Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ban Fascism

I haven't been on Facebook in ages. Today, though, I felt compelled to log on and join three (count 'em!) groups. My way of venting a little steam after reading this bullshit in the paper today.

Seriously, what the hell? We already have a rule on this campus that prohibits smoking within 30 feet of buildings. It is not AT ALL difficult to get away from smokers. And honestly, even if it were, a breath here and there of second-hand smoke never hurt anyone. True, there is some research that shows a connection between exposure to second-hand smoke and certain heath issues - but two crucial details are always left out of reports of this research: (1) it only applies to regular heavy exposure (such as living in the same house with a chain smoker) to second-hand smoke and (2) THE RESULTS AREN'T STATISTICALLY SIGNIFICANT. (Not satisfied? Another example here. And also here.) But there is nothing to indicate that a breath in passing twice a week is any more harmful than, oh, say, breathing in all the other crap that's in the air.

I'm tired of the argument that smoking is obnoxious. So what if it is? Farting and spitting in public are obnoxious too; I've never seen anyone fined for these things.

What's especially galling is the softball IDS throws these people. The article is nothing but a long string of propaganda. It starts with the first line:

Student smokers might soon have to leave campus to get their nicotine fix.

Wrong, Einstein. The campus ban would apply to everyone. That means professors, workers and guests too. Don't believe me? The first summer I was here, we (being the Computational Linguistics people) held a conference attended by people from as far away as Japan. After each lecture, some of these foreigners, not being familiar with our strange nazified American ways, went outside to have a smoke. (In Japan there is no need - it's perfectly acceptable to smoke in classrooms.) The fat SLIS secretary (and I include that detail about her bodyweight because nothing irritates me more than hypocritical moralizing about smoking on the part of people who are themselves unhealthy by choice) would come out and shirlly explain - despite the fact that this was in summer and no passersby were likely to be affected - that campus smoking rules required everyone to stand further away from the building than they were standing. These were not IU students she was yelling at. Of course, we politely moved further away. In retrospect, I should have said "Yeah, drop some pounds and get back to me, hippo!"

Here's another gem from people on the original smoking policy taskforce:

"As I recall, at the time there was a consensus to move forward but not to move forward to that level," he said. "Now we've had another three or four years and public opinion has broadened, so it could be time to take the next step."

"Move forward." Public opinion has "broadened." Jesus Christ! We're talking about smoking, here. This isn't some cosmic spiritual quest. You can't use words like "broaden" to talk about a change in personal preferences!!! And anyway, since when do we call people "broad-minded" for policing the personal habits of others?

Here's the history of this abomination:

The coalition started off as the Facebook group "PLEASE ban smoking on IU's campus," but Bryce Wininger, vice president of the coalition, said the overwhelming response to the group -- now 1,200 members strong -- encouraged him and Morgan to try to do something about it.

"We realized we could do something about it if we talked to the right people and took the right steps," Wininger said.

So it started on Facebook. Absolutely bleeding predictable. Look, nimblenuts - 1,200 people is a drop in the bucket on a campus of 40,000+. Your 1,200 people do NOT constitute any kind of majority or mandate. If you would care to take a scientific poll, you would be on more solid ground. But I can reproduce these results for any issue I choose. I can say with a great deal of certainty that if we circulated a petition to get marijuana smoking legalized on campus I could easily find 1,200 signatures. That doesn't mean it's in IU's best interest to do so (though if it would help certain crusaders unwind a bit, it might be just what the doctor ordered...).

Wininger said he believes the administration and trustees overwhelmingly support the ban. He expects complaints from students but believes it will be worth it, he said.

And this just takes the cake. Since WHEN has the IU Administration ever considered student opinion on anything? Is this the same IDS that constantly gripes about the fact that students weren't allowed even so much as a single representative in the meetings that led to President Herbert's resignation? Has anyone at all EVER been consulted about the near-constant raises in the athletics fee, hmmm? Did students actually vote to have their season tickets holdings reduced from 9 to 7 without warning (after they'd paid!!!) and I just missed it or something? Now all of the sudden the Administration is being "responsive" to student demands and NO ONE AT IDS SMELLS A RAT?

