Nanny State

The Libertarian argument that it’s an assault on freedom for a state to ban smoking in restaurants caught my attention. Rand Paul says that sensible people can just choose to avoid smoky restaurants and bars.

It’s fresh in my memory that people used to smoke in all restaurants, and double in bars. For that matter, when I worked in factories people smoked on the assembly bench right next to me.

I actually tend for some reason to like people who smoke, and would sometimes hang out with the ‘smoker’s support group’ just for the conversation. But that was when I worked in a hospital, and the smokers gathered outside, and I truly had a choice to join them or not. It’s a shame the habit is so bad for you, when there’s so much stress and so few ways to feel good. But that’s another topic.

John Aravosis at Americablog has a good post on this…

This is the problem with Libertarians, but also conservatives (well, any political philosophy, really). The philosophy sounds nice in principle, but in practice it often doesn’t work. As a non-smoker, with allergies, and now asthma because of my allergies, my “choice” was always between joining my group of friends at a particular bar or restaurant, or staying home alone. I wasn’t about to tell 20 people, many of whom I barely knew, that instead of going to a bar tonight (since every single bar was smokey back in the day), maybe we could stay home and play Parcheesi instead. That’s not much of a choice.

This is the heart of the matter. Rigid thinking– whether it’s Catholic dogma or a fundamentalist literalism in the reading of law, or neat philosophical arguments about high principles, does not serve well in real life.

Many of us encountered the smoking/non-smoking situations. (A local restaurant actually built a lucite booth to confine the non-smokers, but that didn’t last long.) We worked it out and now you can eat and breathe and smoke outside if you must.

Fewer of us have encountered the situation of being in a happy group out for fun and realizing that one of us was the wrong race to be admitted to a restaurant or club.

This kind of thing happened, and not just in the South, and not very long ago. Why would anyone would want to bring that back? A neat philosophical argument that of course reasonable people would never patronize such businesses is refuted by recent history.

A business easily makes the calculation that it is better to turn away one customer than risk losing ten. The luxury of being in the majority is that you never even have to notice this, it’s not your problem. The pain of being in the minority is hearing from majority friends that it’s no big deal, one more slight, one more small cut— are you supposed to get used to it?

Reality is messy, isn’t it? Martin Luther King’s life experience was far different from Rand Paul’s. It would be good if white people learned to listen. It would be good if we would stop invoking Dr.King unless to recall his work for civil rights. It would be good if we would listen to Holocaust survivors, and learn that nothing in our current situation compares to what they went through.

The truth is that people are often not high-minded and logical. We will always need some social control against greed, bullying and scapegoating of minorities. It might seem like the jackboot of oppression to have to take your cig outside, but the guy next to you has a right to breathe.

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9 responses

  1. I just love it when Paul speaks, about almost anything.
    The tea party can have him.
    The stuff he believes in is just pitiful.

    How about good responsible govt.?
    Not the anarchy we’d have in his fantasy world.

  2. BTW, I smoke outside.
    I also welcome blacks at the table with me!

  3. Damn Kansas is great this time of year.
    Just had a friggin tornadoe blow through here.
    Sirens tried to go off in between power outages.
    Heard some big boom out back and then the kitchen ceiling started leaking like crazy.
    And we just painted everything in here, ceiling and all. Shit.
    I’m not going outside to get in the cellar!
    Trees blowing down and sheets of rain blowing sideways!

  4. Sekanblogger, I had a chance to integrate the most segregated institution in America.
    I refer, of course, to the beauty parlor.
    I was there by kind invitation– I would not have just crashed in.
    I came away with an excellent perm at a very reasonable price.
    It don’t get any better than this.
    A Kansas tornado might have curled my hair just as much, but it’s safer and cheaper to get it done at home.

  5. Not for nothing, and as a non-smoker, it has always befuddled me as to why restaurateurs can’t have the choice of having a smoking environment or a non-smoking one. I am sure that with the plethora of people who don’t smoke such as myself they would build and own enough restaurants to satisfy the same…and vice-versa.

    It can be about choice if there are options, and I tend to believe the market would help facilitate smoking and non-smoking environments.

    What’s interesting to me is this, Nancy: What/Who determines what things get pushed ‘outside’?

    In this case it’s smoking. How about alcohol? Shoes? T-shirts? Etc.

    I’m being a little facetious here, but what concerns me is that the moral imperative to ban smoking is oftentimes used to justify other ‘bannings’ if you will that you may not find as agreeable.

    So from a libertarian standpoint, I can see why Paul falls on the issue the way that he does.

  6. Don, we could run that argument backwards and say that any decent restaurant would not risk its reputation by cutting corners on food safety– but it’s just as well that there are rules and inspectors.
    The no-smoking rule is interesting because a lot of us remember when it was first implemented. Back then all restaurants were ‘smoking’. Now, I might disapprove of drink, but unless the next table spills it in my lap it doesn’t get in my space. Smoke gets everywhere. John Aravosis sums it up well. I used to work in ‘smoking’ factories, and jobs are not so plentiful that you can always hold out for the best working conditions. I tell the nurse’s aides I supervise in home care that the clients should not smoke when the aides are in the home, even if the aides are smokers. They can smoke on their own time, but they shouldn’t have to breathe someone else’ fumes while they are at work.
    I still tend to hang out with smokers, though. What can I say? I like their company.

  7. My point was that, as you’re illustrating, you choose to hang out with smokers. That is, to a certain extent, detrimental to your health. But it’s a choice you’re making and worse, smokers willingly make that choice daily.

    I’m saying that there are enough smokers out there that could have their own restaurants and probably be successful. It we are going to make smoking legal on the whole, I don’t see the need to ban it everywhere unless those that don’t smoke start to boycott those establishments en masse.

  8. But some of my best friends are smokers. I think in practical terms it works out well to simply ban smoking where people are eating, working, or in the hospital. I think they have cigar bars for people who require a nicotine level and it’s easy to avoid them. Harder to sort out groups of friends and random restaurants when you are just looking for a meal.

  9. Why do they still allow smoking in casinos?
    Politics.

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