Why the "Enlightenment Ethic" Blinds the Left

By Chris Mooney | June 16, 2011 10:06 am

This is the fifth and last in a series of posts elaborating on my recent American Prospect magazine article entitled “The Reality Gap: Now more than Ever, Republicans and Democrats are separated by expertise–and by facts.”

Okay. So now we’ve seen how academia and expertise have shifted left, how counter-expertise has moved in from the right, how this leaves us with a postmodern political culture, but how nevertheless, if you drill down on basic scientific and policy facts, you find Democrats, who are closer to expertise, much more aligned with them. There are exceptions, to be sure. But that’s the picture.

However, the final point is the one that matters most–facts and expertise aren’t helping Democrats, nor is the fact that they have them helping America. Minds aren’t being changed, consensus isn’t being formed (just look at one of the latest comment threads). And among expertise-saturated liberals, there’s a failure to see why this is happening–and even, sometimes, the delusion that rational and fact-based argument is going to solve problems that are really rooted in value differences:

Liberals, to Lakoff, are just different. Science, social science, and research in general support an Enlightenment ethic–finding the best facts so as to improve the world and society and thus advance liberals’ own moral system, which is based on a caring and “nurturant” parent-run family. “So there is a reason in the moral system to like science in general,” Lakoff says. Here also arises a chief liberal weakness, probably amplified by an academic training: constantly trying to use factual and reasoned arguments to make the world better and being amazed to find that even though these arguments are sound, well researched, and supported, they are disregarded or even actively attacked. Too often liberals–we–fail to see how our very credentials, and the habits of argument they impart, set the stage for the postmodern world just as soon as our unending factual dance with conservatives begins….

So do all of us, left and right, care about expertise? Sure, when it suits us. We also usually agree about where expertise lies–when it isn’t contested. “You would certainly be horrified if you found out the guy who was flying your airplane didn’t have a pilot’s license,” Kerry Emanuel says.

Politically, though, we use expertise in service of different agendas–and reason for different reasons. And we don’t all necessarily share the Enlightenment ethic of using science and research to lift us all up into a more caring and progressive society. Indeed, liberals who do share this ethic often don’t seem to understand what’s happening when reasoned, evidence—based arguments fail to have their desired effect–and are countered by flimsy objections or unjust attacks.

We’ve got a lot of science, a lot of experts–and a lot to learn.

Again, you can read the full article here.

Comments (24)

  1. Mike H

    we don’t all necessarily share the Enlightenment ethic of using science and research to lift us all up into a more caring and progressive society

    OMG. what a crock.

  2. vel

    unforunately all of humanity does not share this “enlightenment ethic”. There are people who are not interested in “all” people. They only want their “tribe” to suceed. Being tolerant, kind and sharing, are not interesting to those who consider themselves special e.g. “chosen” in some manner.

  3. Chris Mooney

    Can I assume that @1 proves the point?

  4. GregM

    I found this conclusion to be somewhat disappointing. I would have preferred a conclusion that suggested a path forward, such as the suggestions that Dan Kahan makes about presentation style, presenters and mixed ideological environment where participants can gracefully concede a point to the other side when evidence warrants it.

    I am not convinced that the Enlightenment ethic is a major dividing line or source of misunderstanding in these debates. Although some religious conservatives may reject the Enlightenment, they usually make that quite clear. I think another, maybe more pervasive issue that motivates the different sides is the presumed role of government. For many conservatives, the Enlightenment was about the liberation of individuals and entrepreneurs from the shackles of church AND state. So they have an inclination to be skeptical of government funded science that concludes there is a need for new government programs or regulation. They would rather see science and reason freely developed and deployed in the free market providing the path to social improvement (e.g., Bill Gates).

  5. Terry Emberson

    And we don’t all necessarily share the Enlightenment ethic of using science and research to lift us all up into a more caring and progressive society.

    Perhaps more eloquently… I think that the Enlightenment ethic of using empiricism to, as Kant put it, “Have courage to use your own understanding” is the most central element of the enlightenment, hinting that the center of enlightenment is intellectual (and personal) freedom. The basis of Liberalism is personal freedom as well, in life, liberty, and property and on that last pillar of liberalism, the Democrats have long lost their ‘Enlightenment’ ethic.

