easily get away from smokers -- employees, children of smokers, fellow diners in a restaurant (unless they just up and leave their unfinished meal), and such. And, unlike filthy or smelly "aromas" from others, second-hand smoke is a known carcinogen and lung irritant. Washington just implemented a ban in all public places, and I'm all for it. I don't wish to control smokers -- just their stinky, irritating, disease-causing smoke. They can go smoke in private places.

Jennifer Snow said...

That's funny, Nancy, I don't recall anyone putting a gun to your head and forcing you to work with smokers. It's up to the owner of the property to decide whether people can smoke there or not. In the case of public property (such as street corners), that belongs to everyone who pays taxes, including smokers. Period.

Don't like it? Well, there's one solution that doesn't mean giving one group the right to violate the rights of another group: get rid of "public" property. Then you won't have this problem; people can smoke wherever the owner allows it.

As for children, why are they at bars, restaurants, and street corners alone in the first place? Or did you mean people's homes? Well those are just a teensy bit PRIVATE as far as I know.

But wait, I've heard about laws in the works to prevent smokers with children from smoking in their OWN HOMES.

If you can't see where this is going, you'll get no sympathy from me. Principles have to be applied as absolutes, because there is no principle that will tell you when it's okay to violate a principle "just a little". Once you cross that line just a little bit, there's no going back.

Maarten said...

That reminds me of something I head a few weeks ago, about the tests they use to determine if a substance if mutagenic or carcinogenic. These days it almost seems like everything causes cancer, and perhaps it does. The most interesting thing about that was that the guy who discovered the test (Aymes, if I recall correctly) also tested several normal types of vegetables and they went off the scale, meaning that they were much more "carcinogenic" than lots of substances previously denounced for being just that.

So, really, smoking in the vicinity of someone is not the same as making them drink poison. The amount of bad things you inhale are mostly due to air pollution anyway(in the more densely populated areas, at least).

Mike N said...

I agree Jen that some people want to control others while some don't have that desire. These behaviors depend on their world view. I a person believes humans are evil and must be forced to be good, all his values will lead him to favor dictatorship. If he believes men are rational and have the right to trade value for value, his values will lead him to freedom and capitalism, a system based on rights.

Nancy said...

Something doesn't seem quite right with Mike N's neat division of good and evil. Let's see if we can find the faulty assumptions and conclusions...

Capitalism encourages each person to get the best value that they can. You will virtually never see someone haggling that they are not being charged enough or that the item they are giving is not of at least comparable value to what they are receiving, even if he/she knows this is true. To be "rational" under capitalism is the same as looking out for one's own interests above all else. Mike N assumes that capitalism is based on rights -- as long as we're trading value for value without regulations and restrictions, you get what you want and I get what I want and we're both happy. If we're not, then we don't trade. This might be true if everything -- absolutely EVERYTHING -- were a commodity that had to be traded. But there are a lot of things that we need/use/want that are not privately owned or controlled. Air. Water. Magnetic fields. Rainfall. Bird song. Forests. Sunlight. Quiet. And on and on.

Now, capitalism almost dictates that I get the best value for my "stuff" or services. If the only way I can do this is to externalize expenses, then I pretty much have to do this. Externalizing means using the commons -- those things that are common to all of us -- for my own profit. I draw water from the creek without paying anyone anything. I dump my garbage out in the woods free of charge. I cut down the forest on my land and sell the timber. I blast the top off a mountain to get the coal underneath. I burn the coal and let the smoke go up into the air. And on and on -- all completely free of charge. Except that it's not, really. When I draw water, that means I'm reducing the supply for other uses, and if I blast the top off the mountain, I'm polluting or filling in nearby creeks and rivers that others may by using. If I cut down a forest -- even though it's my "own" forest -- I'm messing with the air filtration, the microclimate moderation, the erosion control and all the other services that that forest provided for me and many of my neighbors. If I create nuclear waste without having a place to dispose of it, I'm endangering everyone who lives near it for hundreds of thousands of years.

