On a Few Contemporary Sins
Society determines the values its members live by. At one time, this was a process of slow evolution, primarily governed by the interpretation of the religious beliefs shared by particular groups of people; old doctrine being applied to new circumstances. In our modern world, concepts can be communicated almost instantaneously to billions of individuals. No longer is the wisdom of respected tribal elders the main influence, but rather the media parroting the views of persons we are told know what is best for us.
Long ago, values were often founded on myth and superstition. Frequently, those who set the standards for society knew that what they were promoting was contrary to fact, yet the advantages to the elite, inherent to a particular belief, made the truth expendable. Things have not really changed, the only difference being that the facts are available to the masses, but due to our herd animal predisposition, we either fail to verify what we are told, or avoid thinking in ways that would make us different from the majority.
Some modern myths exist to serve an agenda, and some are self-perpetuating because we are loath to accept change. Many exist simply to enforce conformity, and thus obedience. Often there are elements of truth within a complex fabrication.
The attitude toward tobacco use provides a good example of the various factors involved in socially constructed values. Presently, governments and certain organizations are campaigning against tobacco, focusing on the health risks associated with its use. There is no doubt that smoking is detrimental to your physical well-being, although it is certainly valid to question if it is the task of others to protect you from yourself. Apparently, the answer many consumers come up with is no, and so the focus has changed to “second-hand” smoke.
The problem with suggesting that smoking has a negative impact upon nonsmokers is the fact that every study using sound scientific methodology has established that there is no statistically significant effect. All research projects that have indicated a hazard have been discredited by the scientific community. Facts, of course, do not interfere with an agenda, and even the World Health Organisation, when their own scientists determined that there was no danger, announced they would continue to say otherwise: basically, deliberately lying to the public. This does not present a problem, for when science is concerned, most people will think what they are told to think, and the media, always striving to reflect what they believe is public opinion, will not stray from political-correctness.
People die from tobacco use, and although it is well documented that the death rate is grossly exaggerated by biased organizations, you are likely to have a shorter life-span if you smoke. Some groups have suggested that smokers should pay higher health insurance premiums because they must cost the medical system more money. This idea was entirely based on idle speculation until recently, when research verified what is perfectly obvious: dying relatively younger means avoiding the costly care provided to those who linger into extreme old age. Smokers actually save the system a substantial amount of money, and using the aforementioned argument, it is the non-smokers who should be paying the higher insurance premiums. Try selling that bit of truth to the public.
If smoking is a hazard, and the government’s self-proclaimed task is to save us from ourselves, then why isn’t it made illegal? Because smoking generates a considerable sum of cash for governments. Taxes on tobacco are referred to as sin taxes, and it is easy to continually increase taxation on products perceived to be amoral. If tobacco were outlawed, politicians would have to deal with the loss of hundreds-of-billions of dollars in revenue. Try telling the public that you are substantially increasing their income tax rate for their own good.
Aside from the money generated through direct tariffs, there is the fact that the tobacco industry employs a sizable workforce, including many unskilled people. Indirect revenues account for billions more in government coffers. We therefore have a situation where politicians pay lip-service to the anti-tobacco lobby, while desperately hoping that their efforts fail miserably.
Alcohol is another substance subject to sin taxes, and the government’s attitude toward drinking is similar to that of smoking. Strangely enough, some forms of Christianity consider the consumption of alcohol to be a sin, even though the Bible prescribes it for both your physical and mental health, and Yeshua ben Joseph (Jesus) appeared to have had a particular fondness for wine.
Moderate consumption of alcohol has been considered a beneficial activity for thousands of years, and modern research has verified this fact. Likewise, ancient records and contemporary science both hold that excessive drinking leads to serious problems. Society has difficulty with things that must be measured in degrees, and prefers to deal in absolutes. That is why the medical community can suggest that you consume two drinks every day to enjoy a maximum health benefit, while also determining that drinking every day makes you an alcoholic.
Some governments and organizations promote a belief that any consumption of alcohol during pregnancy poses a hazard, potentially causing Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. This is based on the presumption that the average person cannot differentiate between moderate and extreme use of alcohol, hence they must be lied to. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is a serious birth defect, causing irreversible brain damage. Violent behaviour is often associated with the problem. It is one of the easiest conditions to diagnose, being that the syndrome is always accompanied by the same unique facial deformity.
