Libertarian meat eater, right wing in the sense of conservative with a small c.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Personal responsibility and utter, utter cunts

Having bullied and mislead the populace into banning smoking in "public" places, (a pub is privately owned for instance), those who believe that they must protect you from your own idiocy have a new concept. They have come up with "Passive Drinking", (hereafter referred to as "Utter Bollocks") to help them control another aspect of your life. Their argument is that pissed people do a great deal of harm, not only to themselves but also to others.

The above is not in dispute, (although their figures and data collection methods will be when I can find them), but sober people do a great deal of harm as well. There is a convention in English law, (and I assume many other jurisdictions as well), that if you willingly ingest substances that affect your behavior, that is no defence for any criminal actions you undertake while in that state. So if you take a swing at someone and the next morning you don't even remember doing so, that is no defence, (unlike the Lockeian view).

One of the major problems with "Utter Bollocks" is that it blames the drink not the person for their behavior. If someone spikes your drink, (an occurrence much rarer than believed but it does happen), then you have a defence because you did not willingly get yourself into a state. If you choose to drink a bottle of vodka and then throw up on someone you have to face the consequences of your actions.

I find "Utter Bollocks" repugnant on both sides of Libertarianism. You should be free to ingest whatever you desire, equally you must be held responsible for your actions if you willingly enter such a state. I view the promoters of "Utter Bollocks" as nasty little shits, keen to control our lives because of the satisfaction it gives them and keener still to infantilise us to make that job easier. I suggest they go take a running jump into a pit of chili oiled spikes.


Jim Bliss said...

By and large I'm a social liberal. I believe, for instance, that people should be permitted to inject liquid cocaine into their eyeballs without fear of criminal sanction, if that's what turns them on. Of course, if they then beat up someone under the influence of cocaine, then they should face the full weight of the law for that act and their cocaine use should not be seen as some kind of mitigating factor.

So on that we agree. And the same obviously applies to alcohol.

We also agree that the notion of "Passive Drinking" is utter bollocks. Unless someone is sitting in the pub with a vaporiser and literally filling the air with alcohol fumes, there's just no such thing as passive drinking and anyone using the phrase -- outside that specific and, let's face it, pretty rare case -- is talking utter bollocks.

On passive smoking, though, we disagree and I'd be interested in hearing a semi-coherent libertarian (such as yourself) explain why my position in support of the public smoking ban is faulty; or at least questionable.

We can agree, I assume, that passive smoking is a valid concept in itself (i.e. a non-smoker sitting in the company of smokers will inhale tobacco smoke generated by their cigarettes)?

Can we agree that passive smoking is harmful to the health of the non-smoker in such a situation? (Not saying it's as harmful as smoking the things directly, but it is not a benign experience and may lead to lung damage of some kind).

Now, I accept that individuals have the choice not to drink in a particular pub if they seek to avoid passive smoking. I do not believe that the smoking ban is justified on the grounds of protecting one set of patrons of the pub from the cigarette smoke of another set. And if that were the argument put forward to justify the ban, then it's bollocks and insupportable.

However, here in Ireland at least (dunno about the UK ban) that was not the justification used. And the argument that was used is one I agree with.

The justification for the Irish smoking ban was on the grounds of employee health. Should a waitress, or bar-man, or cleaner have to choose between their job and their health?

I certainly don't believe that an employer should be permitted to discriminate on the grounds of whether or not a potential employee is willing to endure passive smoking (i.e. you may only have this job if you are willing to damage your health), and I don't believe that the potential employee should have to make that choice.

You can point to cases in which the risk of health damage comes part and parcel with certain jobs (I knew someone who worked as a deep-sea diver on oil rigs and they were quite open about the risks of the job), but in those cases the risk is acknowledged and compensated for with very high wages. This is in stark contrast to those who work in the service industry and are exposed to passive smoking; as they are very often on minimum wage and are forced to endure the health problems of passive smoking with no compensation.

I'm not seeking to argue the point, nor even to change your opinion (and it's unlikely you'll change mine on this issue). I'm just wondering how you justify an objection to the smoking ban in the light of that argument (rather than the spurious one about protecting other patrons who can -- as I have acknowledged -- choose not to expose themselves to the smoke).

Falco said...

There are two main points. Firstly, there is no compulsion on the employees to work in a particular pub, (yes I know it might make their lives more difficult if they choose not to work there but they are not compelled to).

Secondly, how do you quantify the risks associated with passive smoking and what compensation would be appropriate as "danger money"?

There are no studies showing a causal link between passive smoking and smoking related illnessess. It may be surprising but there are two reasons for this. A controlled experiment on it is very hard to put together and any causal link is sufficiently small as to be far from obvious. I am certainly not denying that a passive smoker inhales the same thing as a smoker but it is in a much lower dose.

This leads us on to a largely ignored dictum, "the poison is the dose", a tiny amount of tobbaco smoke cannot harm you while too much oxygen can be fatal.

To summarise, leaving aside the choice of the person to work there, what danger money should the staff get for working in a smoky environment? Very little because the risk is very low.

Jim Bliss said...

Thanks for your response, Falco.

As I suspected, we won't find common ground on this issue, but that's hardly the end of the world.

Given that as much as 10% of all jobs (and the percentage is higher in some areas) are within the "hospitality industry", I cannot accept that individuals who wish to avoid passive smoking should be excluded from such a large proportion of jobs.

"The $2.75 trillion global hospitality sector is the world's largest industry, representing 25 percent of global trade and 10 percent of employment." [source]

Also, given that these are often low-paying jobs for which a minimum of qualifications are required, there are many people for whom they represent far more than 10% of the available employment opportunities.

On the other issue; the actual risks associated with passive smoking, you may well have a point. But two things occur to me...

Firstly while the risks may indeed be very low, the compensation offered is zero.

Secondly, until the level of risk is actually established, individuals must rely upon the advice of medical professionals to inform their decision. I've spoken to three GPs about this subject in the past (a GP being the only medical professional most individuals will have regular -- indeed any -- access to). All of them suggested that people should avoid smoky environments when possible.

We all ignore the advice of our GP from time to time, but I'm not sure our employer should be able to insist that we do.

Once again though, thanks for your thoughtful response. In the past I've argued this point with people who view it purely in terms of "my right to smoke, regardless of the consequences". It's refreshing to see a reasoned position, even if I disagree with it.

Falco said...

I think that part of the problem is with the minimum wage. When you are looking at low value, (purely in economic terms), labour, then the minimum wage will skew the costing. The risk is very low and if you were to offer 10p an hour extra to work in a smoky environment that will not show up if the value of the employees wages is 10p or more below the minimum that they will get anyway.

Regarding the GPs, I would think that they would be operating on the precautionary principle in two ways. Firstly, though the risk involved is low, they think it better to overstate it than underestimate it. Secondly, it's their arse on the block if word gets around that they don't believe the risk to be significant. I suspect that it's not going to be worth the while of any GP to try to explain statistical analysis to their LHA.