    Kant was also influenced by the Idea of Progress, don’t get me wrong. I certainly think that the main principles of Kant’s take on progressivism, including democratic peace theory, the benefits of modernity, and the decline of war because of trade, have been born out by reality. Even so, never in the enlightenment did the liberal philosophers advocate a ‘progressive’ society in the terms used by the modern Democratic party.

    That was created by the Progress Movement, which sought to improve the lots of those facing the harshest conditions in 19th century America. Because they could not make such improvements by charity, they tried by changing society via government regulation and social hand outs from government coffers. The Progress Movement was heavily inspired by socialist doctrine (another Enlightenment ethic) but more inspired by protestantism than socialism (hence teetotalers being a part of the movement).

    Either way, Progressivism has always been slightly different from the Enlightenment’s Idea of Progress because of one crucial different. Progressivism seeks to alter human nature toward communal behavior by enlightened reason and the Idea of Progress relied heavily on “enlightened self-interest” causing people to make smart, cooperative decisions in their own interest. So, the Enlightenment ethic was toward classic liberalism with freedom for all and the modern Democratic Party is about denying the reality of human behavior for the sake of ‘making people better’.

    For my take, I like Mal as my personal philosopher better.

  6. Mike H

    @ 3. Chris Mooney

    I’m sure you have heard of the phrase “Not Evil Just Wrong” used by conservatives … Lackoff’s spin on that saying, judging by my quote, is “Not Just Wrong But Also Evil Too”. Characterizing you opposition, when many of them have weighed the evidence just as well as you have, as working against a “more caring and progressive society” is exactly the kind of hyperbolic psychobabble bull that I’d though people like you would be against.

  7. Mike H. misses Lakoff’s point on framing. Mike isn’t evil, he’s just wrong.

  8. Here’s a thought that’s been bouncing around my head for a while, particularly in relation to the climate debate.

    Science only really settles two kinds of question – Facts: “What is happening?”, and then once a theory is formed, predictions: “What will happen if we do X?”

    What science doesn’t do is apply morality to outcomes. So I think one of the big problems of having most experts also being liberals is that they will be biased towards taking certain actions in response to the science.

    For example on global warming: If liberalism has a positive association with a form of Gaianism (ie keeping the world as near as possible to its natural state) then most experts would also be biased towards CO2 reduction as a response.

    But what about bioengineering responses such as sun shields or injecting anti-greenhouse gases (perhaps a benign variant on sulphur dioxide)? Nasty stuff if you believe in minimising human impact, but they might be more realistic and/or achievable politically.

    Experts need to recognise that being right on the science doesn’t make them right on the corresponding solution.

  9. Dr. Neil Tyson fan

    Chris,

    I was just surfing YouTube and came across a neat interview from 2009 with astrophysicist Dr. Neil degrasse Tyson on the republican war on science. According to him, during the bush administration nasa’s budget increased 20%, the NIH budget ncreased two-fold, and the NSF budget increased ~40%, yet during the Clinton administration the NASA budget decreased 25%. He then says that sure, Bush and the republicans deny global warming and are against stem cell research, but when it comes to funding science, Republicans are historically known to spend more on scientific discovery and inquiry than democrats are. With this in mind, the Obama administration all but killed NASA. What is your opinion on republicans talking a big game against science but spending money (where it counts) and the democrats failing to fund science in a manner that would allow the USA to scientifically lead the world?

  10. GregM

    @5. Terry Emberson Says:

    “Progressivism seeks to alter human nature toward communal behavior by enlightened reason …”

    What do you mean by “human nature”? Depending on what you mean by “human nature” I doubt that many modern Progressives would agree with your characterization of their goal. I suspect that most Progressives would consider “human nature” a realm of scientific study, philosophic speculation and debate. To the extent that human nature is determined by genetics, it could only be altered by breeding and eugenics, which I suspect modern Progressives would reject. To the extent that human nature is influenced by education and social experiences, I suspect progressives would favor programs that encourage certain types of pro-social behavior, but I think they would include recognizing “enlightened self-interest” and “smart, cooperative decisions in their own interest. ” In that case, the Progressive view does not exclude the “Idea of Progress” but I think you want it to.

    I think political discourse in the US has become dysfunctional because each side has developed an unsavory and inaccurate narrative that pigeonholes other side in ways that shut down informative discussion, productive debate or useful collaborative or compromise, even though we are in the same polity.