An expectant mother must engage in such an extreme level of alcohol abuse that the consumption required would strike your average person as phenomenal. Such levels frequently entail the chronic abuse of ethanol-based solvents. The problem with the misinformation campaign is that it has no effect upon those who have such debilitating psychological disorders that they would consume enough alcohol to inflict damage upon a foetus. The propaganda only serves to create fear and paranoia in people who would not be at risk anyway. Preventing F.A.S. requires that information be specifically targeted at the socio-economic group at risk, and realistic goals of reduction, rather than cessation, be set.
The “war on drugs” has been a dismal and expensive failure. There is no doubt that the prolonged and intense abuse of certain illegal drugs can lead to both physical and psychological damage, and even death. However, the exaggeration or fabrication of negative effects from any level of usage, of any form of illicit substance, does not fool the users. The law of supply and demand ensures that someone will always be willing to provide a commodity that is desired by such a large percentage of the population. The fact that presidents, celebrities, and other highly successful individuals have used drugs, and yet enjoyed prosperity beyond the dreams of the average person, contradicts propaganda insisting that drugs will destroy your life.
For a significant number of people, substance abuse is a destructive factor in their lives. This is not directly attributable to the substances per se, but rather the obsessive/compulsive nature of some users, and other psychological problems which make a person unwilling or unable to change their behaviour.
A great many things can be damaging when taken to excess. Food is something we all “habitually” use, yet in the U.S. chronic overeating is responsible for more death and illness than tobacco, alcohol, and illegal drugs combined. Many common substances pose a greater hazard than those allegedly considered dangerous. No one has died from taking Ecstasy by itself, or smoking marijuana, but 7600 Americans die every year from using anti-inflammatory drugs (Aspirin, Ibuprofen, etc.); most of the deaths from taking the recommended dose.
People make choices, and their choices determine their destiny. If you choose to drink or smoke too much, you know that there is a very good chance that your life will end sooner than if you drank less or did not smoke at all. If you choose to use heroin, you can be quite certain that the damage you do to yourself will be serious and potentially fatal. If you become obese, you have probably shortened your life-span significantly, and if you start skateboarding, you are more likely to be injured or killed than before. If you golf, you stand a greater chance of being struck by lightning, and if you surf, you are more likely to be eaten by a shark.
Choices often include an element of risk, and to maximize the chances of living a long and healthy life, one should do nothing other than that which is necessary. Eat, sleep, work, and of course, pay your taxes. Undoubtedly, after living the robotic existence some would like to impose upon us, many would question whether they had actually experienced a life at all. For some, life is only a matter of endurance, and that is certainly a choice they are free to make, but for others, the pleasures they choose to partake of reflect their belief that quality of life has priority over quantity.
The challenge, when exercising one’s individual freedom, is twofold. Do our decisions negatively affect others, and does our behaviour truly bring us pleasure? If we cause harm to other people through our actions, be it directly or indirectly, then we are interfering with their quality of life choices. The most fundamental of human values is the tenet that we do not do to others that which we do not wish done to ourselves; and this innate rule allows our social nature.
Often we do things that provide us with immediate gratification, yet we fail to fully consider the long-term consequences. Is the momentary pleasure worth the price we must pay later in life? Do our drinking or drug habits actually interfere with our ability to enjoy life, by causing financial hardship or health problems? Frequently we use substances as a way of escaping difficulties we cannot or will not deal with. In this way, we simply add another problem, rather than solve the original one. Usually we are aware of the predicament we have created, yet refuse to think about it.
That said, freedom to choose to engage in activities that do not harm others, even if they may ultimately have a detrimental effect upon ourselves, is what defines our individuality. Granted, we are herd animals, and in many ways conform to the behaviour society dictates, but we are not merely an extension of those who wish to think for us.
In the eyes of some, the working class best serves its purpose by conforming to a set of values ensuring its members are obedient and docile, living as the “worker ants” in our socio-economic anthill. However, life is more than being a human commodity, existing to fulfill the wishes of those who try to force their will upon us. Our own life is the only thing that is wholly our own, and we only have this one opportunity to experience it. Provided we cause no harm to others, no one has the moral right to begrudge us our little sins.