Wednesday, October 22, 2008

SHS, anti-smoker fanatics & Orwell’s world

In his novel, 1984, George Orwell described a futuristic society dominated by a totalitarian regime. Citizens lived in total subjugation to the state. Dissenting points of view were not tolerated; even thinking that the state might be wrong became a crime.

To demonstrate the importance of language in controlling a population, Orwell invented “Newspeak”, a language of distorted meaning and comprised of simplistic dichotomies where things could only be one thing or the other, black or white, pleasant or unpleasant, good or bad.

By removing all shades of grey, only two options could be considered; that which was good (approved by the state) and that which was bad (not approved by the state). The public could not consider any alternative other than the two extremes. The possibility of compromise was removed, leaving the population no choice but to obey and accept the dictates of the state, or disobey and suffer the consequences.

By reducing everything to a simple dichotomy, even thought could be controlled. There was no need to think about anything other than the choice between the two opposites; one of which carried severe adverse consequences.

And, since only state-sanctioned thought was acceptable, people could only conclude that the state always acted in the public good; to think otherwise was a crime.

Orwell’s “Newspeak” has come to mean any attempt to distort language, usually by a government or some other authoritative body, to mean something other than the commonly accepted usage.

The word “encourage”, for instance, has very specific meanings in the English language. Most dictionaries define it as: to inspire with hope, courage, or confidence; to hearten or to give support.

So, it’s difficult not to think of Orwell’s Newspeak when you listen to the anti-smoker fanatics in public health and tobacco control declare that they want to “encourage” smokers to quit. Their attempts to de-normalize smokers, to brand them as social misfits, child abusers, etc. are not intended to encourage.

The imposition of smoking bans and punitive levels of sin taxes are meant to coerce smokers into quitting. But, the anti-smoker crowd recognizes that using that term could create a negative impression in the eyes of the public. So they use “encourage” as a euphemism to garner public support for their war on smokers. They distort the language to give it new meaning.

Coerce means to force someone to act or think in a certain way by use of pressure, threats, or intimidation; to compel; to dominate, restrain, or control forcibly. Only in the Orwellian world of the anti-smoker fanatic could force and coercion be interpreted as help or encouragement.

In a similar vein, they’ve created the illusion that secondhand smoke is either good or bad, with no middle ground acceptable. Through constant repetition of their mantra that “there is no safe level of secondhand smoke” the public is forced to choose one of only two options. Either secondhand smoke is a deadly hazard or it’s not. And, only one of those options is supported by the state.

The public is unable to look at the issue objectively because they have not been provided the information which they need to form an unbiased opinion.

The press is content to print the propaganda of the anti-smoker brigade as the uncontested, unblemished truth. And, as in Orwell’s world, the media has become just another tool by which the state controls the individual and coerces them into accepting the wisdom of the state.

It’s an effective strategy, reliant on repetitive slogans and constant reinforcement of the message, usually thru the media. But, it’s a strategy with a short shelf-life in the real world.

In Orwell’s novel, for example, it was first necessary to rewrite the dictionary and indoctrinate the populace to respond to Newspeak; an impossible task in the age of the computer. And, total control of the media was required to ensure that only messages approved by the state could be disseminated to the public; another impossible task given the power of the internet.

The anti-smoker brigade has to silence all public opposition and criticism. They must suppress or discredit the science that doesn’t support their cause and they must curb legitimate scientific debate. And, when they can’t discount the science, they denounce the source, regardless of the damage done to an individual’s reputation or career.

They can’t allow the public to see the shades of grey, or the world of black and white which they’ve created might fall apart.

Despite the claims of anti-smoker crusaders, the science surrounding the alleged hazards of exposure to secondhand smoke is unconvincing and debate within the scientific community continues. The fanatics have corrupted science to further their own agenda. Follow the links below for more information.

Warning: Anti-tobacco activism may be hazardous to epidemiologic science

Defending legitimate epidemiologic research: combating Lysenko pseudoscience

Is the tobacco control movement misrepresenting the acute cardiovascular health effects of secondhand smoke exposure

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