    I am interested in being enlightened about how you think the “modern Democratic Party is… denying the reality of human behavior for the sake of ‘making people better”.

  11. Terry Emberson

    @Stephen Bounds:

    Agreed. Might be easier, but it also predicates that we can effectively control a complex system without messing it up. Every action has consequences. If we create ‘sun-shields’ and global warming is less than projections, OOPS we just spurred a severe winter freeze and caused a worldwide famine. There is an inherent arrogance to humans that we can outthink any problem. Sometimes we succeed, often we fail.

    That is what science is supposed to give us… to borrow from Sagan, “a way of skeptically interrogating the universe, with a fine understanding of human fallibility.” If we emphasize on the human fallibility part, science is designed to allow us fallible humans to see the world with our blinders at least partially removed. As you say, science doesn’t say whether or not we should try geoengineering (FIFY) or social engineering to solve this problem. Science doesn’t even say whether or not we should try to solve this problem. It just says that the problem exists.

    Then the policy wonks come in and try to convince the government to undertake expensive efforts to do this thing or that thing. And then the scientists, or economists, or historians, come in and tell us what is likely to happen if we do that thing. The problem is that the most recent tactic by policy wonks on the right has been to pull the blinders back down for scientific issues and for policy wonks on the left to pull the blinders back down for economic issues.

  12. Terry Emberson

    @GregM

    What do you mean by “human nature”? Depending on what you mean by “human nature” I doubt that many modern Progressives would agree with your characterization of their goal.

    That’s because I reject modern progressivism because that is how I see their goal.

    I suspect that most Progressives would consider “human nature” a realm of scientific study, philosophic speculation and debate. To the extent that human nature is determined by genetics, it could only be altered by breeding and eugenics, which I suspect modern Progressives would reject.

    I would agree with that.

    To the extent that human nature is influenced by education and social experiences, I suspect progressives would favor programs that encourage certain types of pro-social behavior, but I think they would include recognizing “enlightened self-interest” and “smart, cooperative decisions in their own interest. ”

    And when people do not recognize what progressives consider smart, cooperative decisions in their own interests, they will decide for the individuals what is smart and cooperative and force them into compliance. Because parents can not decide that McDonald’s happy meals are bad for their children, we’ll take away the toys from the happy meals. Because I, as a restaurant owner want to allow people to smoke in the restaurant because it makes my clientele happy, I can not make that decision because, it hurts those who choose to work for me and those who choose to come into my restaurant.

    My point is that progressives want to make society change, Enlightenment age Idea of Progress philosophers assumed that society would change to suit the age.

    In that case, the Progressive view does not exclude the “Idea of Progress” but I think you want it to.

    In forcing people to act a certain way, it does violate the Idea of Progress by taking away human liberty.

    I think political discourse in the US has become dysfunctional because each side has developed an unsavory and inaccurate narrative that pigeonholes other side in ways that shut down informative discussion, productive debate or useful collaborative or compromise, even though we are in the same polity.

    Which is especially depressing since they are arguing over the frosting when they already picked the cake.

    I am interested in being enlightened about how you think the “modern Democratic Party is… denying the reality of human behavior for the sake of ‘making people better”.

    By forcing people to give to charity. By forcing people to stop smoking in restaurants. By forcing people to eat healthier. By forcing people to not use certain language (Republicans can also be guilty of that but for different words). By forcing people to ignore their religious convictions (not quite as bad as forcing people to respect YOUR OWN religious convictions. Again Republicans). By forcing people to buy health insurance. By supporting foreign wars to make other countries better (Republicans just as guilty on this one, but only with the ascendancy of Neo-conservatism which is essentially an aggressive version of Wilsonian foreign policy). By attempting to ban anything that may be harmful to people. Um… I got nothing else.

    Courtesy of Steven Farrell:

    The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected. (G. K. Chesterton, Illustrated London News, April 19, 1924)

  13. I simply disagree; ever since the emergence of the New Left and its reliance on the Frankfurt school, the left has turned entirely against the Enlightenment.

  14. JMW

    I think the left’s reliance on the enlightenment ethic is predicated on their sincere belief that they’re right, and if they could just explain everything to those darned conservatives, they’d see the light too.

    Fact of the matter is, as I see it, all extremism is bad. Extreme left wing ideology is no worse than extreme right wing ideology.

