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.
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.