While supplies were more plentiful than people, this was not a big problem. But now we have more people than resources and places to dump waste, and so our externalizing for all these millenia is coming home to roost. Our actions -- all perfectly rational under capitalism -- are putting us all in quite a pickle. Resource depletion, public health problems, erosion leading to flooding and loss of arable land, toxic waste, and all the other problems that we currently have are not "rational." Yet they're a result of unfettered trade.

People do not always act "rationally", especially for the long-term. If they did, we would not have hundreds of Superfund sites needing attention. AIDS would not be much of an issue. We wouldn't need judges and juries -- or police or even laws, in fact. But people do not act rationally, at least not always. This is NOT the same as saying people are evil. We humans just tend to maximize our advantage when we can. We run into trouble when my advantage infringes on someone else's rights, freedom, property, etc. -- which happens quite a lot. This is why we need government. The primary (in fact, just about the only valid) role of government is to protect its citizens -- from outsiders (defense), from each other (civil law), and especially from government itself.

I will happily concede that government readily becomes bloated and hyperregulatory. But having and enforcing laws and regulations to protect people is not automatically a dictatorship. It's the prime role of government -- and vastly superior to anarchy.

Jennifer Snow said...

You're missing some context here, Nancy.

Laws are absolutely necessary. Regulations are not; they are evil. Why? Because they don't punish the guilty, they punish EVERYONE who might SOMEDAY become guilty.

In a truly laissez-faire capitalist society "public" property doesn't exist. The streets are owned by someone. Forests are owned by someone. If it becomes an issue, river water, air, and, yes, even sunlight are owned by someone. So if you cause damage to these, you have injured an actual person and they can claim redress.

This idea is derived from the actual concept of property. How do you determine who "owns" something? Well, if you trace the concept down to its root, any "owned" thing is something that you've put work into and thus increased its value from its original state. Therefore a rock (or a tree or a mud puddle) that has never been given any improvoing effort by a human being is not property.

This is how homesteading (and mining claims)worked originally; if you moved in and "proved" a section of land for a certain amount of time, the government would recognize that it was now your property and you were entitled to certain protections regarding it. Since you require property of some kind to maintain your life (not to mention the ability to do what you've decided to do with it), damage to your property is damage to your life and is regarded as an injury to you.

Simple. This is also why "public" property is such an abomination. Since a street corner or a national forest belongs to everyone, that means there are as many different ideas of what's the best thing to do with said property as there are people. And if some other group manages to get enough of a majority through to use that property for a specific purpose, they've injured EVERYONE who disagrees with that purpose.

Even better, if someone else is injured through MISUSE of that "public" property, the people who made the decision about its use aren't responsible for it! THIS is why there's such terrible misuse of property. But of course capitalism always winds up taking the blame for things that are, in fact, the result of abrogations of true laissez-faire capitalism.

Under laissez-faire capitalism, a single legal entity would own that property (a person or a corporation or whatever). They could decide what they wanted to do with it, and if they did injure anyone else's property through their actions, they would be responsible for it.

Property that no one had "claimed" yet would belong to: no one. The government may have a branch for managing new claims, etc. But the thing to remember is that it wouldn't be "public" property that anyone could walk in and abuse without repercussions. If you snuck in and greatly changed the value of some piece of no-man's-land, (by clear-cutting it, for instance) it would become your property and you'd be liable for any damages caused to anyone else's property by this act.

Now, as far as some things go, it's not always obvious how to apply property rights to them. This doesn't mean that they default to belonging to "Everyone", no, it just means that the philosophers of law need to come up with some way to apply the concept to this new concrete instance. An example that Ayn Rand used is broadcast airwaves. However, I've seen it applied to rivers, air, and even sunlight in an equitable way by people that aren't even professionals. So it's not as hard as you'd think, IF you first recognize that rights must be applied as an absolute.