    Terry’s post @12 makes points about individual liberty. To some extent he is correct. Forcing policies on people who don’t want them because “it’s good for them” is curtailing their liberty. But, to look at it another way, at the same time, to function with complete personal liberty will also infringe the liberty of others. For example, as a restaurant owner, Terry may wish to allow people to smoke in his restaurant, and those who don’t want to sit in the same room as smokers have the liberty to choose not to go into his restaurant. But…by allowing smokers, Terry is thereby limiting the liberty of sufferers of emphysema to enjoy his restaurant as well.

    So whose liberty wins? Whose liberty SHOULD win?

    This is why I prefer the moderate and centrist point of view – a recognition that we are all in the same boat together, and we all have to make reasonable compromises on our liberty in order to continue to live in close proximity. Banning smoking in a public place is one such loss of liberty I can live with (easy for me, as I’m a non-smoker).

    I must say that it sometimes seems to me that the right-wing/left-wing division could be better phrased as misanthrope/philanthrope. Left wingers are not only idealistically convinced they can make the world and the people in it better, they are idealistically convinced that everyone wants to achieve this as well and the difference is only arguing over ways and means. While right-wingers are more concerned with living their life their way, and not caring what other people do or even HOW they fare, as long as their own personal life is not impacted. Of course, this is true until you add some religious philosophy on top of the right-wing thought, and then worrying about others’ immorality comes into play…

  15. @Terry Emberson: Oh, I agree – I didn’t say the other options would work. But to misquote JMW, “the sincere belief of the experts that they are right” leads to an intellectual arrogance. Repeatedly, intellectuals fail to see that “the solution” they propose is actually deeply tied to their social beliefs, and that their resulting discounting of alternatives is ideological rather than scientific.

    Example in Oz right now – we are trying to implement a carbon tax which only compensates lower/middle income earners for the increased costs of electricity, petrol etc. This recasts a simple environmental tax into a wealth redistribution mechanism. Claims that this is “fair” assume a left-leaning prism where the reduction of income inequality is always a good thing. But any attempts by the right to argue against the impact of the tax on social or economic grounds are cried down as “anti-science”! And worse, scientists are often slow to distance themselves from these claims.

    Improperly associating science with what are actually policy/political decisions is a very, very dangerous thing, and is IMO the quickest way to end up in a “non-reality based” debate.

  16. Terry Emberson

    @JMW:
    Not to cherry pick, but this point is the critical point here.

    Banning smoking in a public place is one such loss of liberty I can live with (easy for me, as I’m a non-smoker).

    A restaurant, unless owned by the government, is a private establishment. It is not a public place. I can see banning smoking in public plaza’s, government buildings, public transportation and its hubs, etc. Banning it inside of a place of business should be left up to the business owners and people should be allowed to vote with their capital.

    So whose liberty wins? Whose liberty SHOULD win?

    This is a complex question that often must be settled by the courts, even when government becomes involved. (Personally, I think arbitration works better than the courts, but sometimes courts are necessary due to belligerency of one party or the other).

    In the example you provided, it is not a burden on liberty for sufferers of an ailment not to enjoy my restaurant. The liberty of one person stops at the ability to place a requirement on another. I am not required to serve everyone at my restaurant. Good business practices would require me not to turn away anyone without legitimate cause, but I am not required to serve anyone.

    If that person suffers because they can not handle smoke, it is not my fault that they suffer. It isn’t their fault, either. It’s nature’s fault and hopefully someday medical science will have a cure for them. Neither I, nor anyone else in my restaurant should have to pay the price for their suffering. Their liberty is infringed by nature or by their own choice or by possibly unfair business practices of the tobacco industry (up for the courts to decide) but not me.

    BTW, I strongly agree with your final paragraph. Makes one wonder if the religious right are more methodologically aligned to the left while being ideologically aligned to the right?

  17. GregM

    @12. Terry Emberson:

    Thanks for explaining your view. I don’t know all the politics involved but it seems there are some traditionally Republican states that have passed statewide smoking bans in restaurants: e.g., Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Arizona.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_smoking_bans_in_the_United_States

    So, I suspect there is some Republican support for smoking bans at least in some states. I think these smoking bans are good, but I respect your point about liberty. You think people should be allowed to make their own choices and suffer the consequences even when the majority feels people are making bad choices. I admit I am willing to trade off some freedom to encourage good behavior. Smoking is harmful and addictive and should be restricted, but not outlawed. Smoking bans provide partial restriction, but people are still free to smoke, just not everywhere. Similarly with religious expression. People are still free to practice their religion just not using certain public venues. Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that these are proscribing some limits on human behavior rather than “denying the reality of people’s behavior”? One has to recognize the behavior before one can limit it. And since these bans are partial to what extent can they be said to change human nature?

