Sunday, March 24, 2013

The end of cigars and the tyranny of "public health experts"

The FDA is coming after your cigar:

Nearly four years after it began regulating cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration is poised to extend its reach to a broader range of tobacco products. At the top of that list: cigars, which have experienced a boom in recent years even as cigarette sales have declined, in part because of growing popularity among young people.

Anti-tobacco advocates and industry representatives widely expect the agency to require changes in the marketing and manufacturing of cigars. But the central question remains: What kind of cigars will the FDA target, and how? ...

Public health experts and some anti-tobacco lawmakers are pressing the FDA to regulate all cigars, but they mostly worry about the inexpensive, flavored varieties that have proliferated in recent years.

One should look very hard at regulations proposed by "public health experts," because they will always value the average health of the collective over the liberty of the individual. Every time.

This is not to say that we have anything against public health as a discipline. Quite the contrary, we think it is fascinating and even write about it with some, er, regularity. Public health experts do a great job of telling us all what is -- how our average actions influence the collective, average health. This is important. We need to know what the average effects of things are so that we can change our behavior in positive ways.

Unfortunately, "public health experts" never took a course in philosophy, and therefore do not understand that one can never derive what ought from what is. Like "climate scientists," they are not merely content to describe the phenomena that they see, but insist that their characterization of what is leads ineluctably to one or another new regulation that circumscribes individual choice. In fact, what is does not so lead logically, and only does so morally, on occasion, by accident, and almost never when the person making the choice is the person suffering the consequences.

Unless, of course, you are not competent to make sound choices. Public health experts believe that there are many such people, which is another reason why we should be very reluctant to take their advice about, say, new laws and regulation.


  1. In fact, what is does not so lead logically, and only does so morally, on occasion, by accident, and almost never when the person making the choice is the person suffering the consequences.

    But you're plainly wrong, as you intimate in your last paragraph. Such folks (and conservatives have similar blinders--it's a human condition) can only see what they see; they cannot see what others see.

    One way this problem has become worse in the last coule of decades (standing on the ceremony of my 35-year-old MS in Experimental Psychology) is through the failure of empathy. That failure flows from the way we (don't) teach it anymore as parents or in our public schools. There's no more "put yourself in the other's shoes, and think about how what you just did/said makes him feel."

    Also, if it's not about what I want first, it's about everyone's a winner, including those who merely "participated," "lost outright," or merely stood on the sidelines. This inability to...discriminate...makes impossible any sort of empathy.

    Jenny's question to candidate Obama in 2008--"What's in it for me?"--illustrates.

    Eric Hines

  2. An interesting point, Eric. To what degree does the failure of empathy you describe flow from our increasingly diverse society? Is it easier to be empathetic in a homogeneous society or culture, and, if so, does that mean that "diversity" is an unalloyed good? Or does it come at a cost? A dangerous question to ask in this day and age, and there is no solution to it, but the inquiry might teach us something useful.

  3. I'm not convinced we are "increasingly diverse." We've always been diverse; that's the subtext of all the laws that tried--and failed--to isolate this or that immigrant group (Irish, Chinese, and Italians come to mind--and Japanese, Germans, and Italians (again) during WWII) and prevent their integration into American society, into our social compact.

    In fact, say I with no hard substantiation, part of the reason of the failure of those laws is that in those days empathy was taught, and too many Americans saw, at least sub rosa, the damage done by such isolation efforts.

    I agree it's harder to empathize with those who are different from us, but it's not at all impossible. We used to do it.

    You asked whether it's easier to be empathetic in a homogeneous culture. I think this is a non sequitur--it's not a culture, or at least not a viable one, if it's not homogeneous. Shameless plug: check the books in the side bar at my blog.

    You also asked whether diversity is an unalloyed good. Here I'll temporize: yes and no. We always benefit from understanding other people's positions and attitudes, if only at a practical level: they bring fresh eyes and different solution processes to problems we're facing. But we do have to discriminate, coldly and objectively, among the "diversities" we accept into our society. A diversity that says human sacrifice is good should be unacceptable to us, no matter how clearly we understand their rationale. A diversity that says female genital mutilation is the way to go should be similarly unacceptable. A diversity that says one half of their population is by nature subordinate to the other half should be similarly unacceptable. A diversity that says terrorist acts are good....

    And yes, I'm tending to equate "diversity" with "culture," but that's where most diversity comes from today. For instance, diversity by skin color? Most blacks in the US have American ethnicity. A significant fraction (most?) of Hispanics in the US have American ethnicity.

    (Incidentally, I think another contributor to the loss of empathy is a backlash against the inherently racist nature of affirmative programs. Maybe that's a separate thread.)

    Eric Hines

  4. affirmative programs


    Should be affirmative action programs

    Eric Hines


Web Statistics