Here's the motherlode:

"If we should go tobacco-free, we're not trying to ban people from doing something, it isn't our intention to take something away," Morgan said. "We don't want to ban them from smoking, we want to provide a tobacco-free environment for everyone."

Orwell much? Let's try this one on for size: we're not banning black people from our school so much as promoting an all-white environment. You can't ban something by not banning it - doesn't matter what your intentions are! If you ban smoking on campus, then you bleedin' well are banning people from doing something! Saying otherwise has no effect on this fact. But of course I'm being too generous. This Morgan neanderthal is simply speaking Politics: his intention is very much to ban.

Oh yes, and we get a glittering example of the bandwagon effect:

IU-Purdue University Indianapolis and IU-Southeast have already banned smoking on campus, Morgan said. Other universities across the country have also enacted similar bans. "This is going to happen eventually, so there is no reason for us to be left behind."

No reason except that what you're trying to do is IMMORAL, you mean. Look, just because everyone around you is a controlling nazi doesn't mean it's a good idea to be one yourself. This is what's called the "bandwagon technique" (see my convenient page on logical fallacies and propaganda techniques): telling people to do something because it's popular. I'll just add this to the 56,781 other examples I've collected from the IDS that show that IU students really need a core curriculum requirement in statistics and basic reasoning. Point being: a thing's popularity proves exactly nothing about its appropriateness (Jay Leno has, at times, been the king of latenight television, has he not?).

Alright - this post has been nothing but a huge rant - I admit it. But smoking bans (like gun control) are one of my buttons, and what are blogs for if not public venting?

The silver lining is that this ban is a thousand ways unenforceable. What're they gonna do? Walk up to you and give you a ticket? Fine - so you just crush your cigarette out in their book and don't pay it. It's not like people wear license plates (dangit - I shouldna oughta gone and said that - the jackboots will get ideas!). I suppose they could hire some rentacops - but in a strange way I hope they do. It might be the only way to drive the point home to these fascists that control is control is control. It doesn't become any less controlling in the name of a good cause. And that's the final point about all of this. It may well be a good idea to quit smoking. In fact, I don't think anyone these days denies this. (ASIDE: Looking for pro-smoking groups on Facebook today I found one that was called something like "Smoking's bad for me? I never knew! Thanks, man, you just saved my life!!!") The question is whether the harm is so great that we're allowed to resort to police force. Clearly, it isn't. People lead long, healthy lives as smokers. Maybe they die of cancer in the end, but everyone dies of something. To smoke or not to smoke is a personal choice - and if someone values the regular relaxing pleasure of a good cigarette over the kind of acetic health nut existence that the reductio ad absurdum of the anti-smoking campaign would lead us to, then who the hell am I to fine them for so choosing? Free is free and individuals are sovereign, no? Yes, not when they violate the rights of others, comes the response. So let me just reiterate: IU ALREADY HAS A POLICY KEEPING SMOKERS OUT OF EVERYONE ELSE'S WAY! No rights are being violated here. So anyone who supports this ban can officially fuck off.

I don't currently smoke on campus, but I look forward to starting if the Administration presses this.


At 12:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent EXCELLENT post Joshua!

Please send me an email at if you can: I think I can send you to some sites you'd enjoy reading.

Michael J. McFadden
Author of "Dissecting Antismokers' Brains"

At 3:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post Joshua,
I am a professor at a college in Georgia. I am actively involved in the movement against smoking bans. My campus has been in an uproar over a proposed ban. I oppose it. I have been a student at a college where a blanket ban went into effect. It failed, of course.

Jeremy Richards, Ph.D.

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgot to add: there's a site where student smoking issues are discussed:

You might want to check it out!


At 7:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post!! The anti-smoking zealots claim this is all necessary for public health. A more compelling health concern would be banning coronal mass ejections, diesel fuel and barbecue grills if the issue truly was about "public health". Their argument is no different than Goebbles' so-called reasons for enacting the Nuremberg Laws which banned Jews from society and ultimately, 6 million right out of existence by mass murder. [sarcasm="ON"]Of course, the Nazis weren't trying to ban Jews from practicing Judaism, they were just trying to restrict where Jews could practice Judaism, right?[/sarcasm]


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