  18. Terry Emberson

    Smoking is harmful and addictive and should be restricted, but not outlawed. Smoking bans provide partial restriction, but people are still free to smoke, just not everywhere.

    The problem is that the original arguments for restriction have failed so progressives have called for wider and wider bans. If they had stuck with bans on public, closed congested areas and a tax to pay for the incidental medical costs to the public, that would have been fine. I could even get behind incentives to smoke free establishments, such as reducing taxes on other ‘sin tax’ items sold there. (Of course, better to eliminate sin taxes altogether, but that’s not going to happen in our present political climate.)

    People are still free to practice their religion just not using certain public venues.

    That treads on dangerous territory. The religious have a right to practice their religion, under the Constitution, in all public spheres. They do not have the right, when acting as a representative of the U.S. Government, a U.S. State, or a contracted employee of either, to call on others to obey their religion or pressure others to obey their religion. Even a teacher can inform students that they are of a specific faith, but the second that the teacher insinuates or requires obedience or teaches learning specific to their religion, they have overstepped the bounds set for them by legal precedent.

    Wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that these are proscribing some limits on human behavior rather than “denying the reality of people’s behavior”?

    No, it wouldn’t. Of course, I can only offer my opinion. A progressive adherent or philosopher would probably say that they are proscribing bad behavior, but I think that when they require positive action rather than preventing negative action, that oversteps the concept of proscribing behavior. They require positive behavior as well, hence forceful redistribution of wealth.

    One has to recognize the behavior before one can limit it. And since these bans are partial, to what extent can they be said to change human nature?

    Smoking bans specifically are attempts to reduce smoking. Smoking is a self-pleasing behavior, but it has environmental consequences and that muddies things up. The bans can be accepted if they are restricting those environmental consequences to places where people know what they are getting into and have no ownership stake in the location. When the bans go beyond that, which they do, they are attempts to change human behavior away from self-pleasing, nonharmful behaviors.

    That said, bans are an expression of progressive philosophy hitting American legal processes. Progressivism itself DOES want to reduce smoking for the sake of individuals, just like it wants to reduce heart disease, obesity, STDs, poverty, and a hundred other harmful conditions. These are lofty, but with some exceptions, progressives don’t restrict themselves to changing the behaviors leading to these conditions with education and calls for enlightened self-improvement. When those don’t work well enough, they move from calls to creating disincentives to the behavior, then to restricting the behavior, and finally to outright banning of the behavior. For poverty specifically, they don’t even attack behaviors that trap people in poverty and instead treat it as a solely externally caused problem. Poverty is neither wholly internally caused or wholly externally caused, and any view that claims it is is self-deluding.

  19. JMW

    @16 Terry Emberson

    Hi, Terry.

    I have no problem with large chunks of your comment, and I’m going to pass over those items without commenting back (with a couple of exceptions). This is going to make my comment look like I’m disagreeing with you completely, which I’m not. But I’m trying to be brief :) .

    A restaurant, unless owned by the government, is a private establishment. It is not a public place.

    I’m guessing you’re American; I know :) that I’m Canadian. My understanding of Canadian law is sketchy at best, so I turn to google. I discovered that smoking bans are provincial and municipal matters, not subject to federal law. The Canadian federal government’s reporting department, Statistics Canada, has a web page about smoking bans in various provinces and cities around Canada. Most use the language “public places, including restaurants, bars, bowling alleys, bingo halls and casinos.” I believe I remember hearing something about restaurants, while owned privately, have the express purpose of providing a place for people to assemble for social purposes and are thus de facto public places, in spite of their private ownership.

    I’m obviously even less clear on the legal status of restaurants as private or public spaces in the United States, but I’m sure you’re more up on that than I am.

    In the example you provided, it is not a burden on liberty for sufferers of an ailment not to enjoy my restaurant.

