We have an ugly habit of judging people of the past as dumber, simpler, or more gullible than us. We look, for example, at people of the 17th Century who burned witches and we shake our heads. “How could they be so worked up about a threat that doesn’t even exist?” we ask ourselves. We are in no position to judge. Humanity has a problem. I call it Collective Brainwashing.
I have seen this happen in my own lifetime.
Let me take you back to a simpler time in the United States: 1990. The war on smoking had been raging for a generation. And the anti-smoking crowd was on a roll. Almost every restaurant in the country had a No Smoking Section. Most airplanes had banned smoking. Even baseball and football stadiums were beginning to go smoke free. Smokers had become a clear minority. Only half of the American people had ever smoked regularly. And half of them had since quit.
These were huge victories. But the anti-smoking crusaders were not satisfied. It was right around 1990 that the focus of the anti-smoking movement changed from informing Americans about the real dangers of smoking to demonizing smokers. But how on earth do you demonize regular, hard-working, law-abiding Americans? You claim that second hand smoke is deadly.
Passive smoking kills 600,000 a year, including 165,000 children Second Hand Smoke Is MORE Dangerous Than Smoking!
Around 1990, quotes like these began appearing in Western newspapers. Within a generation, Collective Brainwashing had taken hold; propaganda had evolved into accepted truth.The anti-smoking propagandists were counting on the fact that younger people listen to the television more than their parents. And they were right.
Older folks like us who lived before 1990 know that second hand smoke isn’t deadly. We all knew non-smokers who worked in smoke-filled offices and restaurants in the 70s and 80s. None of them contracted lung cancer. We all knew non-smokers who lived in smoke-filled houses in the 70s and 80s. None of them developed emphysema. Of course they didn’t. The truth never mattered to the propagandists. Their goal was to demonize and defeat smokers. And they did a splendid job. Smokers went from a cool, hip minority to a dangerous, hated threat.
(For the record, I am not diminishing the suffering of people who are allergic to cigarette smoke. For them, a smoke-filled room is an immediate buzzkill. I am saying, however, that there is a clear line between second hand smoke ruining one’s night and ending one’s life. The anti-smoking crusaders crossed that line in 1990 and never looked back). I am not angry at the anti-smoking crusaders. I internalized their propaganda and I’m a better man for it.
I happily smoked for most of my adult life. I never considered quitting. Then, about five years ago, I just stopped. I’m so glad that I did. I will never smoke a cigarette again. I used to look at smokers as the cool people living in the moment. Now I look at them as oddities. The Smoking Court outside the bar looks like a sad living museum – with actors performing scenes from the 20th Century. We have been completely brainwashed. We are little different than the gullible fools of the 17th Century. We have the exact same chance of being killed by second hand smoke as we have of being cursed by a witch. But we are willing to let smokers be treated like criminals, shivering out in the cold while we sip our drinks in comfort.
In the end, the problem isn’t that the propagandists brainwashed us to turn on smokers. The problem is we don’t know which vulnerable minority group they are going to make us turn on next.