Sunday, February 26, 2017

Truth Under Duress

"I fought the war, I fought the war, I fought the war but the war won!"

Metric - Monster Hospital

When I first encountered the "truth" anti-smoking ad campaign back in the early 2000s, I must admit to finding it both impressive and encouraging.  Here was sleek, professional, big-league propaganda for once on my side of politics. My side, it should be noted, is generally so naive about realpolitik that it once thought Captain Planet would get kids to stop buying oversized smog-belching automobiles. Behold the power of monkey-love!

The Truth ads have made a comeback these past couple of years, still slick and hard-hitting and emotionally manipulative... but no longer on my side. Now, they want us to "finish it!"
I never signed up for finishing it.

In the nineties, tobacco was still a worldwide public health hazard. Any enclosed public space reeked of cigarettes. Family restaurants relied on this hilarious thing called a "non-smoking" section, where you'd be protected from the other half of the room's carcinogenic emissions by a mighty bulwark of stale thin air. The captain of an airliner was as likely as not to get booed for turning on the "no smoking" sign. Tobacco companies employed entire armies of bought and paid "health professionals" willing to downplay the decades' worth of scientific evidence as to smoking's harm. The Body Worlds exhibition shocked polite society's sensibilities in many ways, not least of which was displaying a smoker's lung next to a coal miner's.

This ain't 1998. No-one can say they haven't gotten the basic, bottom-line message that smoking is bad for you, and it's been over a decade since I've even had to wrinkle my precious little nose at secondhand smoke, except of course around this one uncle, you know the one, every family has one. Anti-smoking campaigns have been one of the few clear success stories of positive social change, but now it's becoming yet another warning emblem against professional activism. From a legitimate grass-roots consensus on public health and safety it's now become, largely by virtue of its own success, a crusade to eradicate the last vestiges of a nominal evil which, under scrutiny, no longer presents cause for public concern.

"Finish it" you say? No thanks. Fatality moves are for fighting games. It's one thing to prevent individuals from having smoking pushed on them by social pressure, and quite another to police through social pressure every single choice individuals might make for themselves. It's one thing to treat a bad habit like the plague of our times when it's on every street corner and quite another to grandstand about it when it's just one of the innumerable minute variations in human behavior. Smoking is a choice. It's a personal risk now taken with full knowledge of its consequences. Thought implies divergence. Thinking beings, to whatever extent they're capable of thinking, cannot live as milquetoast-fed cattle with mittens tied to their jackets. We want some spice now and then. We no longer require a billion-dollar inquisition to inform us that cancer is bad or hunt down the last scattered, vanquished infidels. Nobody's blowing cigarette smoke in my face anymore. The few remaining individuals who choose to smoke have been politely stepping outside to do so for over a decade. You're done. You've been done.

The problem is of course that much like pushing cigarettes, pushing anti-cigarette ads is a business. "Non-profit" sounds angelic until you realize social activism still provides endless sinecures for communications majors with no marketable skills beyond professionally mourning society's ills. That parasitic beast, that queer aberration of our socially conscious modern world, the career activist, the priesthood of these newfangled shadows of god, will defend its turf as fiercely as any other. It will attempt to make itself seem necessary. It will continue to hunt down its chosen game unto mass extinction.

Never take legitimacy for granted. Rebels, if successful, will quite reliably become ironfisted dictators in turn. Any social movement, once established, will continue to move, driven by the internal momentum of a core of self-interested, self-justifying self-promoters, long after it's outlasted any relevance or objective justification.

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