    I would tend to agree, provided they had the choice. If there are smokers in your restaurant and they are physically incapable of enjoying your restaurant because of this, haven’t the smokers in your restaurant removed the option to enjoy or not enjoy your restaurant from the people with whatever respiratory ailment they have?

    The liberty of one person stops at the ability to place a requirement on another.

    Hmm…very Heinleinesque. His short story “Coventry” and novella “Methuselah’s Children”, from his Future History anthology, posits a society where everyone is free to do whatever they want as long as they don’t affect anyone else.

    If that person suffers because they can not handle smoke, it is not my fault that they suffer. It isn’t their fault, either. It’s nature’s fault and hopefully someday medical science will have a cure for them. Neither I, nor anyone else in my restaurant should have to pay the price for their suffering. Their liberty is infringed by nature or by their own choice or by possibly unfair business practices of the tobacco industry (up for the courts to decide) but not me.

    I agree that it’s not your fault they suffer from tobacco smoke; but I would respond that it is your choice to allow smoking in your restaurant, and in so doing you are, effectively, chosing your clientele and opting for smokers rather than those who cannot (or for that matter, choose not) to expose themselves to cigarette smoke. You’re acknowledging that their liberty is infringed, but I think that, if you had the option to allow smoking in your restaurant, you would be just as responsible for infringing on the non-smoker’s liberty as the tobacco industry and the people actually doing the smoking. To be sure if I choose, as a non-smoker without a medical reason to avoid cigarette smoke, not to go into your restaurant then I’m also making a choice to infringe my own liberty and I am responsible for it. But I wouldn’t have to make that choice if you hadn’t first made the choice to allow smoking, and the smokers in your restaurant hadn’t made the choice to light up.

    Bottom line, I don’t think there’s one person or entity or industry you can point to and say, “That is the person who has infringed on someone’s liberty.” As usual, it’s more complicated than that.

    BTW, I strongly agree with your final paragraph. Makes one wonder if the religious right are more methodologically aligned to the left while being ideologically aligned to the right?

    I had to smile when I read this part of your comment – I was thinking the very same thing. And I think it’s true – it seems to me that the religious right is very much about making things “right” for everyone, where they get to define what is “right”, and they will force it on everyone whether they want it or not. Very like the extreme left wing.

  20. Incredulous

    Where do you draw the line? Do you have a peanut processing plant not have any peanuts because people with peanut allergies can’t enjoy the tour? They have a right. It is a public tour. If I have allergies, the pollen makes it where I cannot enjoy the park. Let’s ban flowers. If I put up a sidewalk cafe, should they have to close down the street because of the car exhaust?

    But these people are on a crusade. They only use the potential for health effects as leverage. The don’t just want places to be free of smoke for their enjoyment and safety. They want to wipe out smoking altogether. Not just where it affects them. It goes far beyond smoking. It is about some self decided morality about everything that they think people should not be doing.

    If it is just about safety there are lots of people are doing risky things. People are injured and die every day from many more activities beyond smoking. We all end up having to foot the bill when they hurt themselves. Lets ban football. Look at all the people that get hurt. Lets ban driving. Let’s ban skiing. How about running? Surfing.

    These sound like silly examples, but these people are on a roll. They have had some success with their vendetta against smoking and drinking alcohol and are branching out. Now they are getting to food and drinks.

    They have already succeeded in that you can’t send an aspirin with your child to school if they get a headache or have a fever. Now they want to decide what you put in their lunchbox. It is no longer an issue of a slippery slope. We slipped off that a long time ago. It is a matter of where the bottom is.

  21. tomh

    Terry Emberson wrote:
    “I can see banning smoking in public plaza’s, government buildings, public transportation and its hubs, etc. Banning it inside of a place of business should be left up to the business owners and people should be allowed to vote with their capital.”

    Do you think government should have any role in regulating the health and safety conditions of employees of a private business? Because a big part of the motivation for banning smoking in restaurants is to protect employees from the dangers of second hand smoke. I suppose these employees could vote with their jobs and look for work elsewhere. What about farm workers? Should the government have any role in regulating how much pesticide they are forced to ingest when doing their job? Or should they just look for work elsewhere also? Is their any situation that you would approve of the government regulating the conditions of work in a private business?

  22. Terry Emberson

    Apparently the (longish) response I typed up got eaten by the internet gods. I’ll try again with a slightly shorter (I hope) comment.

