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Friday, October 4, 2019

Anti-Vaping–The Latest Example Of Puritanical Righteousness, Witch Hunts, And Moral Sanctimony

After more than sixty years after the Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of tobacco (1964), the anti-smoking lobby has something to cheer about.  Technical engineers have developed a new product designed to deliver nicotine without the carcinogenic effects of burning tobacco.  Not only does vaping safely provide nicotine and eliminate concerns about cancer, emphysema, or heart disease; it offers the same additional social benefits of smoking – panache, cool, adolescent rebellion, and social confidence.  In other words, the perfect solution.  Former smokers are happy because they can get nicotine without health worries.  The American Cancer Society is happy because removal of one of the major causes of the disease is finally near.  Tobacco companies, new vaping startups, marketers and retailers are happy because a new, highly lucrative market has opened and will take up the slack from decline tobacco sales.  Teenagers are delighted because they have found an attractive replacement for cigarettes and their social allure.

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Yet, despite this good news, critics are howling.  Vaping is not only perpetuating nicotine addiction but encouraging it.   Nothing is said of the dramatic drop in tobacco-related deaths, no more lifetime addiction to tobacco, and for the first time in decades, the promise of clean lungs, good hearts and arteries.  We hear only of ‘the new scourge’, ‘America’s new health crisis’, ‘a generation at risk’.  Why?

America has always been a Puritanical country, and centuries of Enlightenment rationality, industrialization, and rapid technological change have done little to modulate the moralistic, hyper-religious sentiments of Cotton Mather and Salem.  While Americans prefer not to dwell on their history of witch trials and burning at the stake, they are quick to embrace Puritanism’s legacy -  moral righteousness, sanctimony, and intolerance. The current political correctness is no more than part of this inheritance.  Society must be as pure and without sin as that envisioned by the deacons of the Massachusetts Colony in the 18th century.  Men must be cured of their sexual irresponsibility, put in the stocks for transgression against the sexual code; hectored, badgered, and socially marginalized until they are pacified, repentant, and obedient to women. 

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Women must be protected from themselves by creating safe havens, free from men and their unwanted attentions.  Children must be educated according to the neo-Puritan canon.  American society cannot be free from evil – racism, misogyny, homophobia, and nationalism – unless children are brought up under the protection and tutelage of the state.  In 21st century America the state has replaced the churches of Salem.  The state authors vigilance, investigates offenders, subjects them to trials based on a priori assumptions of guilt no different than the parsons of Massachusetts.  Such authoritarian supervision is necessary, progressive advocates claim, because only an institution as large and ubiquitous as the state, granted authority by elected representatives as righteous as parsons, and committed to doing something to propel the nation towards a better, Utopian world, can be trusted.

In this current angry, righteous, and morally purposeful world, there can be no room for tolerance or forgiveness, only punishment and repentance.  Men cannot be forgiven for their chromosomes, their innate, permanent, impossibly obsessive desire for women.  They can only be called out for their anti-liberal, prehistoric sexual aggressiveness, pilloried for it, dunned and excluded until they repent and reform.  No context can provide cover for uneducated, retrograde opinions on race and sexuality.  Any perceived slight, innuendo, reference, or notation about racial dysfunction, performance, irresponsibility, or anti-social street behavior must be taken as a profoundly racist comment and cannot be tolerated or excused.  No religious concern, Biblical injunction, or profound spiritual sentiment can exonerate anyone for questioning the fluid gender spectrum, transgenderism, or homosexual union.  No one can be excused for criticizing ‘people of color’ who, desperate for refuge and asylum, challenge America’s borders. Offenders’  shops must be closed, they must be dismissed from service and excluded from civil discourse.

Progressive Utopians do not stop at the present – extirpating negativism and social evils to create a better future – they have turned to the past.  Not until all traces of former heresy have been removed can America possibly move forward to a better world.  All traces of slavery must be expunged – statues of Southern Civil War heroes must be taken down. Federal buildings named for racist Senators and streets named for slaveowners must be re-oriented and renamed for Northern progressives, unmarked, unblemished heroes of right governance.  It makes no difference to neo-Puritans that most of those honored deserved the respect given.  Their legitimate renown can never be acknowledged when it occurs within the larger perspective of social righteousness and condemnation.  Social, religious, philosophical complexity means nothing in a neo-Puritanical era.  One is either God’s chosen or God’s condemned.

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Because there are so many evils in America, critics claim – racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, environmental destruction, wealth accumulation and disparity – it is better to unite the progressive causes; and since capitalism is at the heart of all social distortion and dysfunction, why not assemble all reformists in one big tent, joined for a fight against a common enemy.  Every evil is related to every other.  It is racism and its lack of concern for human dignity and society as a whole which contributes to diffidence about climate issues.  Systemic misogyny feeds systemic racism and vice-versa because both show ignorance about human potential, equality, and essential goodness.  Homophobia and xenophobia are products of the same social ignorance; and capitalism with its market-driven amorality, fuels all.

In principle, all well and good.  Joined forces are better than individual ones; but the unexpected consequence of such energized, cooperative action is issue fatigue.  It is tiring enough to flog racism at every turn, and be as vigilant as the ministers of Salem at uncovering and punishing it; but fatiguing to say the least when one’s fight must be fought on many fronts.  Righteousness is not a simple or easy matter. 

Yet there is an anodyne for issue fatigue – replace old, familiar, and now shopworn issues with new ones; and vaping is in the cross-hairs of New Age Salem witch hunters.  No energy can be spared to outlaw vaping; for once it is removed from the American scene and once it joins tobacco in the neo-Salem graveyard, America will be on its way to a better world.

Anti-vaping is the perfect new issue for it plays perfectly to neo-Puritanical fervor.  It is not health concerns which drives the new Salem parsons, but addiction.  Reformist zealots care little about health and survival, but about the far more pernicious effects of dependency.  For like their Puritan forefathers, neo-Puritans see human dependency as a denial of God (Utopia).  Dependency on evil whether on male sexual imperatives, Biblical injunctions against homosexuality, territorialism, or nicotine, is an evil in and of itself.

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Admittedly, the anti-vaping campaign has been put aside in light of resident evil.  Before Donald Trump, the Anti-Christ finally come to Earth, is removed and eliminated, no relatively minor campaign can be considered.  The Holy War against Trump, however, is an energizing force for Neo-Puritan reform.  While it may temporarily divert some attention from relatively more mundane issues, it will give the whole movement new power and perceived authority.

So, while conservatives may claim a more legitimate right to American political influence, citing the rationality, intellectual rigor, and reasonableness of Jefferson, Hamilton, Adams, and the thinkers of the Enlightenment; it is progressives who, for better or worse, represent America.  ‘Once a Catholic, always a Catholic’ goes the old saw – once indoctrinated in true belief, no abandonment is possible – and the same holds true for Puritans.  Americans are Puritanical to the core and no diversity, inclusivity, or heterogeneity can occlude that fact.  It is our heritage, our ethos, our purpose no matter what.

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