Tuesday, February 05, 2008

No Smoking / No Islam

Interestingly, a major and remarkable shift in cultural consciousness occurred, at least in North America, with regard to smoking, over the span of a mere quarter century.

While there still lingers a faint residue of the chic of smoking in North America (among a few Hollywood actors and some rock stars etc.), and while by no means has smoking ceased in North American society, it is far more marginal and furtive, while it used to be blatantly flaunted in the full sunshine. This is the result of a concerted campaign to change the cultural consciousness. And it worked.

Hopefully, our mainstream cultural consciousness that currently protects Islam from all criticism as dearly as a mother bear protects her cubs will also become marginal in the coming decades—before a few million of us get mass-murdered by Muslim attacks.

There’s a paradoxical, ironic twist to my little lesson here: the attitudes and axioms that led to the successful marginalization of smoking derive from the same Political Correctness that continues to inhibit criticism of Islam. And this in fact illuminates one of the reasons why it is so difficult for the West to be rational about the Problem of Islam: the West’s irrationality is almost inextricably part and parcel of a larger process of beneficial and dynamic Progress (for no good thing is without flaws).

The social engineering project of marginalizing smoking—a project that has combined laws with subtler sociocultural influences—did not rely merely on data. For, the vast majority of individuals involved in smoking were, because of subtle and complex psychological and cultural factors, relatively immune from the simplex rational series of steps whereby a person goes through the normal process of making a decision:

1. the person notices data (and/or data is presented to him);

2. the person assimilates the data;

3. the person goes through a process of determining whether and/or to what extent that data justifies either

a) a change in his behavior


b) no change in his behavior;

4. if the person concludes that 3a is the case, he then changes his behavior.

This process of going through the steps of 1-2-3-4 should have no complications, and one can readily see that the role of data in the process is crucial.

However, when there are psychological and cultural factors involved (and all the more so to the extent that those factors are dominant and mainstream in society), the normal process articulated above becomes intercepted—and the interception usually occurs at the transition point from 1 to 2.

First, a psycho-cultural filter blocks the normal flow from 1 to 2 (from the reception of data to their assimilation), by interdicting certain key data. Secondly, the movement from 2 to 3 (from assimilation of data to their judicious interpretation) is intercepted with pre-fab axioms which, for the most part, supply the preferred interpretation(s) which results in judgement of truth, while simultaneously rejecting other interpretations that have been deemed to contravert those preferred interpretation(s)—and this then leads inexorably to decision and action.

It was this psycho-cultural filter that had to be bypassed for the broad success of the No Smoking campaign to be realized.

Indeed, a new psycho-cultural filter was created to substitute for the previously dominant one; and neither filter has been necessarily conducive to individual reason, for both operate by means of intercepting the normal process of human thinking and substituting pre-fab axioms constructed precisely to replace the normal process of individual thinking. This is why they were broadly socioculturally effective—the first in the more amorphous sense of a general culture of smoking, the second in the more concerted, and therefore remarkable, sense of social engineering calculated to replace one culture with another, albeit one more artificial than the one it is replacing.

And one reason for this effectiveness we noted above: the No Smoking campaign actually went with the flow of political correctness, which was, already by the beginning of the campaign in the late 1970s, in the full flower of its dominant and mainstream power. And part of that flow has been intimately convolved with the larger process of Western Progress (itself paradoxically convolved with deeper currents of Western anti-Western nihilism—but that is another story that would introduce complications too cumbersome for the purposes of this essay here). The psychocultural factors inhibiting the normal process of 1-2-3-4 with regard to smoking, therefore, have been considerably simpler than those that inhibit that normal process with regard to the problem of Islam.

The anti-Islam campaign, by diametrical contrast, must labor against the grain of political correctness, which in the first decade of the 21st century remains dominant and mainstream and shows little signs of diminishing. As if this were not onerous enough, it must also labor with much more complex and pedagogical issues than those that had to be surmounted with the anti-smoking campaign.

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