"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Friday, April 07, 2006

Seduced by the Nanny State

My parents took charge of my oldest child for much of last week, so we decided to meet at a Cracker Barrell in Anniston, Alabama. Anniston serves as a midpoint between Athens, Georgia and Decatur, Alabama. When we asked for a table, I was shocked when the host asked whether we wanted the smoking or non-smoking section.

Shocked.

Why?

Because I live in Georgia where smoking is completely prohibited in any structure that permits the presence of children. I have children and have never been much into nightclubs, so I don't encounter smoke. It doesn't exist in my world.

And let me tell you something.

I like it that way.

I'm a little ashamed to admit it, but I can justify it on conservative lines. The fact is that cigarette smokers generate what economists call negative externalities. The smoke, the smell, the unpleasant feeling in the back of your throat, you get the idea. If the smokers compensated the non-smokers somehow for all that unpleasantness, we might put up with it, but they don't, so we don't.

12 comments:

Jay D. Homnick said...

Your justification works well to allow restaurant owners to choose to ban smokers.

It does not work to justify the state interceding to demand that the owner make said choice.

And you can complain to the establishment on the level of personal inconvenience, which gives them some marketing data to assist reconsideration of their policy. But you can't complain on a moral basis.

Hunter Baker said...

You have a point there, particularly when we are talking about privately owned airspace.

James Elliott said...

I have never been in favor of issuing signs and citations to curb one's cigarette usage.

I find putting it out in their eye does just fine.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Never would have guessed that the last bastion of freedom would turn out to be Alabama.

mjwatson said...

I think it can be justified on conservative grounds, though it depends on what sort of conservative view of the state one takes.

If the state is seen as a necessary evil, as something that one must always be on guard against, that is extremely limited in its role, then no, this cannot be justified on conservative grounds. This view, snapshot that it is, is well represented among the Founders, for what that's worth (though more pointedly at the federal than the state or local level).

Another view of the state would be properly political , as in having to do with values of the polis. Laws represent the values of the political community. In a democracy then, government is not viewed as inherently evil but the laws enforced by government are seen as passed by representatives of the people and expressing their moral views.

These dispositions aren't hermetically sealed off from one another, but I think it's a helpful distinction. If one holds to the latter more Aristotelian view, than a smoking ban can be perfectly consistent with a conservative outlook.

Why? Because it is no longer freedom versus "the state" controlling us, it's the freedom of citizens to choose to have public acccommodations free of smoke vs. the freedom of other citizens to smoke.

Both groups put forth their positive view of what their local community should look like, they fight it out in the legislature, and revisit it if need be.

(both viewpoints, however, should be equally disdainful of such decisions coming from unaccountable courts or bureaucracies, even if the results are to one's liking).

James Elliott said...

When I saw "Seduced by the Nanny State" I couldn't help but think of these lyrics from Queen's "Fat-Bottomed Girls:"

Hey I was just a skinny lad
Never knew no good from bad,
But I knew life before I left my nursery,
Left alone with big fat Fanny,
She was such a naughty nanny!
Heap big woman you made a bad boy out of me!

Hunter Baker said...

MJ, given my reading this year, I'm enjoying watching you draw out the Augustinian versus the Thomistic views of the state and bring it into this discussion.

James, you must surely celebrate Queen's entire catalog to have come up with that!

Hunter Baker said...

I would also like to add that Cracker Barrel has apparently succeeded in their standardization of branding. When we walked up to the door, I asked my three year old son what this place was. He instantly answered, "Cracker Barrel!" Make your stock buy now.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Watson---I cannot help but adore your approach. Aristotle's regime would indeed place enabling virtue as the highest goal of government.

Still, our modern age might struggle with any concept of virtue, let alone a definition. We have to play the cards we're dealt.

"Because it is no longer freedom versus "the state" controlling us, it's the freedom of citizens to choose to have public acccommodations free of smoke vs. the freedom of other citizens to smoke."

Fairly- and well-limned, but private businesses are not "public accommodations." But I suppose that would be splitting semantic hairs. Wouldn't want to be accused of any sophistry, or even to get into a discussion about what "freedom" means. Since FDR promulgated his "Five Freedoms," which included freedom from "want," the term is now useless.

Or perhaps it redefined our new definition of freedom---in this case Freedom from Smoke. Freedom from The Unpleasant. Freedom From Your Perfume. Freedom From Your Face. Freedom From Anything I Don't Like. Freedom From You.


But let's move on, before I have an aneurysm:

Although we ban sex on the sidewalk, and probably will end up banning smoking there, too, we have decided not to ban gay bathhouses or Plato's Retreat-style sex clubs.

Surely a restaurant or bar that permits smoking is no greater threat to the commonweal than a "public accomodation" that fosters unsafe sex.

As for virtue, I put tobacco as a moral issue somewhere between Big Macs and tuning in American Idol. My vote is government subsidies for the first and the death penalty for anyone involved with the second.

I do believe I'm in the majority here. This is a democracy, ain't it?

(PS to Mr. Baker---Fat bottomed girls make the rockin' world go round. We ban Big Macs at our peril. Hence my advocacy for government subsidies...)

Hunter Baker said...

I didn't get a fat-bottomed girl. I *wanted* one, but just fell in love with a WASPY type!

Tom Van Dyke said...

What's love got to do with it, do with it?

Tlaloc said...

"Or perhaps it redefined our new definition of freedom---in this case Freedom from Smoke. Freedom from The Unpleasant. Freedom From Your Perfume. Freedom From Your Face. Freedom From Anything I Don't Like. Freedom From You."

Somehow 'Freedom from Carcinogens' seems pretty reasonable, really. It's not like you have a right to throw poisons on people so long as you also splash it on yourself, now do you?