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The new bigotry

Observer Viewpoint | Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The current anti-smoking initiative being debated in The St. Joseph County Council is indicative of the self-righteous attempt to socially engineer American society by means of an increasingly corpulent government that continues to deprive Americans of their freedoms and individualism. The nefariously uptight forces of political correctness have ordained themselves to be much more capable of making life decisions than the common citizen. This is a shamefully paternalistic view that was spawned in the elitist circles of the East and West Coast intelligentsia. Supported by a couple decades worth of well-funded public awareness campaigns, these actors managed to introduce a slavish character to the American spirit, and to repress the rugged individualism that spawned the greatest American achievements.

America was made great by men and women who dared to think for themselves. The first patriots declared independence from the world’s great superpower and won it by steel and blood. The pioneers crossed a great plain and settled a vast expanse of land out of an adventuresome spirit coupled with a fierce zeal to control their own fate. These feats were made by Americans who possessed a great faith in the average person’s right to rule themselves. This distinctly American sense of liberty is dying, and people increasingly trust what they are told.

What is more is that they are indeed forcefully being told how to think; recently, the most egregious example of this at Notre Dame was when Gina Firth from the Office of Drug and Alcohol Education sent out an email telling all the students how important it was for them to go out and join in supporting the initiative. She never stopped to think that some students might actually oppose it, or at least that they would like the option of being allowed to decide for themselves.

The onslaught against tobacco smokers embodies the worst of this paternalistic mindset. The social engineers have made it socially acceptable to vilify smokers; they probably attempt to rationalize it by thinking that anyone who still wants to smoke after being informed must be evil. Even our beloved Notre Dame is rife with this animosity. Any smoker on campus has surely felt the occasional stare while walking across the quad; if one is lucky he or she might even get a fake cough or look of outright disgust.

Tobacco does have definite benefits, although they are much too sublime and mercurial to be quantified or captured in any scientific study. A fine hand-rolled cigar contains a world of complexity and a depth of flavor that rivals the best wine. As the aficionado discovers the beauty of his cigar, he is forced to delve deep into his own soul to discover the frequency where his soul and sensual and intellectual artistry of the cigar coincide. The aficionado emerges from the caverns of his own existence a better, more contemplative person.

Cigarettes are the most maligned of all tobacco products, yet they have some redeeming values. It would be impossible to express the great many of friends who have met each other through them. Especially facing the strident anti-smoking bigotry that now exists, many smokers have found a sense of solidarity that instantly binds them together.

While they are certainly not good for you, cigarettes allow the smoker to experience pleasure without satiation. The Irish writer Oscar Wilde said it best in his novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” when he stated that, “A cigarette is the perfect type of a perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?” There is a certain beauty found in the tragic impermanence of a pleasure that arises and then fades within a mere minute or two.

The deleterious health risks of tobacco smoking are indeed serious, yet so are many other activities in life. The irony is many of these ardent anti-smokers have no problem engaging in other activities of dubious healthiness. Ask them to drink a forty with you and they are ecstatic; ask them if they want a smoke and they get nauseous. Obesity is a serious problem in America that needs to be addressed, and fast food is contributing to many illnesses and even deaths. Yet, we as a society are not yet contemplating anti-gorging initiatives in the town councils of America, we are not yet passing fast food excise taxes, and we are not yet scorning patrons of fast food chains. Nor should we do so.

Some pleasures in life simply are not good for you – such as drinking and smoking. If someone should wish to refrain that is obviously a fine decision, but should we all be forced to entirely refrain from them? Most certainly not. Rather, one should practice moderation, try to maintain a good balance in life, and not judge others.

Ian Ronderos is a Senior majoring in the Classics with a supplementary major in Ancient Greek and Roman Civilizations. He is the current president emeritus and chair of the education committee for the Notre Dame College Republicans. He can be contacted at irondero@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.