    @JMW

    I have no problem with large chunks of your comment, and I’m going to pass over those items without commenting back (with a couple of exceptions). This is going to make my comment look like I’m disagreeing with you completely, which I’m not. But I’m trying to be brief :) .

    Doesn’t come across that way at all. Nothing to worry about.

    I’m obviously even less clear on the legal status of restaurants as private or public spaces in the United States, but I’m sure you’re more up on that than I am.

    For some purposes, restaurants are considered public places in the U.S., but not for several legal purposes. Best example is in public obscenity laws. If I wanted, I could have nude dancers all over my restaurant, but only if they aren’t visible from the street, and I have a control on entry to prevent minors from coming in. Without the windows blocked and with no bouncer, it is a public space for obscenity purposes. Even without blocking the windows and putting in a bouncer, my restaurant is not a public space for the purposes free speech. People have the right to line up on the sidewalk outside of the restaurant to protest me being a non-Democrat in a highly Democratic city (hasn’t happened, so just a joke, btw), but they can’t protest inside my establishment and I can throw out anyone who does protest in there. I can’t do the same for smoking, no matter what, in my state.

    I would tend to agree, provided they had the choice. If there are smokers in your restaurant and they are physically incapable of enjoying your restaurant because of this, haven’t the smokers in your restaurant removed the option to enjoy or not enjoy your restaurant from the people with whatever respiratory ailment they have?

    There is that choice part. Their enjoyment is no more required on me or any smokers (which I’m not one) than is their displeasure. The smokers may have made it less enjoyable for some, but they’ve made it more enjoyable for others because the others now can smoke too. Granted, more people do not smoke in the U.S. than smoke, but the point is that the smokers are not responsible to protect the enjoyment of others. As a counter-example, there is one lady who is morbidly obese who comes in from time to time. I notice, anecdotally (I haven’t run the numbers), that when she comes in, people order less food. Now, has she taken away their right to enjoy their food?

    It’s not be about enjoyment anyways. It’s theoretically, about health. The problem is that they are going beyond allowing people to choose to be unhealthy toward forcing them to be healthy. Another example, I ride a motorcycle. It’s a Honda Shadow, so not a crotch rocket. My state requires I wear a helmet for my protection. I always have, but I’ve heard from others that riding without a helmet is a much better experience. You don’t ride a bike because its safe, after all. I’ll still wear a helmet, but the only reason to require it is to make the motorcyclist safer, not to make the car drivers around them safer.

    Hmm…very Heinleinesque.

    Heinlein was an interesting one; he was a liberal/progressive as a youth and a conservative after the Nuclear bomb and a libertarian in the 1960s. He evolved his beliefs a lot over his years and a lot of people could find something they liked in his works. Very rounded.

    I agree that it’s not your fault they suffer from tobacco smoke; but I would respond that it is your choice to allow smoking in your restaurant, and in so doing you are, effectively, chosing your clientele and opting for smokers rather than those who cannot (or for that matter, choose not) to expose themselves to cigarette smoke.

    I already opt for people who like one type of food over another. If I serve strawberries or peanuts on everything, as Incredulous points out, I’m limiting my clientele as well.

    You’re acknowledging that their liberty is infringed, but I think that, if you had the option to allow smoking in your restaurant, you would be just as responsible for infringing on the non-smoker’s liberty as the tobacco industry and the people actually doing the smoking.

    Still not infringing on their liberty until I force them to walk into my restaurant or draw them in with fraud. They have no more liberty to walk into my restaurant than my house. I merely have opened my restaurant property to them as a result of wanting business.

    To be sure if I choose, as a non-smoker without a medical reason to avoid cigarette smoke, not to go into your restaurant then I’m also making a choice to infringe my own liberty and I am responsible for it.

    I don’t think your definition of liberty matches up to the philosophical definitions in liberalism. Liberty is the right to chose your course of action for yourself. The only place that your liberty ends, in liberalism, is where it infringes another’s liberty. I am at liberty to walk down a public street. I am not at liberty to step onto private property.

    Bottom line, I don’t think there’s one person or entity or industry you can point to and say, “That is the person who has infringed on someone’s liberty.” As usual, it’s more complicated than that.

    I absolutely agree, it is more complicated then that, but there are clear philosophical lines IN THIS CASE. It does get more complex in other cases.

    Well… longer than I intended… sigh.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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