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March 27, 2009
The Biggest Threat to
Freedom: Ideologues In Extremis
“. . . a
free intelligence, a type hated with equal hatred by all the smelly
little orthodoxies which are now contending for our souls.”
Orwell, Charles Dickens, 1939
Michael Siegel is a
public health physician who has testified against tobacco companies in
seven major trials, including the Florida case that in 2000 resulted in
the largest-to-date jury punitive award. He favors smoking bans in all
public places and workspaces.
instantly became a pariah among the anti-tobacco movement. Why? He dared
question, in an editorial recently published in Tobacco Control,
the trend toward banning smokers from the workplace instead of merely
proscribing their habit.
Morphing from hero to
goat isn’t an experience unique to Siegel by any means. Conservative
columnist Kathleen Parker had similar rage directed at her last fall
when she finally had enough of Republican vice presidential candidate
Sarah Palin and dared express that opinion in public. Author Frank A.
Schaeffer, prominent in evangelical political circles during the 1970s
and 1980s, was equally ostracized when he published a revealing book
about the religious right.
orthodoxies, alas, were not confined to George Orwell’s time in the
first half of the 20th Century. They live on in ever more
virulent variants. The problem is that almost every worthwhile idea or
cause, taken to an unyielding extreme, starts doing more harm than good.
It contracts into an ideology, and the most extreme (and thus most
vocal) adherents of which brook no dissent or even mere questions.
left-leaning, the ideologues are making it impossible for the rest of us
to discuss issues or move toward policies and legislation that offer
something for all sides to accept and support.
movement is typical and tragic. How did being “green” devolve solely
into opposing human-generated carbon dioxide emissions? What about real
air pollutants like human-generated sulfur, nitrous oxides, ash or
mercury? Human beings for millennia have been inhaling carbon dioxide
with every breath of air they take in, to no ill effect whatsoever. The
other airborne contaminants, however, are harmful to lungs and health.
Yet we hear almost
nothing about reducing actual pollutants because the focus is always on
carbon dioxide reduction. This is insane, but also very useful to those
parties that still emit actual pollutants or who want to benefit
financially from proposed reduction programs like carbon taxes or
Talk about weapons of
mass distraction. Of course, when we finally come to our senses and
acknowledge that carbon dioxide isn’t a greenhouse gas and isn’t
contributing to global temperature fluctuations, the CO2 fear-mongers
will have done real credibility damage to critical environmental causes.
No, this isn’t an
argument in favor of smoking or pollution. It’s about standing up for
free-thinking and the freedom to think unpopular thoughts, express
unpopular opinions or do unpopular things.
It’s also very much
about how well-meaning people seem only too eager to legislate personal
freedom out of existence for others when those others are doing
something the first group doesn’t like or approve of. The road to hell –
and dictatorship – is paved with good intentions.
Enough already. Freedom
of speech is a constitutional right. Smoking remains legal for those
aged 18 and older. Too many seem to forget these pesky little details in
their zest for making the world somehow safer by attacking what they
don’t like or approve of.
Who will guard the rest
of us from these self-appointed guardians? Especially the ones shoving
their data down our throats like it is holy writ.
North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.
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